GREAT FALLS — Last Wednesday, the United States Department of Transportation announced it is soliciting public comment on regulations regarding air transportation of animals.
The public now has less than 60 days to comment on proposed amendments to its Air Carrier Access Act.
The Department of Transportation’s goal is to address all travelers’ needs, including those who require a service animal.
While the DOT recognizes the need for service animals, they also wish to prevent others from being able to falsely claim their pets as service animals.
There are several proposed amendments regarding air travel for pets.
- Define a service animal as a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability;
- No longer consider an emotional support animal to be a service animal;
- Consider a psychiatric service animal to be a service animal and require the same training and treatment of psychiatric service animals as other service animals;
- Allow airlines to require forms developed by DOT attesting to a service animal’s good behavior, certifying the service animal’s good health, and if taking a long flight attesting that the service animal has the ability to either not relieve itself, or can relieve itself in a sanitary manner;
- Allow airlines to require passengers with a disability who are traveling with a service animal to check-in at the airport one hour prior to the travel time required for the general public to ensure sufficient time to process the service animal documentation and observe the animal;
- Require airlines to promptly check-in passengers with service animals who are subject to an advanced check-in process;
- Allow airlines to limit the number of service animals traveling with a single passenger with a disability to two service animals;
- Allow airlines to require a service animal to fit within its handler’s foot space on the aircraft;
- Continue to allow airlines to require that service animals be harnessed, leashed, tethered, or otherwise under the control of its handler;
- Continue to allow airlines to refuse transportation to service animals that exhibit aggressive behavior and that pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others; and
- Continue to prohibit airlines from refusing to transport a service animal solely on the basis of breed
But the main topic of debate is the proposal to exclude emotional support animals from the service animal distinction. This would prevent therapeutic animals from being able to travel with their emotionally dependent owners.
While the amendment is intended to curb false service animal claims, Delguerra explains how it will impact those who depend on animals that provide emotional support but aren’t licensed as a service animal.
“I think for a lot of people that have a therapeutic pet, there is a real need for their pet -you know- to function. I think it may not be in everybody’s best interest to do that. I think everybody needs the opportunity to use that if they need it,” Delguerra said.
Delguerra explained that some people who need an emotional support animal can’t afford a licensed therapeutic pet. The ESA is a more affordable alternative.
Emotional Support Animal owner Toni Nichols considers her dog of six years a therapeutic pet, as she relies on her dog to function normally every day. “She goes everywhere with me that I can take her...She’s healing and definitely therapeutic,” Nichols said.
While she doesn’t travel with her dog when flying, she believes it’s important to have the right to do so. “I think that an owner who needs their dog would...make the right decision. I know not just my need but I know my dogs need...Somebody wanting there dog on a plane would know that their dog has the proper behavior to board a plane,” Nichols said.
To submit comment on the exclusion of non-service dogs from air travel as well as other proposed amendments, click here.