Delta’s ban on pit bull service and support animals faces challenges

Delta Air Lines' recently announced policy to ban pit bulls as service or support animals has prompted challenges from some who say the policy is discriminatory and may not be legal.

Atlanta-based Delta announced Wednesday that it would prohibit pit bulls as service or support animals on flights, effective July 10.

Delta said the latest policy changes are due to "growing safety concerns" after two employees were bitten by a passenger's emotional support animal last week.

But some groups have challenged the new Delta policy.

And the U.S. Department of Transportation issued a statement Friday saying: “A limitation based exclusively on breed of the service animal is not allowed under the Department’s Air Carrier Access Act regulation.”

An airline can refuse to carry service animals based on factors precluding the animal from traveling in the cabin, “such as the size or weight of the animal, whether the animal would pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others” and other factors.

The DOT said it will investigate complaints from passengers alleging an airline denied them travel by air with a service dog, and determine whether the law was violated.

The Animal Farm Foundation said in a written statement that Delta’s policy “discriminates against people with disabilities who need service dogs. It denies them access to travel and access to living the same lives as everyone else.”

At issue is the Air Carrier Access Act, which governs service animals on airlines.

The Animal Farm Foundation, which has a service dog program, said Delta is “breaking ACAA regulations” because nothing in the regulations permits the airline to deny pit bulls as service dogs.

Humane Society of the United States acting president Kitty Block issued a statement saying “Federal laws in place to protect emotional support and service animals do not discriminate based on breed,” but instead on the behavior of an individual animal.

It's not the first time Delta has faced opposition to a new policy on service or support animals.

>> Delta passenger bitten by emotional support dog couldn’t escape, says attorney

Earlier this year, Delta faced criticism from groups representing blind people, and responded by tweaking its new policy for travelers with service animals.

Delta was planning to require those with service or support animals to submit veterinary health forms or immunization records online 48 hours in advance.

But the National Federation of the Blind and the American Council of the Blind said the restrictions were onerous and “violate the principle of equal access” for those with disabilities. As a result, Delta said for those with service animals, it would not require the submissions 48 hours in advance.

The federal government is in the middle of examining the question of how airlines handle service animals and closely support animals.

The U.S. Department of Transportation is taking public comments on whether there should be a distinction between emotional support animals and other service animals, whether emotional support animals should be required to travel in a carrier throughout a flight, whether certain species should be limited, and other issues.