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Update: Act Now to Stop Regulatory Threat to Air Travel for Blind Guide Dog Owners!

February 22, 2005 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

This is a follow up to Red Alert: Act Now to Stop Regulatory Threat to Air Travel for Blind Guide Dog Owners! as posted on Wednesday, February 16. I hope it provides additional clarification of the issue at hand and the kind of comments we feel must be filed with the Department of Transportation in order to best protect the rights of the blind and other people with disabilities who rely on service animals.

The blind community is specifically concerned about the following language in Appendix A of Part 382 concerning service animals that do not completely fit under the passenger’s seat or in front of the passenger:

Part 382 does not require carriers to
make modifications that would constitute an
undue burden or would fundamentally alter
their programs (382.7(c)). Therefore, the
following are not required in providing
accommodations for users of service animals
and are examples of what might realistically
be viewed as creating an undue burden:

  • Asking another passenger to give up
    the space in front of his or her seat to
    accommodate a service animal
  • Denying transportation to any
    individual on a flight in order to provide aaccommodation to a passenger with a service
    animal
  • Furnishing more than one seat per
    ticket
  • Providing a seat in a class of service
    other than the one the passenger has
    purchased.

As airlines try to fit as many seats as possible on the aircraft, leg room is at an all time minimum. This negatively impacts the ability to fit service animals in the appropriate places. There is evidence from the experiences of owners of guide dogs and other service animals showing that dogs that used to fit under or in front of the seat ten years ago no longer completely fit. Truth be told, Karen’s guide dog, Douglas, does not technically fit in front of her bulkhead seat, since he tends to take up space in the adjacent seat when he lies on the floor. Though this is no problem at all when Karen and I travel together, it could present a problem for her traveling alone if the proposed rule amendments stand. Weighing only 65 pounds, Douglas is a typically sized guide dog. Enforced by an airline, the rule above could thus effectively barr blind people who rely on guide dogs from traveling by air at all.

We would like to see this “undue burden” language changed so that airlines clearly understand that they may not violate the human rights of service animal owners. Specifically, we recommend the following new “undue burden” language:

Part 382 does not require carriers to
make modifications that would constitute an
undue burden or would fundamentally alter
their programs (382.7(c)). Therefore, the
following are not required in providing
accommodations for users of service animals
and are examples of what might realistically
be viewed as creating an undue burden:

  • Demanding another passenger to give up
    the space in front of his or her seat to
    accommodate a service animal. It is required to request that an adjacent passenger voluntarily give up this space if no other reasonable solution exists, but that passenger has the right to deny the request.
  • Denying transportation to any
    individual on a flight in order to provide aaccommodation to a passenger with a service
    animal. If no other reasonable solution exists, it is required that such a request be made for an adjacent passenger to take a later flight. Incentives, such as discounted future travel, may be given such a passenger as deemed appropriate.
  • Furnishing more than one seat per
    ticket when the aircraft is completely full.

Though this language continues to recognize situations where an “undue burden” might exist, it provides ways to rectify issues without undue harm to the person with a disability. Note that the original language defining the moving of a passenger to a seat in a different class of service has been removed. We strongly believe that, when no other solution to an issue exists, moving a passenger with a disability to business or even first class seating should be attempted before forcing the passenger to deplane. We at Blind Access Journal will shortly be filing these comments to the Department of Transportation concerning the air travel rights of blind guide dog owners and other people with disabilities. We hope everyone reading this will follow suit. If you have anything to add, please feel free to post your constructive comments to guide this important advocacy process.

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