There has been a lot of press lately on animals (and humans) behaving badly on airplanes.  Some of the problems in the friendly skies relate to the huge increase in passengers bringing on animals they claim to be emotional support animals (“ESAs”).  See my prior post for details.

Congress is now considering changes to the Air Carrier Access Act of 1986 to deal with the problem of pets pretending to be ESAs.  Senator Richard Burr (R-N.C.) has proposed to tighten up the law so only “service animals,” as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), could fly uncaged in an airplane cabin.

The ADA’s definition of service animals is much narrower than the Air Carrier Access Act and restricts service animals to dogs (with one exception for miniature ponies) and the dog has to be individually trained to provide an actual service or perform tasks for the disabled person.

U.S. airlines flew 751,000 comfort pets last year, an 80 percent jump from the previous year, according to an informal survey by industry group Airlines for America. Those animals include dogs and cats, yes. But also rabbits, ducks, parakeets and monkeys.

All those animals on planes have created safety issues for other passengers which have included bites and attacks by the animals, increased allergic responses, and even simply creating risks by having unsecured cargo in the cabin.  Moreover, with no empty seats on flights these days having pets on laps (including large pets) has created conflict between passengers and between passengers and the crew.

The proposed legislation would also:

  • Create a criminal penalty for claiming that a pet is a service animal and for falsely claiming disability needs; and
  • Require federal agencies to establish a minimum standard of service-animal behavior training for the animals.

While some states have considered or passed legislation imposing criminal penalties for passing off a pet as a service animal, Congress has previously held back in doing so until now.

Additionally, imposing a standard of training for service dogs would be a major change to Federal law.

Dori K. Stibolt is a partner with the law firm of Fox Rothschild LLP.  Dori defends and counsels management in labor and employment litigation matters pertaining to wage and overtime claims, discrimination, harassment, retaliation, leave/restraint, and whistle-blower claims.  You can contact Dori at 561-804-4417 or