Feds: Airlines Must Let Passengers Fly With Pigs for 'Emotional Support'

Elizabeth Harrington | July 6, 2012 | 5:22pm EDT
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Pot-bellied pig. (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – Pot-bellied pigs must be granted passage on airplanes if they are used for “emotional support” by their owners, states the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) draft manual on equity for the disabled in air travel.

The DOT published its “Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability in Air Travel: Draft Technical Assistance Manual” in the Federal Register on July 5, providing guidance that allows swine on airplanes if they are determined to be service animals.

The manual is designed to "help carriers and indirect carriers and their employees/contractors that provide services or facilities to passengers with disabilities, assist those passengers in accordance with" the Air Carrier Access Act. The manual open for public comments until Oct. 3.

Under the “Service Animal” section, the department lays out a scenario for airline carriers entitled “Example 1.”

The manual states: “A passenger arrives at the gate accompanied by a pot-bellied pig. She claims that the pot-bellied pig is her service animal. What should you do?”

“Generally, you must permit a passenger with a disability to be accompanied by a service animal,” reads the manual.  “However, if you have a reasonable basis for questioning whether the animal is a service animal, you may ask for some verification.”

The manual instructs airline carriers and their employees to begin by asking questions about the animal, such as, “What tasks or functions does your animal perform for you?” or “What has its training been?”

“If you are not satisfied with the credibility of the answers to these questions or if the service animal is an emotional support or psychiatric service animal, you may request further verification,” the guidebook states.  “You should also call a CRO [Complaints Resolution Official] if there is any further doubt as to whether the pot-bellied pig is the passenger's service animal.”

If the answers are satisfactory, pot-bellied pigs, which can weigh as much as 300 pounds, must be accepted aboard the plane.

“Finally, if you determine that the pot-bellied pig is a service animal, you must permit the service animal to accompany the passenger to her seat provided the animal does not obstruct the aisle or present any safety issues and the animal is behaving appropriately in a public setting,” the manual states.

Last November, ABC News reported that a 300-pound pot-bellied pig flew on a US Airways flight from Philadelphia to Seattle because the animal was deemed a therapeutic companion pet.

Pot-bellied pig. (AP Photo)

Wendy Ponzo, vice president of the North American Potbellied Pig Association, said that the pigs can be used as service animals and can be trained to open and close doors and use a litter box. “They also seem to have a sense if the owner is not feeling well to stay by them,” said Ponzo, who has multiple sclerosis.

“They help me a great deal when I feel at my worst,” she said.

The DOT’s technical assistance manual is designed for airlines and passengers with disabilities under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA).  The ACAA was passed in 1986 and bars discrimination against the disabled in air travel.

“It is designed to serve as an authoritative source of information about the services, facilities, and accommodations required by the ACAA,” the manual states.  The DOT says that the manual “does not expand carriers' legal obligations or establish new requirements under the law.”

In its definition of service animal, the DOT includes creatures that provide “emotional support.”  The manual defines a service animal as an “animal individually trained to perform functions to assist a person with a disability; Animal that has been shown to have the innate ability to assist a person with a disability…or Emotional support or psychiatric service animal.”

“You should be aware that there are many different types of service animals that perform a range of tasks for individuals with a disability,” the manual states.

"Be aware," it says, "that people who have disabilities that are not apparent may travel with emotional support, psychiatric service, or other service animals," it says.

Though pot-bellied pigs are permissible, the DOT forbids some animals from aircraft.  “As a U.S. carrier, you are not required to carry certain unusual service animals in the aircraft cabin such as ferrets, rodents, spiders, snakes and other reptiles,” it states.

Miniature horses and monkeys, which the manual describes as “commonly used service animals,” are also permitted.

On a case-by-case basis, the DOT says, animals can be turned away if they are “too large or heavy to be accommodated in the aircraft cabin; would pose a direct threat to the health and safety of others; would cause a significant disruption in cabin service; or would be prohibited from entering a foreign country at the aircraft's destination.”

As CNSNews.com previously reported, under new Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines businesses also must permit miniature horses for use as service guide animals on their premises.

According to the DOT guidebook, if an animal is not accepted, the carrier must document the decision in writing and provide it to the passenger within 10 days.

Foreign carriers only have to accommodate dogs as service animals, unless the flight is code-shared with a U.S. carrier.

Carriers must also provide “relief areas” for service animals.  “With respect to terminal facilities you own, lease, or control at a U.S. airport, you must, in cooperation with the airport operator, provide relief areas for service animals that accompany passengers with a disability who are departing, arriving, or connecting at an airport on your flights,” the manual states.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) of the Department of Homeland Security prohibits many items from being carried onto airplanes, including sporting goods, liquids over 3 ounces, and snow globes.  The TSA has faced criticism after several incidents involving its treatment of the mentally disabled.

In June 2011, for example, at Detroit’s McNamera Terminal, the TSA confiscated a 6-inch plastic toy hammer from Drew Mandy, a severely mentally handicapped man who carried the toy for security.  Mandy, who is 29-years old but has the mental capacity of a 2-year-old, was subject to a thorough pat down by TSA agents, who then threw away the toy after they considered it to be a weapon.

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