Airlines for America (A4A) wants the US Department of Transportation (DOT) to change the rules governing service animals to restrict passengers from bringing emotional service animals (ESA) aboard the cabin.

On an Aug. 20 call with reporters ahead of the Labor Day travel period, A4A SVP-legislative and regulatory policy Sharon Pinkerton said the industry trade group has been urging DOT to align its definition of “service animal” with the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) definition to include only animals that are “trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability."

That change would effectively end the ESA category altogether. Under the DOJ definition, only trained service animals which perform physical tasks are permitted to travel in the cabin.

“Right now, a different definition exists for airlines and their customers versus the rest of public places like hotels and restaurants which are all governed by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA),” Pinkerton said. “We’re going to continue making the case that, while we’ve made progress within the existing framework, the real progress we’re looking for is a unified definition of what a service animal is.”

The DOT issued a final policy statement on ESAs Aug. 8 that contained priorities expected to become part of the final rulemaking to be issued later this year. While that guidance provided airlines authority to limit fraudulent ESA use in many areas, A4A thinks it didn’t go far enough by not eliminating the ESA category altogether.

Opposition to increased PFCs

Pinkerton also said A4A will continue advocating against efforts to raise or eliminate the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) cap, including a bipartisan push in the House to eliminate the user-fee altogether. 

Pinkerton said doubling the PFC cap to $9 from its current level of $4.50—as some airport executives have proposed—would add an additional $144 total to the average cost of a roundtrip, one-stop domestic flight for a family of four. The proposal to increase the user fee—with airports sitting on a combined $16 billion in cash and a surplus of $7.7 billion in the Airports and Airways Trust Fund—“didn’t make sense,” she said.

“With airports already flush with cash, raising the airport tax is simply not fair to the flying public. Airports don’t need a tax hike and passengers don’t want one,” Pinkerton said.

The Airports Council International-North America (ACI-NA) pushed back, arguing in a statement that the record 17.5 million travelers expected to take to the skies over the five-day Labor Day holiday period “underscores the need to invest more in airport infrastructure to help accommodate the ever-growing number of airline passengers.”

“The average airport is 40 years old, and Congress has not increased airports’ primary funding mechanism in almost two decades,” said ACI-NA SVP-government and political affairs Annie Russo, adding that “taxpayers won’t have to pay a dime for these much-needed infrastructure investments because the PFC is paid by the passengers who use these facilities.”

Ben Goldstein, ben.goldstein@aviationweek.com