Monday, April 6, 2009

Final Air Carrier Access Act Requires Rest Stops for Service Animals

Flying with a service dog, just like flying with a toddler, has never been for the faint of heart. Planning to fly as a person with a disability who is also partnered with a service dog takes attention to detail including such important things as will there be time to use the bathroom. When I began traveling with my first service dog Bastien I received some sage advice from an experience service dog partner, "Fly them high and dry." By this statement the person meant restricting access to food and water before a flight, along with making sure they are empty before you set foot in the airport. With more that a decade of partnership and hundreds of flights under our belt this advice has never failed to ensure that my service dog and I could make it to our final destination without the worry of a possible bathroom incident on the dog's part.
I was please to find in my email this morning a notice from the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners (IAADP) that in the Updated Air Carrier Access Act Final Rule due to take affect May 13, 2009 "One new requirement at U.S. airports is to provide, in cooperation
with the airport operator, animal relief areas for service animals that accompany passengers who are departing, arriving, or connecting at the facility. (see page 939 section 382.51)"

The rule does not specify the what where or how of the relief area, so it is up to the service dog community to help our local airport operators understand the unique needs of the service dog community when it comes to the practicalities of a relief area. While many airports have installed pet relief areas the location, distance, having to leave the secured area and have time to be re-screened by security, and conditions often make it impossible for service dog and their human partners to avail themselves of the facility, no matter how much they might wish to.

For a relief area for service dog to be practical IAADP makes the following recommendations:

1. Contact your closest airport and ask whether the mandated relief areas have been installed. If the answer is no, then find out when that will be done and who is responsible for the installation.

2. The probability is nothing has been done and it is important for you to inform the airlines and airport management they have a very short time to be in compliance with DOT's New Rule. Offer your expertise in developing an accessible and convenient facility. Also, stress the point that escort providers and other staff need to know where the relief areas are located.

3. Make a case for placing the relief area within the secured perimeter. Reasons for this are:

A. It will be more convenient for travelers with disabilities accompanied by assistance dogs not to have to go through security after taking their dogs to the relief area. The disabled community constitutes a significant segment of those who travel by air and airlines should be providing greater service to us. The need to take your canine assistant to a relief area outside the terminal can result in missed flights and major inconvenience and discomfort for you.

B. Having to go through security not only places a burden on the disabled passenger but on the security check operation, as well. Many partners accompanied by assistance dogs must go through an intensive search because the assistance dog equipment sets off the alarm system requiring a time consuming hands on search. This not only delays us, but also causes delays to other passengers and takes the time of TSA staff. By providing the relief area within the secured perimeter, this unnecessary use of security checking time and personnel can be avoided.

C. Since the escort service is required to accompany the disabled person/assistance dog team to and from the relief area, their time commitment would be significantly decreased If the relief area were within the secured perimeter. This would decrease the cost to airlines.

4. It is Important to emphasize the need for you to be involved in the actual design and placement of the relief area to make it fully accessible and convenient for disabled passengers.

I know that my local airport has an area that would be very suitable based on the above recommendations, since I go through there several times a year and I can't wait to work with them on this! For more information on this or a sample letter you can use contact IAADP.


Blogdog said...

Excellent post Melissa. We are thinking of bringing Clive over to Boston this July (flying from Ireland) so it was very intersting to find about US legislation.

little man's mum

Melissa Mitchell said...

You guys are such jet setters!

Anonymous said...

I wish we had this in Australia!

Melissa Mitchell said...

Dear Monsqueek,
maybe the example will be followed by other countries, who knows.
Melissa and SD Shiloh