Service Dog Denied Permission to Board an Airplane? Yeah — When Pigs Fly! Oh, Wait a Minute…
“A xel, a heroic service dog that saved the life of one of our nation’s brave warriors and had just been named Service Dog of the Year at the American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards® during a star-studded, nationally televised gala at the Beverly Hilton, was denied permission to accompany Captain Jason Haag as they were about to board the airplane for home.”
Written documentation to verify the service, psychiatric or emotional support status of your animal
Credible verbal assurance
…and that a harness and vest clearly identified him as a service dog, Axel was allegedly denied entry aboard the airplane.
“At the time of boarding however, an American Airlines representative began to ask additional questions, including questions about his disability and demanding additional documentation”, according to the aforementioned press release. “An airline representative later stated to American Humane Association’s legal counsel that Capt. Haag needed to have a medical alert card, which is not in fact a requirement.”
Only two questions may be asked by employees of an airline — or of any other company, for that matter:
Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?
When it is not obvious what service an animal provides, 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
…but the two permitted questions may be more than enough in some cases to have determined whether or not a dog is a legitimate service animal.
Even if a dog is considered a legitimate service animal, an employee of an airline or other company could still have it removed from the premises if the dog is considered:
Out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it; or
If what the content of the press release alleges is actually true, then the employee of American Airlines violated federal law — specifically, the Air Carrier Access Act, which was passed by the Congress of the United States in 1986. It was designed 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.
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.
“American Airlines issued an apology today, and American Humane Association is calling on them and all airlines to better train their staff to meet the needs of our nation’s brave veterans and others who require the help of a service animal”, continued the content of the aforementioned press release. “American Humane Association supports both our two-legged and four-legged veterans and believes we must all stand up for all those who serve our country and help and defend those in need. There should be no room and zero tolerance for discrimination against these heroes.”
While I believe there is a lot of superfluous puffery in that press release that tends to border on being dramatic, I generally agree with its message; but let us assume that Axel is indeed a legitimate service dog — and I have no reason to doubt that statement — how is it that an airline employee can question the legitimacy of Axel; but a pig being passed off as an emotional support animal can board an airplane with no questions asked?
Service Animals:Requires public accommodation to permit use of service animal by individual with disability; provides conditions for public accommodation to exclude or remove service animal; revises penalties for certain persons or entities who interfere with use of service animal; provides penalty for knowing & willful misrepresentation with respect to use or training of service animal.
The penalty could include jail time; and perhaps laws such as this one are needed to put the bite on impostors posing as emotional support animals.
Additionally, airline employees need to be educated on the differences between a service animal — typically a dog but could one day include orphaned parrots, crows and ravens — and an emotional support animal, which could include just about any animal that is accompanied by no more than a note from a doctor and a phony certification.
Lawmakers, airlines and organizations such as the American Humane Association need to collaborate on creating fair policies towards laws to ensure that those passengers who need support animals while traveling be allowed to do so as comfortably as possible without fear of discrimination; but also without leaving loopholes to allow for abuse of the system — flagrant or otherwise.