Banning Emotional Support Animals From Airplanes: Your Comments Requested by the Department of Transportation

“As long as the government allows exceptions that you can drive a truck through to laws requiring documentation, no wonder abuse is beyond rampant. There’s simply no repercussions to violating the law and businesses can’t gather enough information to see that the animal is valid. The whole situation is nuts. Besides holding the animal owner accountable for fraud if the animal is just a pet, holding any vet’s license responsible for incorrectly listing any animal as either a service animal or emotional support animal should fix the abuse in a hurry.”

Banning Emotional Support Animals From Airplanes: Your Comments Requested by the Department of Transportation

As a reader of The Gate, Christian posted the comment you just read in response to this article pertaining to Another Example of Why People Register Their Pets as Emotional Support Animals — and the federal government of the United States may just act upon it.

The Department of Transportation of the United States announced on Wednesday, January 22, 2020 its proposal to amend the definition of a service animal in air transportation — as well as to include safeguards to ensure safety while simultaneously reducing the likelihood that passengers wishing to travel with their pets on aircraft will be able to falsely claim that their pets are legitimate service animals. This could possibly mean that emotional support animals may possibly be banned aboard airplanes for commercial flights in the future.

In this document of 94 pages pertaining to Traveling by Air with Service Animals Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the Department of Transportation proposes the following changes to its current Air Carrier Access Act service animal rule in 14 CFR Part 382:

  • Definition of Service Animal: The Department of Transportation proposes to define a service animal as a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability — including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. This proposed definition of a service animal is similar to the Americans with Disabilities Act definition by the Department of Justice of a service animal.
  • Emotional Support Animals: The proposed rulemaking of the Department of Transportation does not require airlines to recognize emotional support animals as service animals. Airlines would be permitted to treat emotional support animals, which are not trained to do work or perform a task for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability, as pets.
  • Species: Under the proposed rule by the Department of Transportation, airlines would only be required to transport dogs as service animals. As a result, airlines would no longer be required to accommodate miniature horses, cats, rabbits, birds, and all other service animals that airlines are currently required to transport.
  • Documentation: Airlines would be permitted to require passengers with a disability traveling with a service animal to complete and submit to the airline the following forms developed by the United States Department of Transportation pertaining to service animals as a condition of transportation:
    1. Air Transportation Health Form, to be completed by a veterinarian in order to certify the good health of the animal;
    2. Air Transportation Behavior and Training Attestation Form, to be completed by the service animal handler in order to attest to the good behavior of the animal; and
    3. Relief Attestation, to be completed by the service animal handler when traveling with a service animal on a flight whose duration is a minimum of eight hours or longer in order to verify that the animal has the ability to either not relieve itself, or can relieve itself in a sanitary manner. Under the proposal of the Department of Transportation, these three documents would be the only documents that an airline could require from an individual with a disability traveling with a service animal. The Department of Transportation forms would include a warning that a service animal handler to make false statements or representations on these forms to secure disability accommodations would be a federal crime.
  • Check-In Requirements: The Department of Transportation proposes to allow airlines to require all passengers with a disability traveling with a service animal to check in one-hour before the check-in time for the general public as a condition for travel with a service animal to allow time to process the service animal documentation and observe the animal. However, the Department of Transportation also proposes that if an airline imposes the one-hour check-in requirement on passengers traveling with service animals, the airline must designate a location in the airport for these passengers to check-in promptly by a trained agent.
  • Number of Service Animals Per Passenger: The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking of the Department of Transportation proposes to require airlines to accept up to two service animals per passenger for transport on an aircraft. In order to determine if the animal qualifies as a service animal, airlines are permitted to ask passengers with disabilities if the animal is required to accompany the passenger because of a disability, and what work or task the animal has been trained to perform, but the airline must not ask the passenger the nature of his or her disability, nor are airlines permitted to ask service animals to demonstrate the work or tasks they have been trained to perform.
  • Large Service Animals: The Department of Transportation proposes to allow airlines to limit service animals based on whether the animal can fit onto the lap of the handler of the service animal or within the foot space of the handler of the service animal. Airlines would be permitted to reject service animals which are too large to fit on these spaces.
  • Control of the Animal: The Department of Transportation proposes to continue to permit airlines to require that service animals be harnessed, leashed, tethered or otherwise under the control of its handler at all times in the airport and on the aircraft. In general, tethering and similar means of controlling an animal that are permitted in the Americans with Disabilities Act context would be reasonable in the context of controlling service animals in the airport and on the aircraft.
  • Direct Threat: The Department of Transportation proposes to continue to allow airlines to refuse to transport a service animal if the animal poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others.  In determining whether to deny transport to a service animal on the basis that the animal poses a direct threat, the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking specifies that airline must make an individualized assessment based on reasonable judgments that relies on the best available objective evidence to ascertain the nature, duration, and severity of the risk; the probability that the potential injury will occur; and whether reasonable modifications will mitigate the risk.
  • Breed Restrictions: The Department of Transportation proposes to continue prohibiting airlines from imposing breed and other categorical restrictions on service animals. In the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the Department of Transportation proposes explicit language that states that airlines are not permitted to refuse to transport service animals based on breed.

A Reminder of the Definitions of Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals

The official definition of a service animalaccording to the Disability Rights Section of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice of the United States pertaining to the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA — is as follows:

Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.

This definition does not affect or limit the broader definition of “assistance animal” under the Fair Housing Act or the broader definition of “service animal” under the Air Carrier Access Act.

Some State and local laws also define service animal more broadly than the ADA does. Information about such laws can be obtained from the State attorney general’s office.

Additionally, service animals must be harnessed, leashed, or tethered — unless these devices interfere with the intended work of the service animal or the disability of the individual prevents using these devices. In that case, the individual must maintain control of the animal through voice, signal, or other effective controls.

An emotional support animal is a companion animal which provides therapeutic benefit to an individual designated with a disability — such as depression, bipolar disorder, panic attacks or anxiety as only a few of many examples. While only dogs — and, in a separate provision which need not be discussed here, miniature horses — can be officially designated as service animals, emotional support animals can also be cats and other animals as prescribed by a physician or other medical professional if the owner of the animal has a verifiable disability in accordance with federal law of the United States.

In order to prevent discrimination by commercial airlines — based both within and outside of the United States — against passengers on the basis of physical or mental disability, the Air Carrier Access Act was passed by the Congress of the United States in 1986; and here are where complaints may be registered against an airline via the official Internet web site of the Aviation Consumer Protection and Enforcement division of the Department of Transportation of the United States.

Employees of airlines are limited by law to the questions they are permitted to ask owners of animals brought aboard airplanes. Only two questions may be asked by employees of an airline — or of any other company, for that matter pertaining to service animals…

  1. Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
  2. What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?
black dog matthew

Photograph ©2013 by Brian Cohen.

…and when the service an animal provides is not obvious, an employee of an airline or other company cannot do the following actions without violating federal law:

  • Ask about the nature of the disability of the person
  • Require medical documentation
  • Require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog; or
  • Ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task

Summary

Unlike airlines — which have blanket policies pertaining to the transportation of animals — the acceptance of animals in rooms with their owners is left up to the policies of the individual hotel or resort property. Some do not allow animals at all. Some are pet friendly and do not charge extra for animals to stay at their locations. Some charge a fee for pets with no fee charged for service animals.

People who travel with pets should do what they can to stay at hotel and resort properties which are pet friendly — but they should not attempt to pass off their pets as service animals solely for the purpose of saving money in what some people would call a fraudulent manner.

In the meantime, if you have wanted to officially voice your thoughts to the federal government of the United States, your opportunity has arrivedgreater than 2,613 comments have already been filed at the time this article was written — but you must do so before the comment period closes 60 days after publication in the Federal Register on Wednesday, January 22, 2020, which is Sunday, March 22, 2020. File your comment at www.regulations.gov, docket number DOT-OST-2018-0068.

I have written extensively over the years pertaining to service dogs and emotional support animals in the form of articles posted here at The Gate — including:

All photographs ©2006 and ©2013 by Brian Cohen.


 

6 thoughts on “Banning Emotional Support Animals From Airplanes: Your Comments Requested by the Department of Transportation”

  1. Willy says:

    Your coverage of this issue is still the best by far. Thanks for the yeoman’s work. It will be interesting to see how this unfolds. I suspect that while the emotional support animal situation will ameliorate somewhat the support animal issue will continue. If the only documentation required other than health documentation is an attestation as to training that will not deter many.

    It’s an endless rabbit hole as how will they determine who is a qualified service dog trainer. It’s often the case that service dog outfits encourage those with disabilities to not only participate in, but also coordinate the training themselves. The theory being that the disabled person knows their needs most.

  2. debit says:

    Please do not ban bunnies.

    Ever since i read my first playboy i have always had a soft corner for bunnies. You can require that they be on a leash if you want.

  3. Wyngatelassie says:

    Get rid of all animals on flights.

  4. Barry Graham says:

    This is another example of how abusers ruin things for those with a legitimate need (such as blind people) who will now have to complete three forms in order to travel with their service animal.

  5. Ron says:

    Your coverage on this issue is fantastic. I have to say I’m upset with the people who have tried to game the system to get their animal on board (just pay the $100-$125!), but these rules seem to prioritize those with an actual need. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Ally says:

      Ron, it is not only about gaming the system , but rather lack of information and clarity on who is qualified for an ESA or service dogs(here it seems to be more clear). There are many resources, some of them 100% online , where after being assessed by the doctor, you can get either qualified or rejected.
      quite a few web sited are fake, but I can share one , where they know their job well. I have people who wanted to game the system and they were rejected by the medical team. so these guys seem to be fair.
      https://certifymypet.com/qualifying-conditions-for-esa-certification/

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