ANOTHER U.S. CARRIER TIGHTENS POLICIES FOR ONBOARD CARRIAGE OF EMOTIONAL SUPPORT ANIMALS

Pursuant to 14 C.F.R. Part 382, DOT’s regulation on the non-discriminatory treatment of passengers with disabilities, airlines operating to, from or within the United States generally must allow passengers with disabilities to travel with emotional support animals in the aircraft cabin (foreign airlines are, however, only required to transport emotional support dogs).  In such circumstances carriers may, as a condition of providing transportation, require advance notice and certain limited documentation justifying the passenger’s need to travel with the emotional support animal.  Emotional support animals are transported free of charge.  Airlines have traditionally been hesitant to scrutinize passengers traveling with emotional support animals, preferring instead to accommodate passengers’ needs wherever possible.  However, the relatively lax standards under which a passenger may qualify as one who needs to travel with an emotional support animal, coupled with online companies that will issue the required documentation for a fee (and in some cases without a patient consultation) has resulted in systematic abuses by passengers and the unveiling of tighter restrictions by airlines.

Following a previous similar pronouncement by Delta, United has announced a new emotional support animal policy which becomes effective March 1, 2018.  Per United’s new policy, passengers traveling with emotional support animals will be required to give 48 hours’ advance notice to the airline’s Accessibility Desk and provide a signed letter from a mental health professional that confirms the passenger’s need to travel with an emotional support animal.  Additionally, UA will require passengers to provide a written confirmation that the emotional support animal has been trained to behave properly in a public setting and acknowledge responsibility for the animal.  Finally, the passenger will need to produce a health and vaccination form signed by the animal’s veterinarian, affirming that there is no reason to believe the animal will pose a direct threat to the health and safety of others on the aircraft or cause a significant disruption in service.  United advised that its tougher policies for emotional support animals were put forth following a significant increase in the number of passengers traveling with an emotional support animal – United reported that there was a 75 percent increase the carriage of emotional support animals between 2016 and 2017.

Following the announcements by Delta and United, several disability rights organizations, including the American Association of People with Disabilities, the National Association of the Deaf and the Paralyzed Veterans of America, wrote to Transportation Secretary Chao, arguing that the policies are inconsistent with applicable DOT regulations and the Department’s “Guidance Concerning Service Animals in Air Transportation.”  The disability groups have called on DOT to confirm that the revised policies violate the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) and “advise Delta and United accordingly.”  DOT has taken no action to date, but we will keep our readers updated on any new developments relating to this issue.

If you have any questions, please contact Evelyn Sahr (esahr@eckertseamans.com, 202-659-6622) or Drew Derco (dderco@eckertseamans.com, 202-659-6665).

Share This Post

Authors

Evelyn D. Sahr

Member - Washington, D.C.

Drew M. Derco

Member - Washington, D.C.