A Kentucky college student is stranded in Arizona after Delta Airlines allowed him to fly to Phoenix for the holidays with his emotional support dog, but the airline did not allow the dog on the return trip.

Zachary Smith owns a staffordshire terrier/pit bull mix named “Kaimani.” It has served as Smith's “comfort animal” since he experienced panic attacks several years ago, Smith said.

Delta Airlines says it was a mistake to allow the dog on the initial flight from Cincinnati to Phoenix because “pit bull-type dogs” are banned by the airline.

“We apologize to this customer for their experience while attempting to travel with an animal that did not meet our service and support animal policy,” Delta Airlines spokesman Drake Castaneda said in a statement to 12 News. 

“In 2018, Delta tightened its policies on service and emotional support animals, which included a ban on pit bull type dogs as service or support animals. These policy updates reinforce Delta’s core value of putting safety first, always.”

When Smith made plans to fly to Phoenix from Cincinnati for Christmas, he was told by Delta Airlines the dog was prohibited because of its breed. 

But Smith says he was also told he could show up at the airport and, if Delta employees were convinced the dog’s temperament was acceptable, the dog might be allowed on the flight. 

Kaimani
Zachary Smith's dog, Kaimani
Courtesy photo

Smith took the chance and was allowed to fly to Phoenix with Kaimani.

“I was allowed to fly out of Cincinnati through Delta Airlines, given the documentation I gave them. Now that it’s time to fly back, they denied my boarding at the airport,” Smith said.

Delta Airlines refunded Smith’s flight. Smith said he is looking for a ride back to Kentucky, where he attends Kentucky Christian University.

“My message to Delta Airlines is not to consider the breed, but to consider the demeanor of the animal while in the airport,” Smith said, adding that Kaimani is trained for obedience and public interaction.

Delta Airline’s ban appears to contradict an Aug. 8 “Final Statement” from the U.S. Department of Transportation regarding service and comfort animals on planes. 

According to the statement, “The Department’s Enforcement Office views a limitation based exclusively on breed of the service animal to not be allowed under its service animal regulation.”

However, the department also states, “Airlines are permitted to find that any specific animal, regardless of breed, poses a direct threat” and prohibit such animals from boarding a plane.

In other words, airlines can prohibit animals from planes on a case-by-case basis.

When asked why Delta Airlines enforces a pit bull ban that appears to contradict the Department of Transportation's policy, Castaneda declined to comment.