Delta Is Discriminating Against People with Disabilities and Their Service Dogs
21
June, 2018
Delta announced that it is no longer recognizing what they call “bull type dogs” as service dogs. Make no mistake, this regulation 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.

This decision doesn’t make any scientific sense either. According to hard science, there is no inherent difference between one dog and another dog. All dogs are individuals. For Delta to single out dogs based on an arbitrary label is a practice based entirely around a fallacy.

It’s also against both the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)  and the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA).

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Depending on the situation, laws around service dogs aren’t always governed by the Americans with Disabilities Act. In the case of air travel, these situations defer to the ACAA, although in some cases, like in airports themselves, the ADA still applies. (View a full chart of the how these regulations differ.) Delta’s service animal policy falls under the ACAA, which does give them a bit more freedom to adopt their own policies – but not much.

The ACAA states that all service animals must be permitted except if they:

– Are too large or heavy to be accommodated in the cabin
– Pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others
– Cause a significant disruption of cabin service
– Are prohibited from entering a foreign country

None of these things makes it acceptable for Delta to ban dogs based on an arbitrary label, in this case, “bull type dogs” or “pit bull type dogs” – Delta uses both terms interchangeably.  The airline, which calls these discriminatory policies “enhancements,” states:

The enhancements include introducing a limit of one emotional support animal per customer per flight and no longer accepting pit bull type dogs as service or support animals. These updates, which come as the peak summer travel season is underway, are the direct result of growing safety concerns following recent incidents in which several employees were bitten.”

Delta’s regulations cite “bull type dogs” as the only canines on their list of banned animals. Other animals on this list include, hedgehogs, rodents, snakes, spiders, reptiles, and animals with horns or hooves. Science says that dogs are dogs and there’s no scientific reason anyone should ban an arbitrary group of dogs from anything.

It’s terrible that people were bitten by dogs on a plane. It’s also terrible that many break the law and commit fraud by faking a disability so that they can bring their pet on a plane. These two things are likely connected.

What isn’t connected is what this has to do with “pit bull” dogs or why it should result in the further discrimination of people with service dogs.

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And yes, that’s what we’re talking about here. People with disabilities have service dogs of all shapes and sizes who perform all different types of jobs. Because there is no legal definition of what makes a “pit bull” dog, countless people with disabilities will buy their tickets, show up at the gate, and be turned away. Some people have already purchased tickets through Delta and now need to cancel their flight and possibly their entire trip because of discrimination.

While it’s tempting to say “don’t like it, don’t do business with them,” we need to look deeper. Sure, people can fly on another airline, but why can’t they fly Delta? Because Delta is discriminating against them. We aren’t comfortable letting discrimination stand and you shouldn’t be either.

Not only is Delta being discriminatory, they’re also breaking ACAA regulations. As we mentioned, there’s nothing in the regulations that permits the airline to deny “pit bull” dogs (or whatever label someone subjectively wants to assign to them) as service dogs. We’ve contacted Delta and the Department of Transportation for more details so that we can help them develop non-discriminatory solutions, but we have not heard back.

If you have been discriminated against by an airline, you can file a complaint with the Department of Transportation.

The DOT is considering making revisions to the Air Carrier Access Act. They are requesting comments from the public prior to making any changes. You can leave your thoughtful comment on regulations.gov before July 9, 2018.

Below are some bullet points to help you draft your response:

  • The purpose of accessibility policies to make the world accessible to everyone. Policies banning dogs who look a certain way creates a more inaccessible world.
  • Delta’s new policy discriminates against people with disabilities.
  • There is no standard definition of what makes a dog a “pit bull” or a “bull type.” These are arbitrary terms based on subjective visual identification. They have no basis in science. 
  • In fact, science says visual identification of dogs is highly inaccurate.
  • Research shows that looks don’t equal behavior. Genetics are only part of what makes a dog who they are. 
  • All dogs are individuals and we must view them as such.

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