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If flying with a cuddly puppy on your lap is the only way you can survive a nerve-wracking flight, be warned.
At least one airline is about to crack down on emotional support pets.
Delta Air Lines has announced that starting March 1, passengers will need to upload documentation at least 48 hours in advance of any flight for all pets who plan to travel uncaged.
Essentially, Delta passengers can bring on board three types of animal-a service dog or pet, which has been officially trained and provides assistance to passengers with disabilities; an emotional support pet, which is not required to receive any training, but is deemed essential to passengers who require emotional comfort; and caged or kenneled pets.
Pets in the first two categories are not one and the same, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA,) which says that emotional support "[describes] animals that provide comfort just by being with a person. Because they have not been trained to perform a specific job or task, they do not qualify as service animals under the ADA."
Still, as a courtesy to passengers Delta, and other airlines, allow pets in both classifications to fly free. These pets may also venture outside of a designated container or carrier in the airport and onboard the aircraft, unlike pets that don't provide "support," which must remain in their enclosure for the duration of the flight. (These pets also incur a per flight leg charge.)
Obviously, pet owners have spotted a big loophole in these policies, and more than ever are classifying their pets in the emotional support category in order to avoid paying the extra fees. But these untrained pets can often be disorderly and the source of discomfort to other passengers.
In fact, says Delta-which carries more than 700 service or support animals daily-the airline has seen a 84 percent increase in "animal incidents" such as biting, urinating or aggressive behavior since 2016. Delta has called the problem a "serious safety risk," according to CNN Money.
So now the airline is asking passengers to take responsibility for their uncaged pets, while also proving these pets provide professionally required support.
Passengers traveling with any service or support animal will soon be required to submit documentation, including proof of good health and up-to-date vaccinations for their pets at least 48 hours in advance of their flight. Additionally, passengers with untrained support pets must also sign a statement guaranteeing that their dog knows how to behave. And they'll also need a letter from a licensed healthcare provider certifying they need a comfort pet.
Some worry the new regulations will make it harder to for people with disabilities to fly.
"Delta might be successful in ensuring that people who do not have disabilities won't be able to pretend they do to bring their animals on the plane, but it will also get in the way of the rights of people who do have disabilities," said Ruth Lowenkron, director of the Disabilities Justice Program.
In a 2016 Travel Leaders Survey, more than 20 percent of passengers said they'd be bothered by sitting near a pet, with 18.5 percent noting they'd ask to be reseated or have the passenger with the pet reseated.
Monica Poling, the evening and weekend editor at TravelPulse.com, has been writing about travel for more than 20 years....
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