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The Skies are now Friendlier for Service Animals and their Companions

Guidelines Expanded for Sevice and Emotional Support Animals

On Friday, May 9, the Department of Transportation published new guidelines concerning service animals and air transportation as they relate to the Air Carrier Access Act (ACCA).

Based on the old definition, a service animal was any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability. These service animals could travel in the cabin with their owners. As more and more individuals with disabilities began to travel by air and utilize a wider variety of service animals (monkeys, pigs and even miniature horses), the airlines needed clearer guidelines to assist airline personnel in making their assessments and to help people with disabilities know what to expect when traveling by air with their service animal.

The new definition of a service animal is “any animal that is individually trained or able to provide assistance to a qualified person with a disability; or any animal shown by documentation to be necessary for the emotional well being of a passenger.” A service animal can include:

  • Hearing or signal (alerting deaf to sounds);
  • Mobility Assist (pulls wheelchair, picks up things that are dropped);
  • Seizure Alert/Response Dog (Agoraphobic, autistic to focus. Are trained to never leave their handler’s side);
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Service animals are, by definition, different than emotional support animals. An emotional support animal performs either a psychiatric service (extreme social anxiety or panic attack) or provides emotional support. Service animals are individually trained to perform a function to assist the passenger who is a qualified individual with a disability. Emotional support animals do not necessarily have “task specific” training that supports the disabled person and are therefore treated differently than service animals.

Individual Requirements.

If you are traveling with a service animal, be prepared to answer the following questions.

  1. Is this your pet? The person must respond that this is a “service animal”.
  2. What tasks does your animal perform for you?
  3. Please describe how the animal performs this task. (The service animal does not necessarily have to perform the task while in flight for the animal to be considered a service animal.)

If you cannot effectively answer these questions, the airline can request, but not require, documentation for a service animal. Documentation could include:

  • Identification card;
  • Written documentation (from a doctor);
  • Presence of harnesses, tags or credible verbal assurances from the handler.

If you are traveling with an emotional support animal, the airline can require appropriate documentation. Documentation should be on the letterhead of a mental health professional and state the following:

  • The passenger has a mental health-related disability;
  • That having the animal accompany the passenger is necessary to the passenger’s mental health or treatment;
  • That the individual providing the assessment of the passenger is a licensed mental health professional and the passenger is under his or her professional care. The airlines cannot ask what “type” of mental health disability is involved.

Airline Requirements.

Airline personnel need to establish whether the pet is a pet, a service animal or an emotional support animal before they can allow it to ride in the cabin. General requirements of the carrier (airlines are strongly encouraged to consider every animal on a case by case basis) are as follows:

  1. Permit dogs and service animals used by persons with disabilities must be allowed to accompany them on the flight.
  2. Can sit on plane, as long as they do not obstruct the aisle.
  3. Carriers cannot impose charges for providing facilities, equipment or services to qualified individuals.

    Exceptions to these rules: The service animal cannot present a DIRECT threat to the safety or health of others or cause a SIGNIFICANT disruption to the airline service in the cabin. In addition, unusual service animals (snakes, reptiles, ferrets, and rodents) might be denied access under these rules if seen as posing unavoidable safety and/or public health concerns. Other unusual animals (miniature horses, pigs and monkeys) should be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Passenger Recourse.

If you have a legitimate service or emotional support animals and feel that the airline is treating you unfairly, then ask the representative to contact the airline’s complaint resolution officer (CRO). All airlines are required to have an officer on staff and available during all hours of operation.

As always, please call ahead to book a reservation. Let the agent know that you are a person traveling with a disability and would like to know what special arrangements need to be made.

For more information, please visit the Department of Transportation and click on the PDF or Word version of Service Animal Guidance.

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