DOT-New Enforcement Priorities re Service Animals on Aircraft


The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) last week attempted to address controversies and confusion concerning the transportation of service animals aboard passenger aircraft by publishing a Final Statement of Enforcement Priorities Regarding Service Animals (Statement).1 Even though DOT has been engaged in a rulemaking process on this issue for some time (with final rules yet to come), the regulator sought to provide interim working guidelines to airlines (and their passengers) in order to forestall disputes at the airport, or even worse, in the aircraft cabin itself. These guidelines will be implemented as of Sept. 20, 2019.

For several years now, carriers have expressed concern about the increasing number of passengers bringing various types of service animals, and, in particular, emotional support animals (ESAs) aboard aircraft.2 Moreover, there have been an increasing number of incidents involving untrained service animals and ESAs creating disturbances, relieving themselves inappropriately and threatening and/or attacking other individuals aboard the aircraft.3

Recent headlines on this topic note that DOT has recognized dogs, cats and miniature horses as “common” service animals, and have also noted that passengers have tried, with varying success to use (and transport) more exotic service animals, such as peacocks and squirrels. Many of the stories focus on the fact that although airlines are permitted to charge for the transportation of pets, they are not permitted to levy charges to transport animals that assist passengers with disabilities. While an animal’s service function is often evident, DOT also recognizes and includes ESAs within its regulatory requirements.4

When issuing its Statement, DOT emphasized that it did “not intend to take action against an airline for asking users of any type of service animal to provide documentation related to 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.”

There is also more information in the footnotes on the link below…




Click to access service_animal_qa.pdf