DOT Issues Statement Regarding Service Animals on Aircraft

The Department of Transportation(DOT) issued a statement regarding service animals on aircraft cabins on August 8, 2019.  The statement's intent is to provide clarity on current Air Carriers Access Act regulations and identify priority areas for enforcement.  It addresses a number of issues including breed restrictions, the number of service and emotional support animals that may accompany a person with a disability on a plane, restrictions for long flights. Final Statement of Enforcement Priorities Regarding Service Animals

(Please note:  the Air Carriers Access Act's definition for service animals is different from the ADA.  It includes emotional support animals and does not limit the service animal definition to dogs and miniature horses.)

A good summary of the enforcement priorities, written by John Simpson, of Duane Morris LLP, appears in Lexology.com.  Below are main points listed in the article.

The full  article can be accessed at DOT Clarifies Enforcement Priorities Concerning Air Travel with Service Animals

 

Key Points from DOT Final Statement of Enforcement Priorities Regarding Service Animals.

♦ Species and Breed Restrictions. One airline had banned pit bulls, which the Enforcement Office found contrary to ACCA. While there can be categorical restrictions by the airlines on snakes, other reptiles, ferrets, rodents and spiders, there can be no categorical bans on other animals. Whether a particular dog poses a direct threat to safety or health will depend on an assessment of that animal, not its breed. So, presumably, airlines cannot ban the flight of pit bulls, Rottweilers, Dobermans and the like based solely on breed.

♦ Number Restrictions. An airline cannot prevent an individual passenger from traveling with one ESA and a total of three service animals, if needed. Airlines cannot impose categorical restrictions on the number of service animals on a single flight. If ten passengers need service animals and meet the criteria, then their animals will all fly. The line where this would become an unwieldy “Noah’s Ark” scenario is unclear.

♦ Weight Restrictions. One airline imposed a 65-pound weight limit which the Enforcement Office found inconsistent with ACCA. Categorical weight restrictions are not allowed; weight must be assessed on a case-by-case basis, including the type of aircraft. So, in theory, a Great Dane could fly if other requirements were met.

♦ Age Restrictions. The Enforcement Office had no issues with airline rules excluding animals too young to have been trained to behave in public.

♦ Flight-Length Restrictions. Airlines cannot categorically restrict service animals on flights lasting 8 hours or more, but for such flights they can request 48 hours’ notice, early check-in and documentation that the animal’s need for bodily relief can be handled in a way that does not create a sanitation issue on a flight.

♦ Proof of Service Animal Status. Airlines are still permitted to ask limited questions to determine the passenger’s need for the animal, even if the animal is wearing a service animal vest or similar apparel.

♦ Documentation Requirements. Airlines can continue to ask for documentation related to any service animal’s vaccination, training or behavior as long as it is reasonable to believe that the documentation would assist in determining whether the animal is a direct threat to safety or health. While airlines can encourage customers to use the airline’s own form, they cannot require it. Any documentation from a mental health professional that meets the legal criteria will suffice.

♦ Lobby Verification. Airlines will not apparently risk enforcement action by requiring passengers to present service animal documentation for ESA’s and PSA’s in the airport lobby, as opposed to the gate area. However, airlines cannot require presentation of such documentation for passengers with traditional service animals any earlier than in the gate area.

♦ Advance Notice/Check- In. ESA/PSA users can be required to give 48 hours’ notice and to appear for lobby documentation check-in one hour prior to the time for the general public to check in. However, these notice and check-in requirements cannot be imposed on travelers with traditional service animals or other non-ESA/PSA’s.

♦ Containment. Requiring passengers to comply with containment methods that meet the ADA (e.g., a harness) will generally be deemed permissible. Other situations will be assessed case-by-case on the basis of factors such as the size of the animal and the right of other passengers to enjoy their own foot space.