The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) says its proposed amendments to its Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) are “intended to ensure that our air transportation system is safe for the traveling public and accessible to individuals with disabilities.” On January 22, 2020, DOT posted its proposed new rules for public comment, “Traveling by Air with Service Animals Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM).”
In what will likely be the most controversial proposal of these amendments, airlines would now be allowed to identify emotional support animals as pets rather than service animals, which means airlines can use their own discretion as to whether they will allow passengers to fly with these animals in the cabin of the plane.
The new rules would also allow airlines “to require all passengers with a disability traveling with a service animal to complete and submit to the airline forms developed by DOT attesting to the animal’s training and good behavior, certifying the animal’s good health, and attesting that the animal has the ability either not to relieve itself on a long flight or to relieve itself in a sanitary manner.”
The proposal goes on to discuss the number of animals that will be allowed to fly with a passenger with a disability, how large service animals would be transported, and whether passengers can be held liable for damage caused by a service animal, among other issues.
Because ESA designation has a lower requirement threshold, some pet owners use the ESA designation as a way to bring their family pet along for the flight. A family pet, not trained to handle the rigors of service, might not behave appropriately during a flight. These misrepresentations have compromised the ability of those who truly need to fly with their service dogs to do so without resistance. For people with disabilities who rely on their service animals, this practice causes public and corporate suspicion and that can create big roadblocks and major frustration. The public has until March 22, 2020, to comment on the proposed new rules. View the document and instructions for submitting comments at regulations.gov, docket number DOT-OST-2018-0068.
The Washington Post reported in January 2020 that, according to the industry trade group Airlines for America (A4A), the number of emotional support animals traveling aboard commercial flight increased from 481,000 in 2016 to 751,000 in 2017.