Last week the Department of Transportation (DOT) amended section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to include provisions for service animal relief areas in airports, and to address the level boarding requirement for foreign air carriers.
Under the new regulations, airports with more than 10,000 annual enplanements must provide service animal relief areas. Instead of releasing architectural guidelines for the relief areas, the DOT instead ruled that the airports must consult with an animal training organization regarding the design, dimensions, materials and maintenance of the relief areas. One relief area is required in each terminal, and if not prohibited by the TSA, the relief area must be located within the secure area. An exemption from this placement is allowed if the service animal training organization, the airport ,and the carriers in the terminal agree that the relief area would be better placed outside the secure area.
Airports have one year to meet these requirements.
The DOT also clarified the issue of boarding assistance for foreign carriers that serve US airports. Although the current regulations require mechanical lifts or ramps if level boarding is not possible, the responsibility for these boarding devices is not spelled out. This amendment clarifies the situation and states that airports must sign written agreements with each foreign carrier to allocate the responsibility for this equipment. Airports have 90 days to sign these agreements.
In both cases these are good amendments. Although many airports already have service animal relief areas, the new regulations will make them more user-friendly. Additionally, the level boarding agreement will clearly define the responsibility of lift maintenance and the personnel required for boarding assistance.