Delta Airlines says it is “further enhancing” its service animal policy — by banning pit bulls.
Announced yesterday, the ban is set to go into effect on July 10. In addition to banning pit bulls who are registered service animals, the new policy also bars them as emotional support dogs.
“The new requirements support Delta’s top priority of ensuring safety for its customers and employees, while supporting the rights of customers with legitimate needs,” the company wrote in a press release.
The company said the move stems from multiple incidents of flight attendants and passengers being bit by dogs who were allowed on-flight as emotional support animals. It also cited higher rates of animals urinating or defecating while on flights. The company did not specify whether these incidents involved pit bulls or other animals.
For people who genuinely require assistance from their dogs, the ban is highly disappointing. It’s definitely the case for Linda Hickey, whose 13-year-old son, Jonny, has autism and relies on a support pit bull named Xena to keep him calm in stressful situations like flights.
In recent years, Hickey and her son have flown Delta with Xena twice, and had great experiences both times. The 5-year-old pit bull is a rescue-turned-support dog who overcame extreme neglect in her prior home. She’s now Jonny’s best friend.
“Xena was treated like royalty,” Hickey told The Dodo about past flights. “Our flight wasn’t full so they moved people around so she could have her own seat. They gave her ice chips and truly cared about her.”
They also gave Xena a pair of Delta wings to wear on her vest like the flight attendants wear. But now, she and Jonny will no longer be allowed to fly with the company.
“She was very proud to wear her Delta wings,” Hickey added. “The real issue here is not the animals, but the people. We are paying the price because others have taken advantage of the ability to get an animal certified. Now, those who are really in need of their support animals, such as my son, are being restricted.”
Following Delta’s announcement, pit bull owners from across the country have spoken out against the policy, noting that it only continues to perpetuate stereotypes that pit bulls are a public safety concern. In reality, many make wonderful service animals and even police K9 officers.
Like many others, Hickey is hopeful the ban will be overturned, allowing the dogs and the people who need them to travel however they please.
“Clearly, we don’t agree with this ban,” Hickey said. “I certainly hope they rethink and reverse their decision. Dogs like Xena are the majority.”