Delta ends ban on emotional support animals on long flights — but keeps pit bull ban

US DOT is investigating several complaints related to airline policies banning pit bulls as service animals

To comply with new federal guidance, Delta Air Lines is discontinuing a ban on emotional support animals on flights longer than eight hours.

However, the airline is not changing its ban on pit bulls as service animals — even though the U.S. Department of Transportation issued guidance saying such a ban on a breed is not allowed. 

The Department of Transportation said Tuesday it is investigating several complaints related to airline policies banning “pit bull type dogs” as service animals.

» Delta passenger bitten by emotional support dog couldn't escape, says attorney

Delta put in place the ban on pit bulls as service or support animals in 2018 after two employees were bitten by a passenger's emotional support dog.

The DOT in a guidance document last month said it “views a limitation based exclusively on breed of the service animal to not be allowed under its service animal regulation,” and that airlines should not automatically prohibit service animals or emotional support animals on flights lasting eight or more hours. It said airlines had 30 days to comply.

Delta said Monday that effective immediately, it is lifting its ban on emotional support animals on flights over eight hours, less than a year after instituting the policy.

But the airline said pit bulls account for less than 5 percent of the dog population and 37.5 percent of vicious dog attacks. "Delta has not come to a solution for allowing pit bulls onboard that satisfies its own rigorous safety requirements," the company said in a press release.

"We will never compromise on safety, and we will do what is right for the health and safety of our customers and employees," said John Laughter, Delta's senior vice president of corporate safety, security and compliance, in a written statement. He also said the airline continues to work with the DOT on solutions for customers who have "legitimate needs to travel with trained animals."

The Humane Society of the United States issued a statement from its president Kitty Block on Tuesday saying Delta’s decision to maintain the pit bull ban “is misguided and will hurt countless individuals.”

The organization said it believes it is “inappropriate to use an animal’s estimated breed as a determining factor for whether an animal poses a direct threat to others,” and said “a dog’s breed is a complex issue that does not neatly translate into predictive behavior patterns and unfairly discriminates against thousands of responsible pet owners.”

Delta said it had more than 40 instances of aggressive animal behavior on Delta planes last year. Allison Ausband, Delta's senior vice president of in-flight service overseeing flight attendants, said in a statement: "I will do everything I can to keep (flight attendants) safe and send them home to their families in the same condition they came to work."

The DOT said in its document that conforming with the guidance “is voluntary only” and that its guidance “is not legally binding in its own right and will not be relied on by the Department as a separate basis for affirmative enforcement or other administrative penalty.”

The DOT said its Office of Aviation Enforcement Proceedings investigates every disability complaint about airline service that it receives, including complaints from passengers who allege an airline denied them travel with a service animal. The agency determines whether the law was violated and considers whether to pursue an enforcement action.

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