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19 February 2020
Airlines will be required to accept only dogs as service animals
Service animal documentation
Qualification as service animal
Psychiatric service dogs
Number of service animals per passenger
Large service animals
Control of animals
The Department of Transportation (DOT) has proposed significant changes to its disability regulations relating to the transportation of service animals by air. The DOT's current regulations require that airlines allow passengers to travel with a wide range of animals in cabin on the basis that they are service animals or emotional support animals. US airlines are estimated to have transported 1.13 million emotional support animals in cabin in 2019, including ducks, turkeys, pigs and iguanas. This has given rise to such problems as (apparently untrained) animals attacking, biting and scratching passengers, airline employees and other animals, as well as incidents of animals urinating and defecating in the airport terminal and on board the aircraft.
This article sets out the DOT's most significant proposed changes.
The DOT 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. Under the DOT's current regulations, US airlines must accept other species, including cats, miniature horses, pigs and capuchin monkeys, as service animals.
Airlines will not be required to accept emotional support or comfort animals as service animals. Airlines will be permitted to treat emotional support animals as pets because they are not trained to do work or perform a task for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability.
Airlines will be permitted to require passengers with a disability travelling with a service animal to complete and submit to the airline the following forms developed by the DOT (not the airlines' own forms) as a condition of transportation:
The DOT forms would include a warning that it would be a federal crime for a service animal handler to make false statements or representations on these forms to secure disability accommodations.
In order to determine if an animal qualifies as a service animal, airlines will be permitted to ask passengers 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 cannot ask the passenger about the nature of their disability or for service animals to demonstrate the work or tasks that they have been trained to perform.
Psychiatric service dogs will continue to qualify as service animals on the basis that they are trained to do work or perform tasks.
The DOT proposes to allow airlines to require all passengers with a disability travelling with a service animal to check in one hour before the check-in time for the general public as a condition of travel with a service animal to allow time to process the service animal documentation, so long as the airline similarly requires advance check in for passengers travelling with their pets in the cabin. Airlines would have to designate a location in the airport for these passengers to check in promptly with a trained agent.
The DOT proposes to require airlines to accept up to two service animals per passenger.
The DOT proposes to allow airlines to limit service animals based on whether they can fit on the service animal handler's lap or foot space. Airlines could reject service animals that are too large to fit in these spaces. In cases where the service animal is too large to fit in the passenger's foot space or on the passenger's lap, the DOT proposes requiring airlines to:
The DOT proposes continuing to permit airlines to require that service animals be harnessed, leashed, tethered or otherwise under the control of their handler at all times in the airport and on the aircraft unless the device interferes with the service animal's work or the passenger's disability prevents the use of these devices.
The DOT proposes continuing 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, an airline must make an individualised assessment based on reasonable judgements that relies on the best available objective evidence to ascertain:
The DOT proposes to continue prohibiting airlines from imposing breed and other categorical restrictions on service animals, but seeks comment about the unique environment of a crowded airplane cabin in flight that would justify permitting airlines to prohibit pit bulls and other breeds from travelling on their flights.
The DOT has requested comments on the proposed rule by 6 April 2020.
For further information on this topic please contact David Heffernan or Rachel Welford at Cozen O'Connor by telephone (+1 202 912 4800) or email (email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org). The Cozen O'Connor website can be accessed at www.cozen.com.
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