Delta Airlines Cracks Down on Pets Being Brought on Airplanes as Service Animals

Brad Schwarz Service Dog
Brad Schwarz, with his service dog Panzer, attends a Chicago Cubs game with a group of veterans from the Wounded Warrior Project at Wrigley Field on June 14, 2012, in Chicago. Schwarz uses Panzer to help him cope with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) issues related to his 2008 tour in Iraq. New research indicates it may be possible to determine who will be more resilient or who may be at higher risk for PTSD based on sleep patterns. Scott Olson/Getty Images

If you were planning on taking your hedgehog, snake or pig on a flight and calling it a "service animal," be warned: Delta airlines is tightening their rules about taking those animals with you.

Different airlines have different rules about in what situations you can take animals on the flight. Typically, Delta allows cats, dogs and birds on flights if they're contained in a carrier that fits under the seat and you pay an extra fee. They also allow service animals, like seeing eye dogs, to aid the disabled.

But with an increasing number of people claiming that they need their pets on board with them, Delta has updated their rules. The airline now says if your pet is going to fly in the cabin as a trained service animal, then you have to submit vet health forms and/or immunization records and a doctor's note confirming you need the service animal 48 hours before your plane takes off, The Verge reports.

"Emotional Support Animals," or ESA's are allowed as well, but they need a note from their owner's doctor or mental health professional, as well as a "confirmation of animal training."

It's easy to claim that your pet is an ESA because there is no licensing procedure to earn ESA classification. ESA's don't have to be trained to assist their owners, their mere existence is thought to be therapeutic and relaxing.

It's also easy to claim that your animal is a service animal. In accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, one cannot demand identification from someone to prove that their pet is a service animal, making it simple for people to claim their untrained pet is allowed on a plane outside its carrier.

Multiple studies have shown that pets can offer a variety of mental health benefits, although the science of emotional support animals isn't settled. While only dogs and miniature horses can be service animals, any animal can be an emotional support animal, including a duck, a snake and a pig, as the one that infamously caused a major flight disruption in 2000.

The abuse of the word "service animal" doesn't sit well with disability advocates, who have asked people to "stop faking service dogs" and exploiting the fact that many staff members at restaurants and airlines don't know the difference. They want trained, working animals to be recognized as being capable of sitting still and not disrupting restaurants and airplanes. But as many people try to blur the lines between ESA and service animals, maintaining that respect has become challenging.