The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) and Travelers with Disabilities: Travel by Air with Service Animals

December 10, 2019


The Air Carrier Access Act of 1986 (ACAA) prohibits discrimination based on disability in air travel and requires air carriers to accommodate the needs of passengers with disabilities. Join us as our speaker from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) discusses the final statement of enforcement priorities for service animals under the ACAA. The session will also address the role the Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings has in enforcing the ACAA. Following the presentation participants will have an opportunity to ask the presenter questions about the ACAA requirements.

Speakers URL:

December 2019 ADA Audio Webinar: The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) and Travelers with Disabilities: Travel by Air with Service Animals


Peter Perg

Welcome everyone to today's ADA Audio conference session. Today's session is titled the Air Carrier Access Act and persons with disabilities. Air travel ‑‑ air travel with service animals by people with disabilities. We are pleased that you have joined us for today's session as Michelle mentioned I'm Peter Berg, I'm the coordinator with the Great Lakes ADA Center. It is a program of the ADA National Network. The ADA National Network is funded by the US department of housing ‑‑ sorry. The US Department of Health and Human Services, HHS, Administration on Community Living, the National Institute and Disability and Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research. There are ten regional ADA centers across the country. You can locate the regional ADA center that serves your state by visiting or by calling the toll free number by calling 800-949-4232. Again, thanks to everyone joining us as we push up against the busy holiday season and folks begin to take time off of work and time away from the office and education and so forth of the

So we appreciate you joining us. We actually pushed up this session a week due to people holidays and travel and so forth. Travel is what we're talking about here today. The ACAA, a lot of information, a lot of news about the Air Carrier Access Act, air travel, people travelling with service animals, assistance animals, people travelling with pets what is the difference? Service animals in general is something that is a common topic that we hear at the ADA national network and Robert is going to address some of these issues, some of the confusion that comes about because we have several federal laws that define service animals differently. Some recognize service assistance animals and some recognize emotional support animal. We often hear from businesses and housing providers and air carriers with their concerns where they think that people are not legitimately travelling or being accompanied by a service animal or an assistance animal. We certainly understand that.

At the end of the day the unfortunate part is that it is people with disabilities who actually need their service animal to be able to travel and be independent in the community or need their service or assistance animal in their housing setting that are impacted most negatively when these types of things happen. Robert is here to assist us with hopefully getting rid of some of the confusion when it comes to air travel, the Air Carrier Access Act, ACAA. Robert Gorman is a senior trial attorney. He is with the aviation enforcement and proceedings, which is part of the US Department of Transportation.

You can view Robert's full bio on the ADA audio website. That's And as a quick reminder, phone participants you'll get instructions once he's done with his presentation on how you can ask questions. For those participating in the webinar room, submit your questions. Robert thank you very much for joining us today and the platform is yours.


Thank you, Peter and many thanks to the Great Lakes ADA Center and everyone who helped to put this presentation together. I very much appreciate it. So my name is Rob Gorman, I'm with the DOT's Office of Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings. I would like to start by talking a little bit about our office and the scope of our office before then moving on to the specific discussion today about the Air Carrier Access Act and travel with service animals.

Next slide, please. So I hope we're on one that says what is the Office of Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings. That is a long and unwieldy title for what we do. We are an aviation consumer protection office. We have a broad scope of jurisdiction. We are in general an office that is designed to protect consumers in the field of air transportation. So air passengers. We are within the Department of Transportation. Our office is specifically located within what's called the Office of the Secretary, which is within DOT headquarters. We are not the FAA.

This is a confusion that happens quite a lot, but the FAA is a subsection of the Department of Transportation, and they in general regulate airplane safety. So aircraft safety and those issues belong to the FAA. But our office is not within the FAA. In fact, the FAA is so large that ‑‑ and they are such a huge component of the DOT, that they're actually not located in the DOT headquarters building which is in southeast DC near the baseball field. The FAA building is actually up near the national mall. It's an entirely separate building. Our office is within the office of the general counsel, so that's essentially the DOT headquarters, the lawyers within the DOT headquarters. Our office is located there.

Next slide, please. In general, our office is a team of lawyers and non-lawyers headed by our assistant general counsel of Blaine Workie we have two deputies and then we have staff attorneys, a para-legal and a team of transportation of industry analysts and consumer affairs specialists. So unlike many of the legal offices within the DOT headquarters which are internally facing and usually deal with issues that address the department as an entity, as a federal agency, ours in contrast is very much a public facing office we are a team of lawyers and transportation analysts who work together to receive complaints from the public. We do outreach all the time to both individual consumers and to airlines and to interest groups. So it's ‑‑ we're a little bit of a unique animal within the Office of General Counsel. But our ‑‑ the unique aspect of our office is that we have a team of lawyers and nonlawyers that take complaints and analyze them.

Next page. Next slide, please. Our subject areas again not aviation safety but essentially anything else that has to do with a passenger's experience on board an aircraft falls within your jurisdiction. Fundamentally we do aviation consumer protection. That involves economic issues such as the, well, we are the authors of the full fair rule that says when airlines when they advertise a price for air transportation have to display the full price which includes taxes and fees. That is a rule that comes from our office. And that falls within our aviation consumer protection jurisdiction. We also cover civil rights and civil rights here includes both disability issues and discrimination. So if somebody is, for example, removed from an aircraft because of a prohibited factor, such as religion, race, national origin. Those types of factors, complaints about that sort of thing fall within our jurisdiction.

We also do to a lesser degree competition issues among airlines themselves. The types of work that we do include enforcing the existing rules. We also write new regulations on all of these topics. We issue guidance which is what I'm going to be talking about later today with respect to travel by air with service animals. We do public outreach of all kinds including industry and public communications, and we also handle complaints. We receive thousands of complaints every year from members of the public on all aspects of air travel as you may imagine during the holiday season as airlines get busier, our complaint line gets busier too.

We also have a hotline that individuals can call. It's a disability hotline. That's manned 9:00 to 5:00 Eastern Time Monday through Friday you can call the hotline with disability‑related issues and you will be in touch with a member of our staff that can help you with your question or concern. The main goal of that hotline is to help individuals in realtime that experiences that they may be having at an airport or just got off the phone with an airline and they're either confused about what the airline has told them or wanted to check to see if that was correct or what have you. So we can handle those questions in realtime on our hotline.

Next slide, please. Our website is the place where you can go to get all of this information. It's It has tons of information on how to travel by air not only with service animals and not only issues involving disability but a vast number of tips and lots of helpful information about all types of issues including tar Mack delays, oversales where the airline sells more seats than they have on the aircraft and they start bumping passengers if necessary and the compensation that is due to passengers in that situation, all of that information is on our website. Information about flight delays and cancelations and what your rights are and those different topics.

That is where you'll also see our complaint portal where you can file complaints with our office. Next slide, please. So our office, of course we are an executive agency and our authority comes from Congress. Congress passed 41705 which is the Air Carrier Access Act, that is the statutory authority that prohibits discrimination based on disability in air travel. The Congress also directed the Department of Transportation, our office to issue specific regulations with respect to that issue, which is why we then went ahead and wrote a comprehensive set of regulations on disability issues involving air travel.

We also have a statutory authority to prohibit unfair and deceptive practices in air transportation or the sale of air transportation. So our office has authority to prohibit unfair and deceptive practices not only by airlines but also of ticket agents.

And we also have the authority to issue civil penalties for violations of our rules. Generally speaking our civil penalty is roughly adjusted by inflation every year but roughly $34,000 per violation is the maximum amount that we can seek by statute for violations of our rules.

Next slide, please our regulations are set forth in Title 14 of the federal regulations. If you have nothing else to do this holiday season, you can going the ECFR which is the electronic code of federal regulations and per use or massive number of regulations. Next slide, please. They include various parts including regulations on oversales on domestic baggage liability which is essentially how much airlines either can or must pay for damage to baggage. We have rules about charter operators, part 382 is the one we're going to be talking about mostly today which is the set of regulations that we wrote titled nondiscrimination on the basis of disability in air travel, and those regulations cover not only service animals but a wide variety of topics involving disability and air travel.

Next page. How do we become aware of the many consumer problems that arise in air transportation? Well, our consumer complaint line is a very significant aspect of that. But we also go out into the field. We've been doing this for at least five years. We have done annual airport inspections where teams of lawyers and our transportation industry analysts show up at airports. We have a fabulous badge that we can show that indicates our authority to do these inspections. We talk with ticket agents, gate agents, baggage handlers, we look about the airport to see whether the airline staff are complying with a whole range of our consumer protection rules. We also do airline headquarter inspections where we will call up an airline, let's say southwest or whichever one we're examining that year. We say, hey, we want to inspect your records, your internal records, your complaints that you receive, not the ones that necessarily come to the department, but the ones that come directly to you. We want to take a look at your advertising over the past year and any number of other documents that we ask for. And our teams will then spend about a week in the headquarters of an airline, do a comprehensive review of their operations and issue reports or issue civil penalties if we find systematic violations. We also educate the airlines about what we found and what we believe they could do better.

We also receive formal complaints which are more legalistic that might look like they would be filed in court. Those are rare but we do receive those from time to time. Most of the complaints that we receive from consumers are informal complaints which are ones you would file through our website.

Every now and again competitors will complain about each other. So we will sometimes hear from airline A that airline B is doing something improper. Certainly we get media reports. We're attuned to all of the stories that come through the news just as much as anyone else. So ‑‑ then we also coordinate with other offices. So those are various ways we can become aware of problems in the airline industry with respect to consumers.

Next page. This just is a screenshot of our complaint form. Again, it's found on our website. Next slide, please. So after we learn about various problems, how do we bring about compliance? Well, we will often write a rather formal letter to the airline saying, we're aware of X, Y, Z problems. We want to know more about that. We ask for data from the airlines about how much this problematic conduct may be going on. We try to get a sense of the impact that it has on consumers. We certainly ask for the steps that the airline may take to correct the problem and gather information that way.

We also issue guidance to the industry. We issue warning letters where we say things like, we did discover that, yes, there was a problem, but you have corrected it and consumer harm is limited. Or you've done various things to correct the problem and perhaps to compensate consumers. So we will issue a warning letter with no further enforcement action. That's one thing we can do. Then we can also issue consent orders which are essentially settlements between the department and airlines where we issue effectively an order that says that the department found X, Y, Z violations of whichever regulation it may be. And the airline gets an opportunity to explain what they believe might be any mitigating circumstances. And then we have a series of paragraphs at the end that say that the airline has agreed to a civil ‑‑ to pay a civil penalty of X, whatever it is, over a certain span of time in order to settle this case without further litigation.

We can take cases ‑‑ we can take airlines to court. That would start with our administrative law judges here in the department. That is very rare that we do that because in the vast majority of cases airlines do settle their cases with us through consent orders or something less than that. But those are the various options that we have for bringing about compliance. Everything from communications to civil penalties. Those consent orders will also often say things like, well, airline, you have to pay X amount today. We're going to monitor your behavior for a certain amount of time. And if the behavior continues or repeats, then additional penalties may be forth coming. So that's one way to also keep airlines in compliance.

Next page. Next slide, please. It should be number 22. We often, not always, but often issue press releases when we do issue civil penalties or consent orders in various ‑‑ on various topics. This is a way to publicize what we have done. It also ‑‑ it is helpful to the public to know that the department has found certain behavior to be problematic. It also, we believe, should be a deterrent to other airlines who don't want to be on the receiving end of a press release, but it's educational and provides some measure of deterrence.

Next slide, please. Of course, our fines do sometimes get picked up in main stream news reports which has similar effect.

Next page. As a consumer protection office, we believe that our regulation and enforcement work provides a great number of benefits to air passengers including passengers with disabilities. But it certainly is quite a broad number of benefits including reduction in tarmac delays. Aside from being the authors of the full fair rule, we're probably most famous for the tarmac delay rule. This is the rule that says that airlines cannot have an aircraft out on the tarmac for more than three hours without providing an opportunity to deplane. There's also another number of comprehensive rules that go along with that.

We believe the outcomes also include greater transparency and fair advertising, more accessible air travel in general, especially including improved wheelchair assistance. We assure passengers receive refunds when they're due. We provide responses to consumer complaints and in general provide information to passengers about the very complex set of rights and responsibilities that they have and that airlines have on a great number of different issues.

Next slide. We also issue an Air Travel Consumer Report. It is a fairly dense document that comes out every month that has a great number of statistics involving things like ontime performance, baggage handling, complaint handling of all types oversales, how many complaints were filed with the DOT? We recently included a new reporting requirement which deals with injury or death of pets. That's a fairly new data point that we now collect information on through the Air Travel Consumer Report. Airlines certainly look at that and want to see where their performance stands in relation to other airlines. They can see where they feel they are industry leaders where they feel like they are falling behind some of their competitors on some of these consumer protection issues.

Next page. We do have other publications that can be found by clicking within our website including flier's rights. There's a document called Tell It to the Judge which explains what may be required if you want to take an airline to small claims court. Then we recently put up a comprehensive set of disability training materials on a number of topics including service animals, seating, and wheelchair transportation throughout the airport. So lots of helpful information there that is designed to educate both passengers ask airline personnel about these really complex topics, service animals, wheelchairs, and seating are three topics we get a lot of complaints about. We felt those are some of the ones that we wanted to push forward with some information.

Turning now to a little bit more of the specifics of today's talk. We're talking about the Air Carrier Access Act and travel by air with service animals. One of the fundamental misconceptions that we get all the time, mostly from passengers, because airlines know differently. Mostly from passengers. Passengers will complain that an airline violated their rights under the ADA. That makes sense because airlines are a form of public transportation, and in general public transportation is governed by the ADA. But that is actually incorrect. The airlines are governed by a separate statute, the Air Carrier Access Act. But to start with the ADA, as I'm sure you all know, the ADA applies to places of public accommodation. It applies to hotels, restaurants, and it also applies to airports. So the airport itself is governed by the ADA. And the ADA is enforced in general by the Department of Justice. Next slide. The Air Carrier Access Act in contrast, applies to air transportation. So this includes the customer's experience on board the aircraft itself. So that includes disability accommodations with respect to seating, with respect to assistive devices. So, for example, passengers are allowed to carry on board an aircraft assistive devices. That includes things like medications, canes, walkers, C PAP machines and those materials are allowed to be transported and in general must be stowed within the aircraft cabin at no charge. And the airlines are not allowed to count your assistive devices as, for example, a bag that they can charge, a baggage fee for. So those are some of the other rules we have on ACAA regulations.

It also covers service animals which we're going to talk about later. It also governs making reservations on ‑‑ over the phone, for example. There are rules about making reservations accessible to folks with visual or hearing impairments. And also the ACAA covers traversal through the airport. While the airport itself, the structure of the airport itself is governed by the ADA, it is the airline's responsibility to transport passengers with disabilities who need wheelchairs from the entrance of the airline terminal through the terminal itself to the gate and then also to make connections between gates, and finally from the gate back to baggage claim and out to the curb of the terminal upon exit. And all of that service is provided by airlines, not by airports. And because that service is provided by airlines, it's covered under the Air Carrier Access Act. These rules are written and enforced by the Department of Transportation and the rules are primarily directed at airlines rather than directed at passengers.

So most of our regulations say things like, as a carrier which means as an airline, you must do X, Y, Z. There's very little that says passengers with disabilities must do X. We in general say airlines you are allowed to ‑‑ you must do various things to help passengers with disabilities. And then we say things like, airlines, you may require of your passengers certain types of information. But all of the regulations in general are fundamentally directed at airlines.

Next slide, please. Because the two statutes are different, the regulations that have been issued under those two statutes are also different. So, for example, the Americans with disabilities act has a definition of service animals that's different than the definition of service animals under the Air Carrier Access Act. Under the ADA, in general the definition is a dog. I put a little asterisk there because there is some requirement for accommodations under certain circumstances for miniature horses, but that is in general quite rare. In general it defines a service animal as a dog that is individually trained to perform a task or function for the passenger with a disability. And the ADA does not recognize emotional support animals. So if you walked into a restaurant, for example, and said this is my emotional support animal, you have to accommodate it, you, restaurant, have to accommodate it under the ADA. The answer there would be no.

Next slide. In contrast the ACAA has many differences in its definition of a service animal. So United States carriers are broadly speaking required to recognize service animals regardless of species. So we don't actually have a specific definition of what species are allowed. What we do say is there is a list of a non-complete list of species that are disallowed. So airlines, if it's ‑‑ they all do choose they may ban certain unusual service animals for example snakes, other reptiles, ferrets, rodents, and spiders. We say airlines, you are allowed to ban those, no questions asked. But other species are left open. Foreign carriers, though, so these are airlines that are not US airlines, they are only required to accept dogs.

The other big difference is that under the Air Carrier Access Act, emotional support animal are recognized as service animal. An emotional support animal, the main difference between the ESA as we call it, and other types of service animals is that an emotional support animal is not individually task trained to perform any specific function for a passenger with disabilities. Instead, its mere presence is helpful to the passenger, usually by calming the individual down, but it's not trained to do any specific thing. Emotional support animals are recognized as service animals on board aircraft today.

Next slide. The other difference between the ADA and Air Carrier Access Act involves documentation. So in general, I must admit I'm not a full blown expert on the ADA but I will say that in general places of public accommodation may not ask for medical documentation to prove that you need a service animal.

Next slide. In contrast, though, under the Air Carrier Access Act, airlines may ask for medical documentation. That would be documentation with respect to the patient's ‑‑ with respect to the patient and their need for the animal. This applies to emotional support animals and psychiatric support animal only. A psychiatric support animal is an animal that is individually trained, just like, for example, a seeing eye dog would be for a passenger who is blind. This is a psychiatric support animal individually trained, task trained to assist a passenger with a psychiatric disability.

So they are different from emotional support animals because ESAs are not task trained, but PSAs are task trained. Despite that difference, airlines are allowed to ask for medical documentation with respect to both of those types of animals. What is that medical documentation supposed to look like? Well airlines are allowed to ask for a medical form that contains information that's set out in our rule. I didn't put the actual rule in this slide, but I'll go ahead and read it briefly here.

It says, if a passenger seeks to travel with an animal that is used as emotional support or psychiatric service animal, you, the airline, are not required to accept that animal unless the passenger provides you current documentation which means documentation that is no older than one year from the date of the passenger's scheduled flight. On the letterhead of a licensed mental health professional stating the following, number one the passenger has a mental or emotional disability recognized under the diagnostic statistical manual of disorders. The passenger needs the support or psychiatric support animal as an accommodation for air travel and or for activity at the passenger's destination. Number three, the individual providing the assessment is a licensed mental health professional and that the passenger is under his or her professional care. And then finally information surrounding the date and type of license that the mental health professional has.

So airlines, if they want, can require passengers travelling with ESAs or PSAs to provide that type of medical documentation. And they can ask for it 48 hours before the flight. And they can ask for check‑in at the airport one hour ahead of the regular check‑in time if you're travelling with an ESA or PSA. So that's the type of documentation and advanced notice that can be asked for by airlines of passengers for ESAs and PSAs. If you're travelling with ‑‑ if you're a passenger who's blind and travelling with a guide dog, for example, airlines may not ask for any medical documentation about that.

Another difference, next slide, please, this should be slide 33, another significant difference between the Americans with Disabilities Act and the ACAA involves the notion of a direct threat  ‑‑ under what circumstances can public accommodations or airlines refuse to accommodate an animal if it seems to be acting dangerous? Under the ADA, public accommodations can refuse a service animal if it poses a direct threat to the health and safety of others and must be made on an individualized case‑by‑case basis. So in the moment looking at the animal and examining its behavior if the place of public accommodation can refuse the animal if they believe on an individual basis that it is a direct threat.

Next slide. In contrast under the ACAA is similarly does allow airlines to refuse a service animal if the animal does pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others or could cause significant disruption in cabin service. However the ACAA is not clear on how the airlines must make this determination.

So it doesn't say, for example, that you must observe aggressive behavior in the animal before refusing to transport it. And that silence in our rule has given rise to a lot of interesting self‑help measures that airlines have taken upon themselves which we're going to talk about momentarily.

Let's say, for example, you are travelling by air. You have a pet or you have a service animal. Well, those animals are going to be treated very differently on aircraft. The fundamental thing on slide 35, if you're travelling with a pet, airlines are allowed to charge you a pet fee. They're allowed to require your pet to be in a crate. Under certain circumstances they may require it to travel in the cargo hold. So if you're a pet owner, you're finding that this could be both expensive and a little bit troublesome to travel by air with your pet.

Next slide, however, if the animal is a service animal, our Air Carrier Access Act regulations say that that service animal must be transported with no charge similar to transporting canes, walkers, medications, C PAP machines, they're all considered elements that assist passengers with disabilities. And that's why airlines are not allowed to charge you for transportation of a service animal as well. And the animal is allowed to travel in the cabin with you without a crate. And if it's small enough, it can be on your lap.

So needless to say, there are lots of benefits to travelling with a service animal compared to travelling with a pet. Next slide, please. It's fairly clear and this has been made well known in any number of media reports that has become common knowledge that there have been rising problems with transportation of service animals or alleged service animals on aircraft. This doesn't each include just misbehaving dogs, for example. There's a peacock there on the slide because of the famous case of a passenger who tried to bring on board a peacock. People have tried to bring on board any number of things, pot-bellied pigs, reptiles of different kinds of the there was a turkey that made a famous flight on delta. But beyond all the unusual types of animals there's a proliferation of online sales of service animal paraphernalia, vests, harness, various types of what seemed to be registrations for service animals, different types of certificates you can get. I can tell you this right now this is true for the ADA and the Air Carrier Access Act. There is no such thing as an official, recognized, registration, accreditation or registry of any type of service animal. So if anyone says this is an official certification of your service animal and therefore it must be recognized in some sort of federal database, all of that is simply not true.

Airlines have, because of these online sales where you can often maybe pay $50 to some sort of online service of some kind that you talk to them for a few minutes, and they give you a diagnosis of something. They send you a letter. They send you a certificate. They send you maybe a vest or a harness or a badge of some kind. Because of this proliferation of fraudulent online sales, airlines have reported increases in fraud of this type where passengers are attempting to bring along their pets as service animals. Airlines have reported increases in biting, barking, defecation, all kinds of improper behaviors there which service animals generally should not be engaged in. Service animals are not only in general supposed to be trained for a task but they're also in general supposed to be well behaved in public.

And this is ‑‑ all of this has had an affect not only on airlines and airline staff and passengers in the airport, but we've also heard from disability advocates that this type of fraudulent and bad behavior of service animals has had negative effects on legitimate service animal users. For example, various disability advocacy organizations that deal with dogs say that one of the number one threats that they have to their service dogs are other dogs in the airport that are not properly trained, that are attacking their legitimate service dog. They feel like their own dogs may be in danger. In general, it also tends to cast a cloud of suspicion over people who genuinely do have legitimate support animals, and everyone gets looked at with a jaundiced eye. That is also an unfortunate side effect of all of this, of whatever fraud there is in the system today.

So next slide, please, 38. So within the past couple of years particularly, airlines have engaged in various types of self‑help where they have said, all right, in addition to what is set forth in the ‑‑ specifically in the rules in the DOT rules, we as airlines are just going to go ahead and impose our own restrictions of various types. We're going to declare that certain types of species we're not going to transport. We're going to put restrictions on the number of animals that can be transported either by a single passenger or on board the aircraft entirely. We are going to require different types of documentation, vaccination forms, training forms, behavior forms. We're going to ask for documentation from the passengers and from veterinarians. We're going to add all these documentation requirements because they ‑‑ at least they say that they are doing all of this in order to increase passenger safety and reduce fraud.

Next slide, please. So in the wake of these new restrictions that airlines had been imposing, disability rights advocates had asked us, is it okay for airlines to be doing this type of thing and adding these new restrictions? And the DOT's response was to issue what's called the interim statement of enforcement priorities regarding service animals. And what it did is it expressed our interpretation of these types of restrictions and whether they were or were not allowed under the current service animal rule. And we sought comment from the public and from stakeholders.

So we just said, here's how we interpret the existing rule. There are certain things that airlines are doing are allowable under the rules and certain things are not according to our interpretation of the rule. But we're going to open all of this up for public comment and see what we hear.

Next slide. After we issued that notice when we asked for public comment, airlines continued to impose more restrictions on passengers with service animals. Most notably a couple of airlines said that they were going to impose breed restrictions, specifically or most notably banning quote unquote pit bull type dogs. Not airlines do this but some of them did. They started saying we're not going to transport puppies, animals that are too young. We're not going to transport dogs over 65 pounds. We're not going to transport emotional support animals on flights over eight hours because we're afraid this animal is not going to be able to avoid relieving itself. We're going to require that you use our own medical forms. You can't right write a note from your own doctor. You have to fill out the form that's on our own website. So a slew of new requirements that the airlines imposed on passengers where the ‑‑ our rule itself is potentially either silent, not clear. Sometimes our rule is clear, but we had to decide really where the current rule sits with respect to all of these restrictions that have been imposed by airlines.

Next slide, please. So finally we issued in August of this year a final statement of enforcement priorities regarding service animals. So we looked at some of the new restrictions that airlines were imposed. We also looked at the public comment that we received to the interim statement and then issued a final statement of our enforcement priorities.

Next slide, please. The guiding principles of this final statement are that the statement is guidance. In other words, it represents our interpretation of the existing rule. Because we have not issued new rules on this issue, we can't rewrite the rule as it stands. We can't do that. There's a whole separate process for that that I'm going to talk about later. But we are bound by the existing rules and what we issued in the final statement was our interpretation of the current rule.

The guidance itself is not legally binding. So we can't go over an airline and say you violated our guidance, therefor we're going to impose a civil penalty. Instead we say you violated the the regulation as we interpret it. And that is the basis for the civil penalty. In general, this final statement was designed to provide clarity to both passengers with disabilities and airlines identifying where our rules are clear, where our rules are not clear, where our rules are silent and in germ what we believe that the regulations either permit or not permit when it comes to these new restrictions. Next slide, please.

It's a statement of enforcement priorities which means it's an office with limited resources and any number of issues to address on a day‑to‑day basis we in general state our enforcement efforts are going to be focused on clear violations of the current rule that have the potential to adversely affect the largest number of individuals. We have to prioritize our time and enforcement efforts in some way, and this is the general rubric we're going to use to do that. We also stated as a general policy matter our commitment to ensuring that air transportation is safe and accessible, both safe and accessible. Two fundamental important topics.

Next slide please. The hightlights of this final statement is what we believe what the current rule does permit or does not permit and what we're going to focus on in our enforcement efforts. Starting with species. We indicate that airlines have banned a whole ton of various species, some airlines say we're going to ban animals with horns, ban animals with hooves, we're going to ban animals with feathers, this, that, and the other thing. We say, whatever you're doing in that situation from the perspective of the enforcement office, we want to ensure that dogs, cats, and miniature horses are accepted for transport. Everyone seems very alarmed by the idea that we're focusing on ensuring that miniature horses are accepted for transport. I will say that in our experience the number of transports of miniature horses is extremely small. We've talked to any number of airline representatives about whether they have ever transported a miniature horse, and the answer is mostly no. But they are recognized as service animals and they do have certain benefits particularly over dogs. They live longer than dogs. They apparently don't have some of the allergy issues that dogs have. They're also stable for individuals with mobility impairments, and they are intelligent and trainable. And they're not as huge as you might think although they are quite large.

So it's a rarity, an extreme rarity, but we indicated that we would ensure that too. Fundamentally the most transported animal as a service animal are dogs and second is cats. What about rabbits and birds and so forth? Well, if an airline bans rabbits, if an airline bans birds, they are in violation of the existing rule. Is it going to be a priority for us to take enforcement action in that situation? Well, we do say that we're going to focus on dogs, cats, and miniature horses. With respect to breed, we do say that airlines are not allowed to categorically ban specific breeds. The reason is that that type of breed ban is inconsistent with the overall priority of ensuring the dogs are accepted for transport. The idea of whether it's appropriate to ban pit bulls, for example, is highly controversial. It's a hot topic. We've seen a lot of heated debate on both sides of that issue. But we're saying that as an interpretation of our existing rule, airlines are not allowed to ban pit bulls simply because they are pit bulls. So airlines certainly are allowed to make other types of determinations that the animal is a direct threat. But simply declaring that it can't be transported because of its breed and nothing else is, we believe, is inappropriate under the current rule as it stands.

Next slide, please. The number of animals transported, the regulation itself, doesn't say anything about how many animals may be transported. There's just nothing in the rules one way or the other about a maximum or minimum number of animals that an individual passenger can transport. We did say, though, that we will focus our efforts on ensuring that passengers can travel with one emotional support animal that in theory that in general one should be sufficient to provide emotional support. We also recognize that an individual may need a task trained service animal. And under certain circumstances two task trained service animals either for different issues or for one to relieve the other. But, again, the number of instances we see of people transporting multiple animals is quite rare.

We say that airlines are not allowed to ban animals over a certain weight. There is a case‑by‑case allowance for refusing to transport animals by weight. For example a large service animal on a small aircraft may upset the weight or balance of the aircraft. Airlines are allowed to ban an animal under circumstances like that.

Next slide, please. With respect to age we'regnereally not going to be too upset if airlines ban extremely young puppies that we believe would be clearly too young to behave in public. It's not a particularly hot issue, but it is there. In terms of flight length, some airlines had said we're going to ban emotional support animals on flights over eight hours. Well, this is one where we actually have a specific rule on the books that talks about this issue. And it says, that you must transport an animal on long flights, but you may as an airline ‑‑ you may ask for documentation from the passenger indicating that either the animal will not relieve itself or can do so in a way that is hygienic. So that is something where we're like, the rule is actually clear on that one.

Next slide. We say with respect to the paraphernalia, the vests, the harnesses, the certificates of various kinds, we do say that an airline does not have to just accept all of that at face value. If a passenger's disability is not clear, airlines are still allowed to ask limited numbers of questions of the passenger to determine the passenger's need for a service animal. In general, the types of questions that can be asked are, is this a service animal, yes or no? And what task or function does it perform for you? You don't ask, what's your disability? You can ask what task or service ‑‑ what task the animal can perform for you.

And we indicate that airlines are allowed to ask for ESA and PSA users to check in at the lobby before proceeding to the gate and that airlines are allowed to ask for advanced notice for emotional support and psychiatric support animals users only.

Next slide, please. We indicate that, for example, the rule doesn't say anything about how animals can be or should be or must be contained either by leashes, crates, muzzles, harnesses of any kind, our rule says nothing about any of that. So we say, look, if an airline is going to restrict the movement of an animal, be it be by a leash or harness we're going to take enforcement action on it on a case‑by‑case basis with a focus on reasonableness.

The last bullet point here is is probably the most significant of the bunch. We say that airlines may ask for not just that medical form that we talked about earlier but that airlines may ask for documentation relating to the animal. They may ask for documentation relating to the vaccination of the animal, its training, or its behavior if the documentation is reasonable in terms of assisting the airline in determining whether the animal poses a direct threat. Again, as we had said earlier, the rule itself is not clear on how airlines make the direct threat determination. Because the rule is not clear about that and airlines are allowed to determine whether the animal poses a direct threat, we are giving the airline some leeway to ask for documentation to support their finding.

We are monitoring this issue and it is something that we're continuing to look at. Now, we do ‑‑ as I was saying, the enforcement statement, the final statement of the enforcement priorities ‑‑ we should be on slide 49 now, represents our interpretation of the existing service animal rule. However, the rule it seems universally understood that the rule which in its current form came out in 2009 should be updated. So those new rules are on the horizon. In May of 2018 we issued what's called an ANPRM, an advance notice of proposed rule making generally seeking public comment on how we should revise the existing rule. We didn't propose any specifics but in general, hey, world, how do you think we should revise the service animal rule. Should we continue to recognize emotional support animals as service animals what should we say about containment or species or number or documentation? We asked about public comment in over 45 days and we got 4500 plus comments. Our staff reviewed every one of those comments. And is in the process of drafting a notice ‑‑ next slide, please ‑‑ a notice of proposed rule making which sets out a specific proposed rule that would revise the current rule.

When that NPRM comes out and it should be coming out soon. It has not come out yet but it should come out soon we will again ask the public for comment because we're proposing specific regulations and saying, hey, general public, what do you think about these specific regulations? We'll open the comment period. I'm not sure exactly how long the period's going to be. 45 days, 60 days, 90 days. I'm sure we'll receive a flood of comments to that rule. After which we will review all of the comments which will say we love your proposal, we hate your proposal, you ought to change it in various ways. After we receive all of those comments and analyze them, we will issue a final rule that reflects our disposition of those comments. And after the final rule is implemented, we will have a whole new set of regulations that applies to this topic.

So that ‑‑ the NPRM coming out soon. Not clear exactly ‑‑ I know people are going to ask when is the final rule going to come out. We don't know. It depends on the analysis of the comments and any number of other factors but it is a priority to execute this rule making.

Next slide, please. When we do issue the notice of proposed rule making you will find it on our latest new section of our website, at‑news. If you want to file comments to the NPRM, go to and the docket number is there which will put you into the portal to issue comments on the notice of proposed rule making. You can submit your comments there.

And I guess I am done with my presentation. Thank you very much. And I know it's a lot to cover, but I also ‑‑ I think we were all hoping and expecting that this topic would raise a lot of questions from you. So looking forward to hearing your questions. Thanks again, Peter.

Peter Perg

All right. Thank you, Rob for all of that great information and you can also stay tuned to your regional ADA center if you're signed up for your center's list serve when that notice of proposed rule making comes out from do the, we will disseminate that through the network.

Michelle, if you could join us real quick and give our phone participants instructions again on how they can ask questions, I would appreciate that. For those of you in the webinar room, you can continue to submit your questions in the chat area even though you are unable to see the questions, you can see them on our end. Michelle, please?


As a reminder to ask a question you will need to press star one on the telephone. To withdraw press the pound key. Please stand by as we get the queue.

Peter Perg

Sorry about that. We've received numerous questions during the session.



Peter Perg

Going back to the original part of your presentation, enforcement and a question around whether or not there is any cause ‑‑ or any right to private action under the Air Carrier Access Act and if not or if so, do you have any history as to why or why not that is permitted?


Yes. That is a very interesting and slightly complicated question. And the answer is no in general. There is no private right of action against airlines for the types of issues that ‑‑ on which we issue regulations. And the reason for that is complicated, but it deals with the fact that in 1978 Congress passed the airline deregulation act which said that the department shall not issue regulations governing rates or routes of airlines or services, but we do have consumer protection authority. Among the other things that the ADA did, this is the airline deregulation act. It said that the authority to regulate airlines lies exclusively to the Department of Transportation. So there's a preemption clause in there that says that states and localities are also not allowed to regulate airlines at the state or local level. And Congress also did not provide in this comprehensive scheme to regulate airlines exclusively at the federal level Congress set this entire scheme up and did not allow for a private right of action against the airlines.

So unfortunately and in general there is no private right of action and what the department does is when we regulate airlines and impose civil penalties, those civil penalties typically go to the US Treasury as most federal civil penalties do. We do allow for some offsets of civil penalties and an airline chooses to provide compensation to passengers in various ways, then civil penalties under certain circumstances may be reduced to reflect payments to passengers, but it is not something that we can compel. And if an airline wants to insist on a full civil penalty go to the US Treasury they can. We can't compel individual payments to passengers. There is one exception there which is if the consumer wants to file a claim against an airline under the contract carriage for, for example, damage to an individual's baggage, they're certainly entitled to do that and to take an airline to small claims court for specific damages to their property, for example.

That type of thing is allowable but not for these types of disability regulations or other consumer protection regulations.

Peter Perg

All right. Thanks.


The comprehensive scheme ‑‑

Peter Perg

It could take action on behalf of Congress to change that private action.



Peter Perg

There was a comment secretary Carson had to ask the federal trade commission to investigate those online websites that you were talking about that issue certification of registry for service assistance animals just someone wanted to put that out there.


The do the, though, we don't regulate online sellers of paraphernalia our jurisdiction covers air transportation or the sale of air transportation. We are not the FTC. The FTC governs unfair and deceptive process in most elements of business commerce are covered by the FTC. Airlines are not and they're carved out to us. If any federal agency was going to be going after fraudulent per varies of this type of material it would be the FTC. I believe the state attorneys general can go after these ‑‑ I think state attorneys general can go after them as well for various types of fraudulent practices. The DOT would not because they only cover air transportation or the sale of air transportation.

Peter Perg

Thank you for that clarification. Someone asked a question in general may airlines ask for service animal vaccination records? You had talked about that with regard to the issue of direct threat. In general, can an airline ask for the vaccination records of a service animal?


Yes. According to our final statement of enforcement priorities, yes, although it is ‑‑ that applies to both traditional service animals like guide dogs and ESAs and PSAs. Again, because an airline is allowed to determine whether an animal poses a direct threat but the rule doesn't say how they can do that, we do at this point say that the rule does allow for airlines to ask for vaccination records but we're continuing to monitor this issue to make sure that the types of documentation restrictions that are imposed aren't imposing undue burdens on passengers with disabilities.

Peter Perg

Okay. Maybe you can't answer this before I each ask it. Would there be any requirement on an airline that is making that request of individuals that are travelling with obvious service animals can maintain that record so that if someone is a frequent traveler with an airline so they're not being requested each and every time that they travel to produce that documentation?


Oh, that's a good question. That is not something that we've spoken about specifically one way or another in our enforcement priority statement. There's certainly nothing in our regulations that say that an airline must retain the documentation of a service animal user, but that is one of the elements that we would continue to monitor if it becomes overly burdensome, for example, to be asking for the same material over and over again. That would be something that we would look at on a case‑by‑case basis.

Peter Perg

Very good. And then you had read the ‑‑ I think directly from the regulations regarding the documentation an airline may seek for someone looking to travel with an ESA or a PSA, a psychiatric support animal. Airlines are not required to ask for that documentation, correct?


That is correct. They may if they want to, but they certainly don't have to.

Peter Perg

Someone had a question the way that it was worded and you do not have to transmit, but airlines, as you said, could choose not to require that type of documentation.


That's right.

Peter Perg

This is perhaps NPR final rule type of thing of potentially of looking at the two questions allowed ‑‑ I know this is under ADA but asking the two questions urn the ADA and if it's a service animal under the ADA, it's he probably going to be a service animal under the Air Carrier Access Act.


That's reasonable. If it's a service animal under the ADA, yeah, I would say ‑‑ I don't know about 100%, but I would have to believe generally it's a service animal under the Air Carrier Access Act. The idea of asking the two questions is this a service animal and what task does the animal perform? Those two questions are not set forth in any regulation of our office, but it is explained in, I believe, either the preamble of our rule or guidance we've issued quite awhile ago.

Peter Perg

Some other question getting back to documentation, are you aware of any airlines that accept the registry or certification that comes from online?


Well, typically what happens, as I understand it, is that an individual might go online to get some type of, whatever it is, a vest or paraphernalia of whatever type, and then they present that material individually to whatever the personnel is at the airport or to the airline, and they make determinations on an individual basis in terms of whether they're going to accept it or not. So that's a little bit too broad of a question to ask ‑‑ or to really answer intelligently, but would airlines accept it? If it's online vests and stuff, they can if they want to, but they don't have to.

Peter Perg

Okay. Very good. Let's check with Michelle. Do we have any questions on the telephone at this time.


The first question comes from Ms. T.

Peter Perg

Go ahead with your question.

Peter Berg

Hold on, one second. Yes, in the as expect of the airlines barring countries, I had a specific example last week. A friend of mine had a friend that she was flying from Colombia and they weren't letting her take her wheelchair. To take her motorized wheelchair on the plane. That's crazy.


Yeah. That does sound problematic. Without knowing any more facts than that, that does sound problematic for airlines as well as domestic airlines are required to transport motorized wheelchairs. That's a rule that applies to any transportation that ‑‑ that's a good point. The US disability regulations apply to, in general, to both US and foreign carriers that are travelling into or out of the United States. So clearly our rules don't generally apply between two foreign points, but if you're travelling into or out of the United States on a certain flight, then, yes, in general airlines are required to transport motorized wheelchairs. That almost certainly would be transported in the cargo hold rather than in the cabin, but still they generally must be transported.

Peter Perg

Thanks for that question. Rob, a question, do you know the history of why documentation ‑‑ why airlines are allowed to require documentation from travelling from someone that's travelling with a psychiatric service animal? Obviously the difference between a ESA and PSA, PSA is individually trained.


Right. Well, I've looked into the history of this to some extent and there's two questions ‑‑ two elements of it. One is that the DOT's regulations under the ACAA were developed separately from the regulations that were developed by the Department of Justice under the ADA. So in general two different regulators coming up with two different proposals and ultimately final rules on that issue. But as far as I can tell from looking into the history of this, the reason that we allowed airlines to ask for medical documentation for ESAs and PSAs was that this was supposed to be one method of potentially avoiding fraud. And the theory, I think, is that if you are travelling with an ESA or a PSA, your disability is not visible necessarily. It's not obvious to the outside observer that you have a disability, and therefore this animal that you're travelling with we can't really tell whether it is a pet or whether it's a psychiatric service animal or an emotional support animal, and that's where the modification came from. Yes, ESAs and PSAs differ significantly because one is task trained and one is not. But I think the broader concern was that because this is a passenger with a quote unquote invisible disability that they felt like there might be a need for additional documentation there.

Peter Perg

Great. What are the requirements for the provision of animal relief areas?


That's a good question. Well, airports do have to provide service animal relief areas. I believe the ‑‑ I'm going to start try to flip through my rule book to find where that one is. Airports generally do have to require ‑‑ have to provide those. Those are for airports of a certain size, I believe. So very small airports particularly might not necessarily have to do that but larger ones do. In terms of where they are ‑‑ shoot. I don't want to speak to that ‑‑ that's a really good question. I might need a minute to look that one up.

Peter Perg

Okay. You can get that to us after and we can disseminate that specific information about animal relief areas. So thanks.

So a question about something you had brought up about individuals being able to bring their assistive devices on board with them. So does that also include someone travelling with a service animal being allowed to come on board with a harness and food or water for the dog itself?


Well, the harness would probably be connected to the dog, and I don't know if anyone ever tried ‑‑ I don't know if an airline tried to say you can't transport the harness. I don't think we've heard of any complaints along those lines. In general, the food, there is no special allowance for food or water for the dog. I believe that's generally understood to be a line that is drawn there. That you do have to transport the animal but not necessarily food or water for the animal. That's a little bit of a tough question, but as I understand it, that's where we have drawn the line.

Peter Perg

Okay. And then another question back to the first part of your presentation. You had used the term informal complaint. So what is it meant by informal complaint and how does that differ from a formal complaint under the ACAA.


So informal complaints are ones that we receive on a daily basis by letter, by ‑‑ and also through our website. Those are typically considered informal complaints. A formal complaint goes through an entirely different process, and it goes through a ‑‑ it's a different section of our regulations called part 302.

Peter Perg

Hold on one second, Rob. We lost our audio in the webinar room. I apologize for that. On the telephone we lost our audio sound into the webinar platform. We're going to pause a second. The webinar room is where ‑‑

(lost audio)

Peter Perg

Thank you for your patience as we attempt to reconnect with the webinar room. We're having some connection issues. We have our audio back. Thank you very much for your patience. Rob thank you for your patience. You were talking about the difference between an informal and formal complaint there when we lost our connection.


So very briefly, an informal complaint are the typical complaints we receive through our website or through a letter. They generally must be in written form. If you file an informal complaint on a disability issue, there is a whole process that our office goes through, and it's good to know about. When we receive the complaint from you, we will forward that complaint to the airline and we send that complaint to the airline and we will ask them for a response. The airline has to investigate the issue and check out the facts of the case then they will respond back to the department and to the passenger and say here's what we believe happened in this case. It gives them an opportunity to apologize or do whatever it is they're going to do. We require the airline to admit or deny that our disability regulations were broken. After we receive the complaint and the response  ‑‑ our office writes up what's called an investigation summary sheet where we look at the regulations at issue and determine whether or not our disability rules were violate the. If they were, we send that response ‑‑ in all cases with he send the response to the passenger. But if the ‑‑ there was a violation, we also send the sheet to the airline that indicates that we found a violation in this case. This type of tracking is extremely important for us to determine patterns, practices, trends to help determine where problems lie both in terms of subject matter and specific airport, specific airlines. So it's extremely helpful to our office and to really the system at large. To get this type of complaint process going.

The formal complaints are much lore legalistic and they follow ‑‑ they must be filed on our official docket. Again at It's essentially a request that the DOT take action in front of an administrative law judge. So it's a formalized procedure that requires formal responses from the airline and ultimately requires the department to issue a full blown legal opinion again on the public docket explaining why we are not or are going to take enforcement action, and we can terminate that formal complaint via a consent order, the same way we do any other type of actions. I suppose the main differences are that the response time for informal complaints is faster. The response time for a formal complaint is significantly longer, but you will get a publicly available opinion disposing of that formal complaint.

Peter Perg

All right. Thank you very much, Rob, for that. Thank you all for joining us today. We've gone past the bottom of the hour.

We will look at how we can potentially address questions that we were not able to get to today. The handouts that are provided for the presentation will be posted with the audio archive, so you will be able to access that and a lot of the information and links and website addresses are in the handouts that Rob mentioned during his presentation today. So that archive should be posted within 24 hours in approximately two business weeks we will have an edited archive written archive posted to the ADA‑audio website. So we look forward to having you join us in January where we will be looking at employment first in the Americans with disabilities act that will be January 21st will be that session. You can find information on registering at

Thank you for participating of the thanks, Rob for your participation and putting together the presentation. Thank you, everyone. Enjoy the remainder of your day and we look forward to everyone joining us in 2020. Have a happy holiday season.


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