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ASAN Condemns Discriminatory Air Travel Regulations

Read our plain language “Know Your Rights” explainer on the new DoT regulation by clicking here.

The Autistic Self Advocacy Network condemns the Department of Transportation’s release of new regulations that discriminate against people with disabilities who use support animals while flying. The new rules take away travelers’ right to travel with Emotional Support Animals (ESAs), and the right to travel with service animals other than dogs. The regulations also require travelers to complete burdensome paperwork before flying. 

ASAN has been in conversations with the Department of Transportation over the past several years, where we voiced our opposition to these changes–as did many other disability rights organizations. Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) are important to many autistic people. They are protected under other disability rights laws, including the Fair Housing Act. Air travel rules already required ESAs to be under control and prevented people from traveling with species of animals that were not suited to air travel. 

ASAN also opposes changing the definition of the term “service animal” to include only dogs. Some people use animals other than dogs as service animals. Service animals must be trained to perform a task, and must be able to behave appropriately in public. If a person can train an animal other than a dog to act as a service animal, there is no valid reason to deny that person access to air travel. 

Finally, ASAN opposes the new documentation requirements. These requirements are hard for travelers to understand and follow. The forms are not in plain language, meaning that travelers with cognitive disabilities may find them impossible to complete. Moreover, people with executive functioning difficulties may not be able to navigate the process of providing documentation on time, leading to unnecessary denials of access. The already-existing rules, combined with better airline employee training, were enough to ensure that people did not bring badly behaved or untrained animals on the plane. The new requirements are just another way to deny people with disabilities access to air travel.

We do note that the Department of Transportation is now formally recognizing that service animals can help autistic people, people with other developmental disabilities, and people with mental health disabilities. Before, the Department of Transportation treated these service animals differently from animals that helped people with physical or sensory disabilities. While we oppose other parts of the rule, we support this change.

We’ve seen many questions about the new regulations. For more information on how they may affect you, please see our Know Your Rights document. For more information, please contact Sam Crane, Legal Director, at scrane@autisticadvocacy.org.

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