The number of emotional support animals (ESAs) accompanying travelers has increased dramatically, both in planes and within airports. In 2018, Delta Airlines flew over 250,000 ESAs via its international and domestic services.
As this number doesn’t appear to be decreasing, Delta has put policies in place to regulate travel with ESAs. While these policies accommodate for individuals traveling with ESAs and service animals, there is an important distinction between these two types of companion animals that may result in higher fares for some passengers.
Delta Airlines Pet Fee
Prior to 11 January 2021, ESAs were able to fly with Delta free of charge as long as their owner had the correct documentation. At this time, there was a fee of $125 to transport non-emotional support animals travelling in the US, Canada, and Puerto Rico — this was under the premise that non-service pets were counted as one item of hand luggage.
On international flights, this fee increases to $200, with the only exception being flights to Brazil, where the fee was reduced to $75. For large non-service pets, depending on the weight of the animal and size of the kennel, they would either travel with the hold luggage or in another aircraft cargo compartment. The charge for this service would also increase or decrease depending on the animal’s weight.
While an ESA was exempt from all of these fees with the correct documentation, new amendments to the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) enacted by the Department of Transportation (DOT) means that airlines can now choose whether ESAs are considered to be service animals or regular pets.
In the case of Delta Airlines, this means that ESAs are no longer permitted to travel free of charge regardless of their documentation — passengers can still bring their pets on board or place them in the cargo hold; however, they will be charged the regular pet fee.
Please note, this rule has only been enforced for ESAs and not psychiatric service animals. A psychiatric service animal is trained to perform critical or essential tasks for people with disabilities, whereas an ESA is usually only needed for comfort purposes. If you believe your ESA fits into the psychiatric service category, getting your pet certified is an effective way to avoid paying excess fees when flying with Delta.
Preparing Your ESA for Flight
If you’re willing to pay the additional fees for your ESA to fly on board with you on a Delta flight, it is critical that you properly prepare your ESA for the stress of airport and plane travel. In order to minimize potential stress on your animal, consider the following factors:
- Don’t feed your animal in the hours leading up to your flight
- Ensure your animal has the opportunity for adequate toilet breaks as well as rest breaks
- Ensure you have a leash and/or harness for your pet when they’re not being transported in a carrier
Usually, airline staff require your ESA to sit either at your feet or on your lap for the duration of the flight. Animals are not permitted to take up an extra seat, sit in the aisles, or block exit pathways. When moving from terminal to terminal, you’ll often be required to transport your pet in their carrier.
All airports within the United States are required to provide an animal relief area. When you exit or enter an airport, Delta Airlines crew members will be able to assist you in finding or escorting you to the nearest animal relief area.
Teach Your Support Animal Proper Airplane Behavior
When flying with an ESA, you need to be sure that your animal is sufficiently toilet trained, obedient to your commands, and well-behaved around nearby passengers and other ESAs.
Delta’s ESA policy clearly states that the airline reserves the right to refuse your ESA if they don’t meet the above requirements or they appear to be a threat to other passengers and ESAs. Some inappropriate behavior that will result in refusal to fly includes:
- Growling or barking excessively (except when in response to owner needs)
- Eating off tray tables
- Urinating and/or defecating in the gate area or cabin
- Jumping on other passengers
ESAs That Are Not Permitted on a Delta Airlines Flight
Delta Airlines will accommodate a wide variety of ESAs on board. However, there are some restrictions on the species of animal that you can bring on your flight. Listed below are the types of ESAs not permitted on board a Delta flight.
- Any animal with horns, hooves, or tusks
- Reptiles of any kind
These types of animals can be shipped through Delta Cargo. However, any ESA under the age of 4 months will not have been vaccinated and, therefore, will be unable to fly. Furthermore, you cannot have an ESA on a flight longer than 8 hours. If your destination is further away, you’ll need to find connecting flights.
As of July 2018, restrictions were placed on the breed of support animal permitted on Delta flights. This was in response to a number of incidents between humans and animals on board. The following snub-nosed dogs and cats are not permitted on Delta flights.
The following snub-nosed dogs cannot travel in the cabin of a Delta flight:
- Brussel Griffin
- Dutch Pug
- English Bulldog
- French Bulldog
- American Bulldog
- Japanese Pug
- Japanese Boxer
- Pit Bull
- Lhasa Apso
- Chow Chow
- Chinese Pug
- American Pit Bull Terrier
- American Bulldog
- English Toy Spaniel
- American Staffordshire Terrier
- Shih Tzu
- Tibetan Spaniel
- Shar Pei
- Staffordshire Bull Terrier
The following snub-nosed cats are not permitted to travel in the cabin of a Delta flight
Delta Airlines Pet Carrier Requirements
In order for your ESA to travel safely and comfortably, Delta have created a set of specifications and guidelines for pet carrier requirements.
Carriers made from wire mesh, wicker, collapsible materials, welded mesh, cardboard, carriers with plastic front or side doors, and carriers with latches that secure the top of the carrier to the bottom half of the carrier are all prohibited on Delta flights. Carriers that open from the top may also be rejected.
To ensure safe travel, your ESA should be transported in a soft-sided or hard-sided kennel that is well ventilated and free from leaks.
Your kennel will also need to meet the size specifications of a Delta aircraft seat. For a soft-sided kennel, this means 10.5” high, 15.5” wide, and 21.5” long. For a hard-sided kennel, it should be 19” high, 15.5” wide, and 21.5” long. The kennel should be able to be placed under the seat in front of you and allow sufficient room for your ESA to stand up, move around, and lie down.
Department of Transportation on ESAs
Since it now up to the airlines themselves to determine if they allow ESAs to fly, should you choose to fly with Delta, you’ll need to make you follow their rules exactly. Be mindful of breed restrictions, make sure your animal is well-behaved and trained, have the proper carrier, and be prepared to pay a fee.
Flying with your ESA on Delta is now more challenging than it was before, but in many cases, it is still possible. With the right preparation, your animal companion may still be able to help you fly more peacefully.