Blind individual's service animal.

When Pigs Fly: Changing the Service Animal Definition on Airplanes

Q: What service animals can I bring on a plane?

Getting through the arduous process of applying for disability benefits is faster and easier with the assistance of a skilled Arizona disability benefits attorney.

Qualifying for Social Security disability benefits means meeting the federal government’s definition of being “disabled” which is “suffering from a physical or mental impairment that prevents engaging in substantial gainful activities and that has lasted, or is expected to last, for 12 months or more or result in death”. The Social Security Administration maintains a “Blue Book”—a list of many recognized qualifying physical and mental impairments, though the list is not exclusive. 

What disabilities warrant service animals?

Some disability recipients suffer from impairments that require support from service animals, such as guide/service dogs for the blind or deaf, and for those with other disabling conditions like PTSD, seizures/epilepsy, and more. Unlike typical pets, these service dogs receive specialized training to perform specific tasks to support their disabled owners. 

It used to be that properly-trained canines were the only service animals allowed inside airplane cabins to support the needs of their legitimately-disabled owners. In recent years, standards have loosened so significantly that airplane cabins look like “flying barns” –complete with pigs, iguanas, ducks, turkeys, and even a peacock—who boarded under the guise of being “emotional support animals”. In reality, most are family pets of non-disabled owners who are attempting to skip out of the fees of flying the family pet. 

Having a wide variety of apparently untrained animals loose in a cabin not only mocks legitimate service animals but also causes the potential for dangerous interactions between these animals and other passengers. In some cases, passengers have been bitten by these animals. 

Narrowing the definition of a “service animal”

Disability advocates are hailing a recent proposal by several airlines to adopt rules that would narrow and redefine what a “service animal” is and restrict airplane cabin access “to only a canine that has been specifically trained to help a person with a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or mental disability”. Any animal that doesn’t fit the new definition of a “service animal” would be subject to size and species restrictions, would require carriers and would be subject to an additional charge.

The proposed rule – which has been endorsed by more than 80 veterans and disability groups – is expected to take effect after the period for public commenting on the proposal expires. 

If you need assistance applying for Social Security disability benefits, or appealing the denial of benefits, the disability attorneys of Arizona at Roeschke Law can help you. Contact us today for a free consultation

From our offices in Tempe, Phoenix, and Tucson, we help disabled clients and their families throughout Arizona in all aspects of disability law.