I was honored to join colleagues and clients at the 2020 Aviation Symposium the Firm sponsored in Tysons Corner from February 4 through February 6, 2020.

Symposium topics included:

  • What about the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines accidents should concern you?
  • An update on emotional support and service animals
  • Structuring and conducting an effective emergency drill
  • Working with first responders
  • A decade of evolution in the Federal Family Assistance Plan
  • The changing faces of the NTSB and FAA
  • The effect of FAA reorganizations on oversight, monitoring and surveillance
  • Recent developments involving disruptive passengers
  • The C-Suite and Crises: Managing the message and handling bad news, internally and externally.

I addressed the increasingly problematic issues involving the identification of legitimate service animals in the face of the increasing designation of their pets as emotional support animals, during the session titled “Disruptive/Disgruntled Passengers, Miniature Horses, Emotional Support Parakeets and Other Issues.”

The U.S. Department of Transportation has recently published proposed amendments to the regulation of service animals on flights.

As reported by DOT, the regulations would:

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.

It would appear that miniature horses would not be permitted on flights as service animals, which is inconsistent with the American for Disability Act.  As explained in a blog to be published shortly, “A Brief History of Miniature Horses and the ADA,” those individuals who rely on mini-horses are likely to object to their exclusion from flights.  I would caution, however, whether any miniature horse could safely exist a plane during an emergent landing, for example when egress on a plane’s emergency chute/slide is required.  As any horse owner or veterinarian knows, horses do not sit down.  If a horse cannot safely exist a plane in an emergency, perhaps that is a sufficient reason to prohibit it from flying in the first place.

There are other concerns about the DOT proposed rule, including what appears to be discriminatory requirements for disabled passengers that seemingly conflict with the intent, if not the language of the ADA, to prohibit such discrimination.

That said, the intent to limit the abuse of false claims that a pet is a service or emotional support animals are overdue, and hopefully the regulation can be further amended as needed to comply with provisions enacted to benefit those with disabilities under the ADA.