Delta Airlines says “[pit] bull type dogs” are no longer welcome as service or support animals in the cabin on its domestic flights. However, with dozens of breeds often incorrectly identified as pit bulls, the airline has made it hard to owners to know whether their dog would be excluded. Delta’s changes take effect July 10.
Despite the common belief that airlines are required to accept any animal a person identifies as providing service or support, carriers are covered by the Air Carrier Access Act rather than the better-known ADA. Airlines may prohibit service animals deemed to pose a threat to health or safety of people on board, are too heavy, or cause disruption in the cabin.
Delta ascribes the breed-specific ban to an incident last week, in which it said in a statement that a “pit bull traveling as a support animal” bit two of its employees. In the statement, the company said, “We have determined that untrained, pit bull-type dogs posing as both service and support animals are a potential safety risk.”
However, the head of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (APSCA), Matt Bershadker, said in a statement yesterday, that Delta’s ban “spreads false and life-threatening stereotypes.” He wrote, “In fact, pit bull type dogs have long been popular family pets, noted for their affection and loyalty.”
A much-cited incident on Delta Airlines in 2017, in which a man was mauled by an emotional support dog, involved a labrador-pointer mix.
Pit bulls have become seen as dangerous dogs after becoming a preferred animal in illegal dog fighting. Bronwen Dickey, author of Pit Bull: The Battle over an American Icon, told National Geographic in 2016 that “when it comes to fatalities caused by pit bulls, the breed identifications are often not accurate.” She cited a 2014 literature review by the American Veterinary Medical Association noted, which noted “controlled studies have not identified this breed group as disproportionately dangerous.”
Airlines have cracked down on passengers traveling with animals in recent years after an increase in quantity and variety coupled with more and more incidents of animal misbehavior, including defection, urination, biting, and other disruption. Delta carries about 250,000 support animals each year.
The airline said in its statement, “Customers have attempted to fly with comfort turkeys, gliding possums, snakes, spiders and more. Ignoring the true intent of existing rules governing the transport of service and support animals can be a disservice to customers who have real and documented needs.”