The U.S. Department of Transportation has proposed new rules that would make the skies very unfriendly for disabled people traveling with service animals.
The DOT proposes changes in the Air Carrier Access Act that would allow airlines three options if a service dog is too big to sit in the small amount of space directly in front of the owner's seat.
The three options include charging the disabled passenger for an extra ticket, putting the dog in the cargo hold or making the passenger and dog wait for a later flight. All three of these alternatives are outrageous and unacceptable.
Charging the passenger for a second seat would disenfranchise many disabled people unable to pay two fares.
Shipping the dog in the cargo hold is both unacceptable and fraught with danger for the animal. Separating the service animal from the disabled passenger also threatens the person's independence. And it has been estimated about 5,000 animals shipped in the cargo hold are lost, injured or killed by airlines every year.
Making the team wait for a later flight makes no sense, either. First, the same crowded conditions may exist on other flights. And the disabled passenger may be forced to miss connections or scheduled pick-ups or appointments at the destination.
The current airline practices provide for an empty seat where space is available, or asking for a volunteer to share leg space with the service dog. This policy has served both the airlines and the public well. It imposes no financial burden on either the airline or the disabled passenger. And it also happens to implement the very spirit of the Air Carrier Access Act.
Service animals may include guide dogs for the visually impaired. Service dogs also help people who are deaf or otherwise have low hearing capacity and may assist people with difficulty maintaining balance or warn of an impending seizure or other unanticipated events.
This new measure, first proposed in November, 2004, may go into effect as early as this summer. Contact your local congressmen and senators to urge DOT to withdraw this proposed rule immediately.
Thousands of disabled people who travel with service animals are depending on our support.
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