Airline Organization Urges DOT to Redefine “Service Animal”


New Service Animal FAQs from the DOJ

Airlines for America (AIA) — an airline industry group — recently announced that it had submitted a 222-page document to the Department of Transportation (DOT), in response to a call for input on possible revisions to the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA). The group’s response included the suggestion that the DOT narrow the definition of “service animal” to “trained dogs that perform a task or work for an individual with a disability.” The document also included the recommendation that airlines should not be required to allow emotional support animals (ESOs) on board.

So where did this all come from? Well, a peacock, a turkey and a pig, among other species have certainly made the news when their owners took them — or tried to take them — on board an aircraft under the guise of “emotional support animals”.

But truly that’s only the tip of the iceberg. The problem lies with an inconsistency in two laws — the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) and the ACAA. The former covers places of public accommodation on land, while the latter covers accessible air travel. And they both treat service animals and ESOs differently, which leads to a lot of confusion.

The ADA defines a service animal as a dog that’s individually trained to do work or preform a task for a disabled individual. Furthermore, the work or task that the dog provides must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support – ESOs – do not qualify as service animals under the ADA

The ACAA takes a broader view of things, and it defines a service animal as any animal that provides assistance to a disabled person. It also defines an ESO as any animal that provides emotional support to a passenger; however additional documentation from a mental health professional is required.. And although the ACAA specifies “any animal”, it also specifically prohibits snakes, reptiles, ferrets, rodents, sugar gliders, and spiders from being a service animal or an ESO. The regs do however allow, in some cases; for miniature horses.

Can you see where there’s a problem here? The two sets of regulations actually conflict with one another. That’s because they were developed by two different agencies. The ADA was crafted by the Department of Justice (DOJ), while the ACAA was penned by the DOT.

The airlines have always held that vague regulations don’t benefit anyone, and the AIA is just asking for some parity between the ACAA and the ADA.

So will anything happen? Who knows, but since our current administration is not real big on new regulations, I’m thinking there won’t be any sweeping changes. That said, the ACAA is an evolving document and it has been amended many times. My crystal ball is a little murky at this point, so we’ll all just have to wait and see what the future brings.