…if you’ve been on an airplane lately, you may have found yourself sitting next to all manner of creatures – including dogs, hamsters, snakes and birds. Their owners may tell you that they are “emotional support animals” and maybe they do provide a degree of serenity and comfort to those who bring them on board. But in addition, they sometimes pee, poop, snap at and strike other passengers.
This is not what the disability laws intended. Many people with disabilities truly need those animals: seeing-eye dogs, dogs that alert epileptics to oncoming seizures, dogs who pick up things, open doors and help their owners stay on their feet or propel their wheelchairs. But when these dogs are among a menagerie of untrained and and unruly animals, it’s easy to miss the good that they are doing and lash out at ALL people who bring their animals on board.
Under traditional rules, all a potential passenger needs to do is get a doctor to write a note saying that the passenger needs the animal to provide “emotional support” on the flight. That way, the animal gets on the flight and the passenger saves the fee usually charged for transporting animals.
Because of some recent news stories and an increasing number of complaints, at least two airlines have tightened up their policies, and others are considering doing the same. The Department of Transportation has also invited public comments on this issue.
Read the excellent article below by Wes Siler of Outside Magazine for more information.
This was a deaf couple on an airplane with their service dog. That much I know, and I’ll let the FBI figure out the rest.
But it looks like it could be yet another situation where anger erupted over people with disabilities legally using their service animals. Or it could be that the deaf passenger himself instigated the violence, in which case the disability laws should not be used as an excuse.
No matter how or why this sorry situation unfolded, it reminds us that before we let anger take over, we should try to understand what we think we are seeing.
Since then, there has been an increase in news reports about ill-fated service and/or emotional support animals on flights. This includes a passenger who says she was told to (and did) flush her emotional support hamster down an airline toilet, as well as a puppy who tragically died after being placed in an overhead bin. This and other negative publicity has caused several airlines to re-examine their policies regarding animals on airplanes.
There’s no question that this is a very difficult issue. While airlines are required to allow service and emotional support animals on planes for passengers with disabilites, many passengers are taking advantage of the fact that they don’t have to pay extra for animals they label as “service” or “support” animals. That, along with the natural reluctance to probe into customers’ claims of being “disabled,” has resulted in increasing numbers of untrained and unruly animals on flights. And of course, the people who pay the highest price are people with true disabilities who really need those animals and who have trained them appropriately.
As a result, several airlines are re-examining their policies and trying to impose more structure while still following the law. One example is American Airlines, which has just announced a new policy that will go into effect on July 1. This policy will prohibit amphibians, goats, hedgehogs, insects, nonhousehold birds and animals with tusks, horns or hooves from boarding their airplanes. An exception will be made for miniature horses that have been trained as service animals.
The new policy will also require that customers traveling with support or service animals submit documentation about their animals. They will also have to sign a form indicating that the animals will not be disruptive on the flight. While there’s not much that can be done mid-flight if an animal doesn’t live up to this promise, at least we’re moving in the right direction!
In my last few flights, I’ve definitely seen an increase in the number of canine passengers. While I admittedly find them quite entertaining, I have also seen them get riled up and become aggressive. When I’ve asked if they are “service animals,” the owners have always lowered their eyes and mumbled that they are “emotional support” animals.
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, this is a difficult issue under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). That law clearly allows people with disabilities to be accompanied by service animals at stores, restaurants, etc. In addition, people with service animals generally cannot be made to show any “papers” or other documentation backing up their claims that the animal assists them with disabilities. And as long as the animal does not become unruly or aggressive, he and his owner cannot be told to leave the premises.
Emotional support animals, however, generally do not help with specific tasks, but their mere presence is said to be a comfort and anxiety-reducer for their owners. This may be a very legitimate function for these animals, but emotional support animals are specifically excluded from the ADA.
This law makes airplanes potentially much more freewheeling than restaurants or department stores. As the article below indicates, this has led to service pigs, service possums and even service snakes being allowed to board without challenge.
So what could go wrong? Not surprisingly, some of these animals have become aggressive and caused injury. That is why Delta is launching a new policy, requiring much more stringent documentation for emotional support animals on its flights.
We will see how it goes, but Delta is to be applauded for trying to put some order into the chaos that sometimes reigns in these airborne menageries. Not only may it restore some order, but it should help ease some of the stigma suffered by people with genuine disabilities, who are often thought to be abusing the law.
And I believe that the author of this ABC news story just made a typo in the second paragraph when he wrote that Delta will start requiring documentation that the animals are “trained and aggressive.” Remember, Spellcheck doesn’t catch everything !
This photo is pretty self-explanatory – it’s a begger with his cap in his hand. But a lot of people don’t know that this is where the term, “handicap” came from. This is a big part of the reason why that term is now disfavored.
In addition, when you talk about a Black or Hispanic individual, you don’t usually mention their race first, if at all. This is why people with disabilities advocate for “people first” language. Rather than say, ”That’s a wheelchair-bound person,” why not say, “That’s a person in a wheelchair.” That way, you are identifying their humanity before mentioning their disability.
These may seem like unimportant issues, but it is our common discourse that helps mold the self-image of the people we are talking about. And for most of the people with disabilities that I know, they would like to be thought of first as who they are, not what they have. And that goes for me, too.
Tammy Duckworth is a U.S. Senator from Illinois. She is also a veteran who had her legs amputated after her plane was shot down during Desert Storm.
Senator Duckworth must fly a lot in her work and she says that airline employees have damaged her wheelchairs on several occasions, including one instance when her chair collapsed while she was sitting in it.
Larry Dodson watched his 350-pound wheelchair being loaded onto the plane for his direct flight. But somehow, when the plane landed, the wheelchair was “lost.” Although it was located an hour later, Mr. Dodson had to be transferred from his seat to an uncomfortable airport wheelchair. As a result, he developed bedsores and was in bed for three days. Because of this and other similar experiences, the 70-year old quadriplegic (also a veteran) now does not feel comfortable flying. In addition to being a disheartened traveler, Mr. Dodson is Secretary of the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA). As such, he has heard many similar stories about airline employees damaging travelers’ wheelchairs and other mobility devices.
Because of these and many similar reports, in 2011 the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (required by law) to get public input about this issue.
During a five-year period, the DOT received information from hundreds of people who had similar experiences to Duckworth and Dodson. As a result, it issued a new regulation in November 2016, requiring airlines to track instances of mishandled wheelchairs/scooters and to make this information available to the public. In that way, people choosing which airline to fly would have more information and the airlines would have more accountability.
Even though the rule was finalized in November 2016, the DOT delayed the actual implementation period to January 2018. This was based on information it had gathered that a year was long enough to allow airlines to prepare for this new requirement.
Everything was in place and ready to go. Then Donald Trump got elected.
In December 2017, Trump’s then chief of staff, Reince Priebus,sent out a memo to all federal agencies announcing a delay in the implementation of all pending federal regulations. This would seem to exclude the above rule because it was not pending – it had already been passed. Nevertheless, in March 2017, the DOT unilaterally delayed the implementation date of this rule until January 2019.
In response, the PVA filed a lawsuit against the DOT on July 31 (a copy of which is attached). The suit alleges that in pushing back the deadline, the DOT violated the law by arbitrarily changing this rule without getting public input.
We will see how the lawsuit goes, but I can’t help thinking of something Senator Duckworth said in a letter opposing the DOT’s action: “If an airline loses a passenger’s baggage, it is a serious inconvenience. If a wheelchair or motorized scooter is damaged or lost, it represents a complete loss of mobility and independence for that passenger.”