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Changes in Airline Pet Restrictions
Veterinary & Aquatic Services Department, Drs. Foster & Smith
May 2003
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May 2003 News   • Revised Guidelines on Service Animals
• American Airlines Lifts Breed Ban

Revised Guidelines on Service Animals

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), in order to clarify the rights and obligations of passengers with disabilities who travel with service animals, has issued revised guidance on the transportation of these animals on airline aircraft. The revisions were based on a joint proposal of the disability community and airline industry that was submitted to the department in late 2002.

Under the new guidelines adopted from the joint proposal, the definition of service animal has been clarified to specifically include emotional support animals. In addition, the guidance classifies certain specific animals as dangerous and thereby permits their exclusion from the aircraft cabin.

In 1990, DOT issued regulations implementing the Air Carrier Access Act, which banned discrimination in air travel based on disability. In those rules, the department required that air carriers permit guide dogs and other service animals used by persons with disabilities to accompany the person in flight.

Since the initial service animal guidance was published in November 1996, a wider variety of animals has been trained to assist individuals with disabilities. Whereas in the past most service animals were guide dogs, today persons with disabilities use other animals – such as cats and monkeys – as service animals. In addition, service animals assist people with their disabilities by performing a wider variety of functions, such as pulling a wheelchair or alerting a person with epilepsy that a seizure is imminent. Other animals provide emotional support for passengers with mental illnesses. These more recent developments have sometimes made it difficult for airline employees to distinguish service animals from pets, and some pets are claimed to be service animals to get around legitimate airline restrictions on the carriage of pets.

Airline industry representatives and representatives from the disability community worked for over a year developing revisions to the department's existing guidance. The principal aims of this effort were to prevent abuse of the service animal rules and to ensure that passengers with disabilities are not prohibited from boarding with their service animals. To this end, airline industry and disability community representatives proposed, and DOT adopted, guidance setting forth clear steps that airlines and air travelers with disabilities traveling with service animals should take to ensure consistent application of the Air Carrier Access Act and the DOT rules implementing that law, such as the provisions allowing airline personnel to request documentation for service animals in certain situations. The DOT's guidance on service animals is available online at:

The revised guidelines also clarified that animals that pose a public risk, such as snakes, ferrets, rodents, and spiders, would not be allowed in cabins.

American Airlines Lifts Breed Ban

After months of negotiations, American Airlines reversed its ban on Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers, American Staffordshire Terriers, Bull Terriers, American Pit Bull Terriers, and any mixed breeds containing one or more of those breeds. This ban was first implemented in August, 2002, following an incident involving a 'pit bull' puppy that escaped its crate and damaged the cargo hold of a plane. Although the ban is lifted, American Airlines says it "maintains the right to refuse acceptance of any dog that is exhibiting aggressive behavior."

Effective May 17th, 2003, all dog breeds will once again be accepted for shipment, and new safe container requirements will be imposed uniformly for all animals traveling as cargo or excess baggage. Acceptable kennels used to ship dogs will require releasable cable ties attached to each of the four corners of the kennel door. American Airlines will provide the releasable cable ties to the customer at no cost and the ties must be attached to the kennel by the shipper. Acceptable kennels must meet the requirements of the International Air Transport Association Live Animal Regulations and may be purchased from American Airlines. Information on federal government and airline regulations on shipping companion animals can be found in several publications under the heading 'Traveling With Your Pet' at:

Because of the high temperature summer season, American and other airlines will not accept pets as checked baggage from May 15-September 15, 2003. However, you may be able to ship your animal at a time of the day when temperatures meet USDA Animal Welfare requirements. Contact your airline for details.

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