Delta Airlines’s Emotional Support Animal Policy & Form 2021

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Delta Esa Policy

In January of 2021, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) amended[1] the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) to limit which types of animals can legally be considered service animals. Emotional support animals (ESA) that lack the formal training of traditional service dogs are no longer allowed to fly in the same way that a real service dog can.

What does this mean for your own travel plans? There are a couple of different avenues that Delta Airlines offers those traveling with emotional support animals, even with these new rules taken into consideration.

Does Delta Allow Emotional Support Animals?

Some info on the Delta Airline website contains: “Delta will only accept  Trained Service Animals that are dogs regardless of breed…Customers will not be permitted to book new travel with an Emotional Support Animal. Customers who wish to travel with a pet may do so according to Delta’s Pet Travel Policy.”

As of January 11, 2021, Delta does not recognize emotional support animals in general as service animals. ESA owners must now adhere to the same rules and standard regulations[2] that Delta Airlines imposes on other pet owners traveling with their companions ordinarily. The support animal must be contained, and some may not be able to travel with you in the cabin at all.

Under the new, updated Delta ESA policy, Delta employees will still accept trained service animals as cabin passengers, but only dogs of the appropriate breed, size, and disposition[3]. With the appropriate documentation, trained service dogs in good health and considered psychiatrically necessary are still allowed to fly seated near their owners, unbound by a travel kennel. 

Do all emotional support animals make the cut? Unfortunately, they do not. There are still plenty of safe ways to travel with your service animal, whether they happen to be a trained service dog or some other type of special furry friend.

Delta Airlines Policy For Trained Service Dogs

Even with the written approval of a mental health professional, your emotional support dog may not be allowed to travel by your side or outside of his or her travel kennel. The final rule on this new Delta Airlines policy defines the term “service dog” very specifically, and only officially recognized service animals are allowed to travel in the cabin uncontained by some sort of crate.

According to Delta and the Department of Transportation, a service dog has been individually trained to perform a specific task for a differently-abled individual unable to perform the task on his or her own. This includes seeing-eye dogs for the blind and seizure dogs, as well.

Traveling with a Psychiatric Service Dog 

While some other airlines may still allow you to travel alongside any emotional support animal registered with an official ESA letter, those who prefer Delta flights will need to meet a few additional criteria. At the time of this writing, Delta’s pet policy for un-crated assistance animals covers no animal species other than dogs. 

While these new guidelines encourage employees to treat each case with empathy and kindness, you will still need to verify the urgency of your psychiatric need with two key pieces of documentation.

Delta ESA Form for Psychiatric Service Animals

The U.S. DOT asks that pet owners declare their psychiatric service animal formally by submitting the following two documentation requirements:

The U.S. DOT Service Animal Air Travel Form

This form[4] provides Delta Airlines with all of the information that they may need about your psychiatric service dog or the medical professional who has recommended his or her company. 

Included here are details pertaining to the dog’s health, any training that the service dog has undergone, and assurance that you, yourself, are familiar with what Delta considers to be disruptive or aggressive behavior, as well as the rest of their documentation and behavior requirements pertaining to your service animal.

You would be able to prove your service dog’s right to travel prior to your flight online[5] if you booked your ticket more than 48 hours before departing. If you booked your flight last minute, you’d be able to submit these forms at the check-in counter. 

The U.S. DOT Relief Attestation Form

If your flight is scheduled to last for eight hours or more, you will need to submit a copy of the DOT Relief Attestation Form. This form[6] is also related to the dog’s health; your service dog must be able to relieve his- or herself appropriately during your Delta flight, with no exceptions.

Requirements for Trained Service Animals on the Flight 

Included in Delta’s requirements for specifically-trained service animals:

  • Delta strives to maintain a passenger cabin free of foul odor. Animals may not relieve themselves in the cabin or in any non-designated area. You may assist them in a sanitary manner at the appropriate times and in the appropriate places, such as outside of any departure gate between flights.
  • Your service dog may not behave aggressively in the cabin. Barking excessively, growling, or biting any of the other passengers traveling with you may land both you and your ESA in hot water.
  • Delta’s current policy does not allow service dogs to eat off of seatback tray tables or the passenger’s seat.

An ESA owner may travel with two adequately trained service dogs with a signed veterinary health form. If you’re a professional trainer en route, you may be exempt from this limit.

Delta Airlines Policy For ESAs

Delta’s updated guidelines do not prohibit other service animals from traveling entirely. Emotional support animals may fly without extra documentation or specific training as an ordinary pet, either small enough to carry on or shipped as cargo. Delta Airlines charges pet fees for accompanying emotional support animals, but the fee will earn them a place right in the passenger’s seat. 

Delta does impose a few rules[7] on your ESA when traveling as a normal pet:

  • The animal must be at least ten weeks old to travel domestically, fifteen weeks old to travel to the European Union, and sixteen weeks old to travel anywhere else. There is a shortlist of countries where pets may never travel in the passenger’s cabin and must be shipped as cargo. This list will be found on Delta’s site along with the rest of the information in this article.
  • You may only bring on one animal per crate or kennel. Mothers nursing a litter are exempt from this restriction, as are pets of the same breed between ten weeks and six months of age (as long as they both fit!).
  • The kennel or crate counts as your carry-on. You may still choose an additional personal item to bring aboard.

As far as the kennel or crate goes, your pet’s container must be leak-proof, well-ventilated, and small enough to travel with you without bothering any of the other passengers – this will vary by aircraft. 

The kennel must meet the carry-on requirements posted at the ticket counter and gate area and must fit within the floor space underneath the seat in front of you. When traveling with an animal companion, you may not choose to sit in an emergency row or any other specially-reserved seats, including first-class, business class, or Delta One.

If the crate fits comfortably in the passenger’s lap, chances are, you’ll be good to go; your pet must remain inside of their kennel for the entirety of the flight. Delta recommends arriving early at the gate to ensure that you have enough time to touch base with the crew in order to verify that your kennel and accompanying animal meet their requirements.

Emotional Support Animals and Delta Pet Cargo

If you own a large dog breed or another type of large service animal, Delta may refuse transportation in the passenger’s cabin entirely. If this is the case for you, you will need to ship your companion as Delta pet cargo[8]. Exotic pets like gliders, reptiles, amphibians, and other primates have no choice but to travel as cargo, no matter how small or well-behaved.

If your pet is traveling as cargo, you will be charged the appropriate pet fees at each departure gate check-in, including any layovers that your plans include. The crate or kennel you travel with must be U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and International Air Transport Association (IATA) compliant. 

Your service animal must be able to stand and sit upright without his or her head bumping up against the top of the crate. If they cannot stand up and turn around when it is closed, it is too small. If your flight is long enough to qualify, food, water, bowls, and feeding instructions must be included prominently. Delta employees should not need to open the kennel in order to service your ESA.

Delta offers several kennels for purchase for those who have never flown with their emotional service animal before; the full disclosure on what your animal crate needs can be found on Delta’s site.

Another important thing to mention: there is a list of snub-nosed dog and cat breeds that are not able to fly[9]. These breeds are known to have difficulty breathing at such high altitudes because of the structures of their faces; this includes pit bull-type dogs and Persian cats, as well. Delta emphasizes the fact that military service animals and trained service animals will never be asked to travel as cargo.

Final Thoughts

Many long-time support animal owners were worried when this change was announced. Thankfully, these new restrictions will not force you to change your holiday travel plans in any way, even when flying Delta. Emotional support animal or otherwise, Delta’s updated policy is meant to ensure that only those who really need an ESA are able to take advantage of the privilege. 

If you flew Delta prior to the change and do not intend to switch, you can get started on Delta’s cargo website[10]. You’ll find everything that you need, including any associated pet fees that you may be subject to.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does Delta Allow ESA Dogs?

Pet owners may travel with their pets, but Delta does not consider emotional support animals in the same category of medically necessary service animals as they would a specially-trained service dog.

How Does Delta Define the Term “Service Dog”?

A service dog must be trained to perform some task for its differently-abled owner – a seeing-eye dog is medically necessary for a blind person to find their gate for departure, for example.

Does the Delta Airlines ESA Policy Place a Ban on Pit Bull Assistance Animals?

They do, but not because they are dangerous or unusually aggressive toward the other passengers traveling during the same flight. Snub-nosed breeds are banned from flying because they are too sensitive to the change in air pressure to do so safely, without asphyxiating.


+ 10 sources

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  1. BILLING CODE 4910-9X DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION Office of the Secretary 14 CFR Part 382. (n.d.). [online] Available at: https://www.transportation.gov/sites/dot.gov/files/2020-12/Service%20Animal%20Final%20Rule.pdf.
  2. ‌Delta.com. (2021). Flying with Service Animals & Emotional Support Animals : Delta Air Lines. [online] Available at: https://www.delta.com/us/en/accessible-travel-services/service-animals [Accessed 11 Oct. 2021].
  3. ‌Service Animal Final Rule FAQs. (n.d.). [online] Available at: https://www.transportation.gov/sites/dot.gov/files/2020-12/Service%20Animal%20Final%20Rule%20FAQs.pdf [Accessed 11 Oct. 2021].
  4. ‌U.S. Department of Transportation Service Animal Air Transportation Form(2003). [online] Available at: https://www.delta.com/content/dam/delta-www/pdfs/usdot-service-animal-air-transportation-form-accessible-05032021.pdf
  5. Delta.com. (2016). Find Your Trip : Delta Air Lines. [online] Available at: https://www.delta.com/mytrips/ [Accessed 11 Oct. 2021].
  6. ‌U.S. Department of Transportation Service Animal Air Transportation Form(2003). [online] Available at: https://www.delta.com/content/dam/delta-www/pdfs/usdot-service-animal-air-transportation-form-accessible-05032021.pdf
  7. Delta.com. (2021). Delta Pet Policy : Flying with Dogs, Cats & More : Delta Air Lines. [online] Available at: https://www.delta.com/us/en/pet-travel/overview [Accessed 11 Oct. 2021].
  8. ‌Delta.com. (2020). Shipping Your Pets : Transport Dogs, Cats & More : Delta Air Lines. [online] Available at: https://www.delta.com/us/en/pet-travel/shipping-your-pet [Accessed 11 Oct. 2021].
  9. ‌Deltacargo.com. (2021). [online] Available at: https://www.deltacargo.com/Cargo/catalog/accepted-animals [Accessed 11 Oct. 2021].
  10. ‌Deltacargo.com. (2021). [online] Available at: https://www.deltacargo.com/Cargo/ [Accessed 11 Oct. 2021].

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Emma Garofalo is a writer based in Pittsburgh, PA. A lover of science, art, and all things culinary, few things excite her more than the opportunity to learn about something new." It is now in the sheet in the onboarding paperwork, apologies!!

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