The Air Carrier Access Act MUST Be Amended
Secretary Elaine L. Chao, Director (Acting) US DOT
Daniel K Elwell, Director FAA
Deborah A Ryan, Chair, American Access Board
The reality of living with a disability can never properly be explained since each individual is unique. The only similarities all disabled individuals face are the daily challenges and obstacles that are normal parts of their lives. The ADA is our Government’s attempt at lessening these obstacles disabled people encounter in public, including protecting and mandating access to their Service Animal. The ADA’s statement on Comfort/Emotional Support Animals is ‘Dogs (animals) whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA and are not protected.’
The Air Carrier Access Act was developed to protect the disabled from discrimination in air travel, and extends the protection to ESA/Comfort Animal. However, although the definition of a Service Animal is the same as in the ADA, “A service animal is any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability”, there is no clear definition for the Emotional Support Animal. Air Travel is also the only mode of public transportation forced to accommodate ESAs, as trains, busses are governed by the ADA and are not obligated to allow ESAs to be out of a kennel. The ADA identifies dogs and miniature horses as the only animals eligible for the status of Service Animals, while the ACAA lacks such guidelines.
Due to The ACAA vagueness of what a true Emotional Support Animal is, as well as the lack of guidelines and regulations regarding these animals which must be allowed in an enclosed, crowded, stressful public mode of transportation, we implore the US Department of Transportation, The Federal Aviation Administration, and The American Access Board to review, update, and amend the ACAA with specific legal guidelines, requirements and regulations regarding the access of any non working Emotional Support Animals aboard commercial flights.
Traveling can be stressful for many people, in many ways.....
-Traveling anywhere by any means can be stressful for a disabled individual for a myriad of reasons. For the Service Animal handler navigating the possibly unfamiliar terminals and airplanes, their stress can be multiplied by the concern and fear of an untrained animal behaving aggressively towards their Service Animal. Service Animals have frequently been on the receiving end of ES/Comfort Animal’s aggression, including physical attacks. Due to their intense training, a Service Animal will not respond to such attacks as it focuses only on the needs of it’s handler. There are two victims in such attacks, the Service Animal and it’s handler.
-Disabled people who rely on Service Animals have now become the target of suspicion as to the legitimacy of their Service Animal due to ill-behaved, untrained, and unregulated ESAs. Those with Service Animals are now on the receiving end of hostility from travelers who have had enough of non working animals being forced upon them. In this way the law enacted to protect them has caused them more difficulty due to those unscrupulous individuals who abuse the laws.
-Zoophobia, as well as lesser fears of animals, are very real medical disorders, no less debilitating than the any condition an ESA may treat. To allow any passenger with such a fear to suffer in order for another to find comfort in the presence of an unregulated and uncertified non working animal is quite the paradox; whose mental well being is more important? More real? Which person needs support/comfort more? The animal just being there, not working, is as ‘beneficial’ to it’s owner as it is detrimental to the other passenger, so whose hardship should be granted priority when the need for an ESA is based on the owner’s self reporting or an easily attained internet certificate?
-For travelers allergic to animals who would need to take allergy medication, the very real side effects can increase their stress and impact their physical comfort. The ability to properly function at their destination could also be impacted, whether it be driving safely, performing at work, or being a parent. Again, whose well being has priority? If the issue which requires an ESA can be managed with medication for the duration of the flight, why must a passenger with allergies be the one forced to take a medication to control/alleviate their condition? There is no other way to control an allergy other than avoiding it, but some disorders requiring an ESA can be controlled without the animal and through medication. Whose rights ‘win’, the passenger self reporting or waving an internet certificate saying they need the animal or the other passenger who must now suffer the side effects of medication due to the presence of a non working animal? Allowing untrained comfort/emotional support animals to fly with their owner so they do not need to take medication, while the presence of that animal requires other passengers (most likely always more than one) to take medication is extremely bewildering. This is compounded when a member of the flight crew has to take medication for an allergy to the animal. Everyone reacts to medication differently, and for some a simple over the counter allergy medication can have as great an impact as the strongest sedative.
-For Flight Attendants the additional strain of maintaining a safe cabin and peace among passengers is increased with non-working animals present, not to mention having to clean up after animals who soil the cabin.
-Every passenger on a flight is dealing with some type of mental or emotional hardship in varying degrees, it is part of human existence. There are so many types of phobias, fears and disorders, not to mention personal situations, that can be soothed by non-animal means but whose mechanism would be banned from an airplane cabin. What about the comfort of those passengers?
-One example is the victim of a violent crime who needs to have mace or some other type of personal defense item, possibly mandated by a therapist, with them at all times to combat their fear and give them comfort? How is their need denied but an untrained potentially dangerous non working animal allowed? Both can cause safety issues to others in the cabin and the flight in general.
Those who rely on Service Animals do not have the option of that animal being ‘just a pet’. They do not get to adopt a dog from a shelter, or place an order with a breeder. They do not decide that they want an animal companion, they NEED an animal so they can live as independently as possible. They must be matched with a dog of proper temperament, and then spend innumerable hours training and teaching. The cost to train a Service Animal is in the tens of thousands of dollars, sometimes without insurance coverage. They are not ‘lucky’ their animal can accompany them everywhere, it is a need, not a want; others are lucky to not need such assistance.
To allow Comfort/Emotional Support animals on commercial flights without requiring anything more than a verbal assurance from it’s owner, or a readily available internet certificate stating their need based on nothing more than a filled out survey, minimizes the reality disabled people face not only when traveling but every day of their lives. It allows those entitled people who want, but do not need, their pets to travel with them to conceal their motived. It allows those who do not want to pay the carrier fees of airlines to avoid doing so. It allows for the bastardization and manipulation of laws designed to protect those who truly need Service Animals, and denies other travelers of their right to not have to deal with other people’s pets in such a confined stressful atmosphere.
There are psychiatric service animals for those individuals who need assistance with mental/emotional issues, animals trained to do an action/task in support of the disability. Such tasks could be sensing an imminent ‘episode’, interrupting an ‘event’, reminding the handler to take medication, or calming the handler with the trained task of licking the handler, a quiet but noticeable vocal alarm, as well as others. But they are ACTIONS/TASKS, the animals being there is not all that is required.
For those individuals who do not meet the requirements or severity of needing such a service animal, emotional support animals may be the answer. If this is the case, and they must bring and have their animal freely accompany them in the cabin of an airplane, there must be clear laws, regulations, and guidelines. There must be strict criteria to be met in order to travel with your animal unrestrained on any commercial flights.
Due to the rampant abuse of the protection of ESAs mandated in The ACAA, those with legitimate Service Animals have begun to be penalized with a ‘48 hour intent to fly’ imposed by Delta Airlines, with other airlines considering implementing similar requirements. The fraud and abuse has now created a barrier to last minute/spur of the moment travel for disabled individuals who rely on Service Animals. The changes in protocol being implemented, no matter how well intentioned, fails those it means to protect. Because of this, we urge The DOT, The FAA and The American Board of Access to create some type of pre-clearance air travel registry for handlers of needed and trained Service Animals which would allow airlines to verify the status of a Service Animal at check in, eliminating the ‘48 hour intent to fly’ regulation for disabled individuals. A software program similar to Global Entry.
We implore the US Department of Transportation, the Federal Aviation Association, the American Access Board, to protect the legal rights of individuals who rely on Service Animals to live as independently as possible as well as those individuals who truly need Emotional Support Animals by stopping the fraud and abuse with clear, concise rules and regulations regarding ESAs with an amendment to the Air Carrier Accessibility Act and a pre-clearance program for those disabled individuals with Service Animals.
For those that may argue against the added difficulties that they may encounter trying to travel with their ESA if actual regulations and criteria were enacted in to law, your burden will still be less and your life will still be easier than the majority of disabled people with Service Animals.
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Update #13 years ago
Thank you for supporting this petition, change is needed regarding the access granted to untrained non-working animals aboard commercial flights by The ACAA. Please refrain from targeting any specific breed of dog, as that is not the intent of this petition. Thank you again.