The Department of Transportation Issued New Guidelines for Air Travel with Service Animals

Photo of Whitney in harness.

Whitney’s graduation picture is on her Seeing Eye i.d. card. (Courtesy The Seeing Eye.)

Summer is drawing to a close, but I have one more trip planned before it ends. This weekend, I’m flying to Minnesota to visit relatives and I’m traveling alone with my Seeing Eye dog. On Sunday morning, Whitney will be guiding me through TSA security at Midway Airport in Chicago, to the gate, down the jetway, and to our seat on the plane.

When I was booking my flight last week, I discovered the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) had just issued guidelines concerning traveling by air with service animals. The guidance issued by DOT does not change the current law or regulations concerning air travel with service animals, but DOT is expected to issue new regulations for traveling with service animals in the not-too-distant future. Look for another blog post here when that happens.

For now, though, the Air Carrier Access Act and corresponding regulations are still in full force. The new guidance, called “Final Statement of Enforcement Priorities Regarding Service Animals,” tells us where DOT will focus its limited enforcement resources in response to complaints it receives now, under existing law.

For example, DOT makes it clear that it will not tolerate airlines imposing breed restrictions on passengers traveling with service animals. It also will take action against airlines that require people with guide dogs to notify them ahead of time that they are traveling with their dog (I always try to let them know anyway, just so they won’t be surprised). On the other hand, DOT states the following:

We do not intend to take action against an airline for asking users of any type of service animal to present documentation related to the service animal’s vaccination, training, or behavior, so long as it is reasonable to believe that the documentation would assist the airline in making a determination as to whether an animal poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others.

Airlines should only be asking for this documentation in specific cases where they need information to help them determine if an animal is a threat. Whitney, my nine-year-old Golden Labrador Retriever cross couldn’t look threatening if she tried. I am not expecting any problems as a result of this guidance, but who knows how the individual airlines are going to interpret this? And so, I’ll add “Whitney’s complete vaccination records and Seeing Eye ID” to my long list of things to remember to bring in my carry-on Sunday. I don’t want to risk missing my flight!


 

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