14 CFR Part 382 Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability in Air Travel (Air Carrier Access Act): Preamble and Section-by-Section Analysis (with amendments issued through July 2010)
The 1996 DOT guidance document defines a service animal as “any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability. If the animal meets this definition, it is considered a service animal regardless of whether it has been licensed or certified by a state or local government.” This document refines DOT’s previous definition of service animal4 by making it clear that animals that assist persons with disabilities by providing emotional support qualify as service animals and ensuring that, in situations concerning emotional support animals and psychiatric service animals, the authority of airline personnel to require documentation of the individual’s disability and the medical necessity of the passenger traveling with the animal is understood.
Today, both the public and people with disabilities use many different terms to identify animals that can meet the legal definition of “service animal.” These range from umbrella terms such as “assistance animal” to specific labels such as “hearing,” “signal,” “seizure alert,” “psychiatric service,” “emotional support” animal, etc. that describe how the animal assists a person with a disability.
When Part 382 was first promulgated, most service animals were guide or hearing dogs. Since then, a wider variety of animals (e.g., cats, monkeys, etc.) have been individually trained to assist people with disabilities. Service animals also perform a much wider variety of functions than ever before (e.g., alerting a person with epilepsy of imminent seizure onset, pulling a wheelchair, assisting persons with mobility impairments with balance). These developments can make it difficult for airline employees to distinguish service animals from pets, especially when a passenger does not appear to be disabled, or the animal has no obvious indicators that it is a service animal. Passengers may claim that their animals are service animals at times to get around airline policies that restrict the carriage of pets. Clear guidelines are needed to assist airline personnel and people with disabilities in knowing what to expect and what to do when these assessments are made.
Since airlines also are obliged to provide all accommodations in accordance with FAA safety regulations, educated consumers help assure that airlines provide accommodations consistent with the carriers’ safety duties and responsibilities. Educated consumers also assist the airline in providing them the services they want, including accommodations, as quickly and efficiently as possible.
4 See Glossary for definition of this and other terms.