Air Travel And Service Animals

[Federal Register: November 1, 1996 (Volume 61, Number 213)] [Rules and Regulations] [Page 56409-56425] From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [] [DOCID:fr01no96-6] ——————————————————————————–


14 CFR Part 382

49 CFR Part 27

[Docket 46872 and 45657–Amendment #6] RIN 2105-AB62

Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Handicap in Programs and Activities Receiving or Benefiting From Federal Financial Assistance; Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Handicap in Air Travel

AGENCY: Office of the Secretary, Transportation.

ACTION: Final rule.


Guidance Concerning Service Animals in Air Transportation

The Department receives frequent questions about the transportation of service animals by airlines. On July 26, 1996, the Department of Justice issued Americans with Disabilities Act guidance concerning the access of service animals to places of public accommodation. The following guidance is based on the DOJ issuance, with adaptations to the context of air transportation and answers to questions the Department has been asked. The Department of Transportation’s rules protecting the rights of air travelers with disabilities require air carriers to permit passengers to fly with their service animals. The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) rules say the following:

Carriers shall permit dogs and other service animals used by individuals with disabilities to accompany the person on a flight. (1) Carriers shall accept as evidence that an animal is a service animal identification cards, other written documentation, presence of harnesses or markings on harnesses, tags or the credible verbal assurances of the qualified individual with disabilities using the animal. (2) Carriers shall permit a service animal to accompany a qualified individual with disabilities in any seat in which the person sits, unless the animal obstructs an aisle or other area that must remain unobstructed in order to facilitate an emergency evacuation.

(14 CFR Sec. 382.55(a))

If a service animal cannot be accommodated at the seat location of the qualified individual with disabilities whom the animal is accompanying . . . the carrier shall offer the passenger the opportunity to move with the animal to a seat location, if present on the aircraft, where the animal can be accommodated, as an alternative to requiring that the animal travel with checked baggage. (14 CFR Sec. 382.37(c))

The questions and answers below are intended to help carriers and passengers understand how to respond to service animal issues.

1. Q: What is a service animal?

A: Under the ACAA, a service animal is 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.

2. Q: What work do service animals perform?

A: Service animals perform some of the tasks and functions that the individual with a disability cannot perform for him or herself. Guide dogs that help blind individuals are the type of service animal most people are familiar with. But there are service animals that assist persons with other types of disabilities in their day-to-day activities. Some examples include—

a) Alerting persons with hearing impairments to sounds. b) Pulling wheelchairs or carrying and picking up things for persons with mobility impairments. c) Assisting persons with mobility impairments with balance.

An animal that does not perform identifiable tasks or functions for an individual with a disability probably is not a service animal. However, it is not essential that the animal perform the functions for the individual while he or she is traveling on the aircraft. The functions can be ones that the animal performs for the individual at his or her destination.

3. Q: What must an airline do when an individual with a disability using a service animal seeks to travel?

A: The service animal must be permitted to accompany the passenger with a disability on the flight. The animal must be allowed to accompany the individual in any seat the individual uses, except where the animal would obstruct an aisle or other area required by Federal Aviation Administration safety rules to remain unobstructed for emergency evacuation purposes. Service animals are typically trained to curl up under seats, which should reduce the likelihood of such an obstruction.

If such an obstruction would occur, the animal (and passenger, if possible) should be relocated to some other place in the cabin where it will not create such an obstruction. If there is no space in the cabin that will accommodate the animal without causing such an obstruction, then the animal is not permitted to travel in the cabin.

To accommodate service animals, airlines are not required to ask other passengers to relinquish space that they would normally use. For example, the passenger sitting next to an individual traveling with a service animal would not need to allow the space under the seat in front of him or her to be used to accommodate the animal.

4. Q: Is a service animal a pet?

A: A service animal is not a pet. A service animal is a working animal that performs important functions for an individual with a disability. The individual with a disability has been trained in the use of the service animal and is responsible for all handling of the animal. Consequently, carrier personnel and other passengers should not attempt to pet, play with, direct, or in any way distract service animals.

It is also important to realize that a pet is not a service animal. Many people enjoy the companionship of animals. But this relationship between an individual and an animal, standing alone, is not sufficient to cause an animal to be regarded as a service animal.

5. Q: How do the requirements of the ACAA rule concerning service animals relate to an airline’s rules about carrying pets?

A: Airlines may have whatever policy they choose concerning pets, consistent with U.S. Department of Agriculture animal welfare rules. For example, they can refuse to carry any pets. They can carry pets only in containers stowed in the cargo compartment. They can allow small pets in carriers that fit under the [[Page 56421]]seat. Since service animals are not pets, the ACAA requires airlines to modify their pets policies to allow service animals to accompany persons with a disability in the cabin. When an animal is determined by the airline not to be a service animal, then the airline would apply to the animal the same policy that applies to pets.

In any situation in which the airline determines that an animal is not a service animal, the airline must continue to give the passenger the opportunity to travel without having the service animal in the cabin. It is not appropriate to deny transportation to a passenger because the passenger’s animal is determined not to be a service animal.

6. Q: How can I tell if an animal really is a service animal and not just a pet?

A: Some, but not all, service animals, wear special collars or harnesses. For example, guide dogs used by persons with vision impairments typically wear harnesses that enhance their ability to guide the visually impaired person. Some, but not all, service animals are licensed and certified and have identification papers.

If airline employees are not certain that an animal is a service animal, they may ask the person who has the animal if it is a service animal required because of a disability. However, an individual who is planning to travel by air is not necessarily going to be carrying around documentation of his or her medical condition or disability.

Therefore, while such documentation may be requested as a means of verifying that the animal is a service animal, it generally may not be required as a condition of permitting an individual to travel with his or her service animal. (See Question 9 for a situation in which documentation may be required.) Likewise, while a number of states have programs to certify service animals, airline employees may not insist on proof of state certification before permitting the service animal to accompany the person with a disability.

7. Q: What are “credible” verbal assurances that an animal is a service animal?

A: In the absence of documentation or other obvious evidence that an animal is a service animal, the only information available to airline employees about the animal may be what a passenger says about his or her disability and the use of the animal. Airline employees may exercise their judgment concerning whether the passenger’s statements about the training and functions of the animal make it reasonable to think that the animal is a service animal.

The factors discussed in this guidance (e.g., the nature of the individual’s disability, the training the animal is said to have received, its ability to behave properly in public places, the functions it is said to perform for the individual) can be used in evaluating the credibility of the passenger’s statements. An airline complaints resolution official (CRO), whom the Department’s ACAA rules require to be available at each airport that the airline serves, is a resource that passengers and airline employees can use to resolve difficult cases.

8. Q: What about unusual or multiple animals?

A: Most people are familiar with the use of dogs as service animals. On some occasions, however, individuals may ask to be accompanied in an aircraft cabin by other kinds of animals. For example, in a few cases, monkeys have been trained to provide services to persons with severe mobility impairments. There have been cases of passengers requesting to be accompanied by reptiles or rodents. In addition, some passengers have asked to travel with more than one animal at a time.

In evaluating these situations, airline employees should keep in mind some of the important characteristics of service animals. Service animals are trained to perform specific functions for an indivudal with a disability, and they are trained to behave properly in public places. Service animals are generally trained to work on a one-to-one basis with an individual with a disability. Airline employees may inquire about these matters and may use their judgment about whether, in light of these factors, a particular animal is a service animal, as distinct from a pet that a passenger wants to bring on board.

9. Q: How should airline employees respond to a claim that being accompanied by an animal is necessary for the emotional well-being of an individual with a mental or emotional disability?

A: Many people receive emotional support from being near an animal. The assertion of a passenger that an animal remaining in his or her company is a needed accommodation to a disability, however, may often be difficult to verify or to distinguish from the situation of any person who is fond of a pet. In addition, the animal may not, in such a situation, perform any visible function. For these reasons, it is reasonable for airline employees to request appropriate documentation of the individual’s disability and the medical or theraputic necessity of the passenger’s traveling with the animal. Moreover, the animal, like any service animal, must be trained to behave properly in a public setting.

10. Q: What about service animals that are not accompanying a passenger with a disability?

A: Sometimes, an animal that is trained to work with people with disabilities may travel by air but not be accompanied by an individual with a disability for whom the animal performs service animal functions. For example, a non-disabled handler may transport a “therapy dog” to a location, such as a rehabilitation center, where it will perform services for individuals with physical or mental disabilities. The Department’s Air Carrier Access Act regulation intended to assist passengers with disabilities by ensuring that they can travel with the service animals that perform functions for them. When a service animal is not accompanying a passenger with a disability, the rule’s rationale for permitting the animal to travel in the cabin does not apply. While the animal may be traveling to a location where it will perform valuable services to other people, it would be subject to the airline’s general policies with respect to the carriage of animals.

11. Q: What if an animal acts out of control?

A: Service animals are trained to behave properly in public settings. For example, a properly trained service animal will remain at its owner’s feet. It does not run freely around an aircraft or airport gate area, bark or growl repeatedly at other persons on the aircraft, bite or jump on people, or urinate or defecate in the cabin or gate area. An animal that engages in such disruptive behavior shows that it has not been successfully trained to function as a service animal in public settings. Therefore, airlines are not required to treat it as a service animal, even if the animal is one that performs an assistive function for a passenger with a disability. However, airline personnel should consider available means of mitigating the effect of an animal’s behavior that are acceptable to the individual with a disability (e.g., muzzling a dog that barks frequently) that would permit the animal to travel in the cabin. While an airline is not required to permit an animal to travel in the cabin if it engages in disruptive behavior, or other behavior that poses a direct threat to the health or safety of persons on the aircraft, airline employees may not make assumptions about how a [[Page 56422]] particular animal is likely to behave based on past experience with other animals. Each situation must be considered individually. Airline employees may inquire, however, about whether a particular animal has been trained to behave properly in a public setting.

12. Q: Can airlines charge a maintenance or cleaning fee for customers who bring service animals onto aircraft?

A: No. The ACAA prohibits special charges, such as deposits or surcharges, for accommodations required to be made to passengers’ disabilities. This is true even if such charges are routinely required to transport pets. However, an airline can charge passengers with disabilities if a service animal causes damage, so long as it is the regular practice of the airline to charge non-disabled passengers for the same types of damages. For example, the airline can charge passengers with a disability for the cost of repairing or cleaning seats damaged by a service animal if it is the airline’s policy to charge when non- disabled passengers cause similar damage.

13. Q: Are airlines responsible for the animal while a person with a disability is on the aircraft?

A: No. The care and supervision of a service animal is solely the responsibility of its owner. The individual with a disability has been trained in the use of the service animal and is responsible for all handling of the animal. The airline is not required to provide care or food or special facilities for the animal.

This copy of the official US Government rules provided courtesy of K9 Service Dogs of New Jersey at and is a reproduced from the official Federal Register, page 28084 (1996)

 The U.S. Department of Transportation today announced that it is revising its Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) regulation on the transportation of service animals by air to ensure a safe and accessible air transportation system.  The final rule on Traveling by Air with Service Animals can be found HERE.

Service Animal Final FAQs

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