International Association of
Assistance Dog Partners

New Guidance on Air Travel to the U.K.

by Joan Froling

In April 2004, the British Parliament passed a law that removed the requirement which said dogs and cats which were PETS compliant could only be brought into the U.K. by air in a sealed container. This made it possible for carriers to seek permission to transport PETS compliant dogs or cats in the plane cabin with their owner. We thought it meant our assistance dogs would soon be able to travel to the U.K. in the plane cabin with us instead of in a sealed container in the hold on flights from North America if they met the Passport for Pets criteria for an exemption to the six month British quarantine. This criteria includes a microchip, rabies vaccine, a positive titer test six months in advance of the trip, and a certificate proving the dog was treated for parasites shortly before the flight.

Much to the disappointment of Michael Osborn, a guide dog partner, and other advocates who were so dedicated to getting that legislation through Parliament, the airlines in the United States with routes to the U.K. appeared to be in no hurry to accommodate our assistance dogs in the plane cabin. Many months went by without any of them completing the paperwork for the necessary permit, called the Required Method of Operation [RMOP] from the U.K. Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs [ DEFRA] to become “an approved carrier” for transporting assistance dog teams in the plane cabin on long haul flights to the U.K.

After a year passed with no progress, Michael Osborn and other advocates for assistance dog partners appealed to U.S. Congressional representatives who subsequently contacted the U.S. Department of Transportation on behalf of their constituents. Upon investigating the matter, the DOT determined there were several issues which need to be addressed due to the complexities of laws or regulations in the U.K. and the U.S. and European Union affecting the transportation of service animals into the U.K. The DOT assigned Kathleen Blank Riether to work on a new Guidance letter for the DOT, consulting with stakeholders on both sides of the Atlantic.

On Feb. 26, 2007, the long awaited Guidance Concerning the Carriage of Service Animals In Air Transportation Into the U.K. was published by the U.S. DOT in the Federal Register 72 FR 8268. For some, this is very good news.

The DOT cites the fact that service animals may be needed to provide assistance to their disabled partner in the plane cabin. Furthermore, forcing the service animal to ride in cargo could impair the animal’s ability to perform its duties once the team is reunited at the end of the flight. Therefore it is going to require both U.S. and foreign carriers to transport service animals in the plane cabin, unless explicitly forbidden to by national law.

The guidance document starts by saying its purpose is to assist U.S. and foreign carriers as well as passengers with disabilities in complying with both U.S. and U.K. regulations concerning the transport of service animals into the U.K. The document will accomplish this by ( 1 ) explaining the procedures passengers must follow in complying with the U.K. PETS Travel Scheme, and ( 2 ) explaining the procedures that U.S. and foreign carriers must follow in obtaining an approved RMOP from DEFRA, and ( 3 ) notifying both U.S. and foreign carriers operating flights between the U.S. and the U.K. that failure to obtain an approved RMOP from DEFRA will be considered a violation of the Air Carrier Access Act ( ACAA) and may subject such carriers to enforcement action from the U.S. DOT.

One of the difficulties to iron out was the difference between the U.K. definition of an assistance dog and the U.S. Department of Transportation’s 2003 guidance document’s definition of a service animal. The DOT definition includes privately trained assistance dogs [ e.g. owner trained or trained by a dog trainer not affiliated with an approved program ] as well as other species like cats that alert to seizures and emotional support animals.

The Civil Air Authority (C.A.A.) in the U.K. adopted a policy recommended by an advisory group assembled by the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association in the U.K. after the exciting news of the April 2004 change to the British law reached us at the ADI & IAADP Conference in Vancouver. We later learned that privately trained assistance dogs were not recognized by the advisory group as meeting the British standards for an assistance dog. Only graduates of schools in the U.K., or from members affiliated with the International Guide Dog Federation or Assistance Dogs International could be transported in the plane cabin on U.K. airlines, as of March 5, 2005. All other animals, including privately trained service animals, had to ride in the cargo hold.

For a limited number of teams, travel between the U.S. and U.K. became possible on Virgin Atlantic Airways and one other U.K. airline that filed for the proper permit from DEFRA. Many disabled persons in the U. S. did not understand or accept this restriction, so the U.S. Department of Transportation reports a number of complaints of discriminatory treatment were filed with the DOT in 2005 and 2006.

This guidance document explains the U.S. DOT definition is inclusive of animals that are individually trained to perform a function and which perform that function for an individual with a disability or ( 2 ) an animal that has been shown to have an innate ability to assist a passenger with a disability e.g. a seizure alert animal, or ( 3 ) an emotional support animal whose owner carries the required documentation of a medical condition and the need to travel with the animal.

In comments provided when we were asked to review a proposed first draft of this guidance document, IAADP expressed deep concern about the problems that might ensue if untrained emotional support dogs and cats were permitted in the plane cabin on long flights. While not eliminating these from its guidance on what animals will be permitted to fly as service animals with appropriate documentation, this guidance emphasizes the importance of training and proper behavior in several places to prospective passengers. For example, in one section the DOT states: “Regardless of the function it performs to assist a passenger with his or her disability, a service animal should be trained to behave properly in the airport and the plane cabin ( i.e. not to run around freely, bark, bite other persons or urinate in the cabin ). Improper behavior indicating a lack of training may result in the service animal legitimately being denied transport in the cabin.”

The DOT took note of the fact that carriers not based in the U.K. had the ability to apply to DEFRA for an RMOP to transport cats and dogs that were PETS compliant in the plane cabin with their owners. This paved the way for the DOT to require that all U.S. airlines and foreign carriers with routes between the U.S. and U.K. must comply with the ACAA with respect to dogs and cats that are service animals, unless expressly prohibited by national law. If the service dog or service cat is behaving appropriately and PETS compliant, the disabled passenger can travel with that service animal in the plane cabin. Furthermore, any U.S. airline or foreign carrier with “code sharing” with a route to the U.K. from a “listed country,” one recognized as eligible for PETS, such as Canada or Germany or Sweden, must transport a service animal [ dog or cat] in the plane cabin into the U.K. at no extra charge to the passenger.

Airlines based in the U.K., restricted by the C.A.A. to only transporting guide dogs and assistance dogs from certain schools, would be considered in compliance with the ACAA if they continue to follow their national law. All other carriers, domestic or foreign, could face penalties if they refuse to transport a disabled passenger’s service animal that is a dog or cat.

The DOT noted that ferrets were permitted to travel to the U.K. under the Passport for Pets scheme, but because of its own policy exempting airlines from having to transport service animals like snakes, rodents or ferrets in the cabin or cargo hold, airlines do not have to transport ferrets under the ACAA.

Anyone interested in traveling to the U.K. with a guide, hearing or service dog, whether trained by a school, professional dog trainer or the owner, would be well advised to carefully read this new Guidance. http://airconsumer.ost.dot.gov Not only does it explain what you must do to prepare your dog for the trip, it also details what the airlines will require from you and what will happen when you arrive at Gatwick or Heathrow, the two London airports which are the only ones currently accepting PETS compliant service animals.

One important provision is the need to notify the airline a minimum of 72 hours in advance of your flight that you plan to bring a service animal. If they do not notify the Animal Reception Center (ARC) in the U.K. a minimum of 24 hours in advance to expect you, your dog could end up in quarantine till arrangements can be made to have an inspector meet with you. Technically, the airlines should not even allow you on board if ARC officials are not expecting you.

All fees from the ARC will be the passenger’s responsibility, although an airline may choose to absorb the cost itself. Additional fees include the veterinary expenses and the cost of faxing DEFRA before the trip. You may also have boarding fees if the dog is not PETS compliant, till arrangements can be made to get him out of quarantine and back to his country of origin.

Nothing is said in this guidance document about the U.K. law granting access to guide dogs and assistance dogs. While there is no law preventing the British from accepting a dog or cat that travels by air with its owner, if PETS compliant, and processing it like any other pet, it is uncertain if the handler of a privately trained assistance dogs will be permitted in places of public accommodation and on public transportation. The British are accustomed to seeing guide dogs in harnesses or other types of assistance dogs wearing bright colored capes with the Assistance Dogs of the U.K. logo. It might be advisable to consider alternatives, like pet friendly hotels and renting a car for getting about on a trip to the U.K., if you have a privately trained assistance dog.

We hope members from the USA who travel to the U.K. in 2007 and 2008 will provide IAADP with feedback on their experiences when they return. This will allow us to inform other members of what to expect when they contact our Information & Advocacy Center before a trip.

Something else of interest to IAADP members in this guidance document was the following statement: "It should be noted that the Council of the European Union subsequently adopted a community regulation on July 5, 2006, concerning the rights of disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility when traveling by air which shall apply to commercial carriers flying into, from or through an airport situated in an EU member state. The regulation, effective July 26, 2008, will require carriers to transport recognized assistance dogs in the aircraft cabin free of charge, subject to national legislation."

A major decision by the DOT impacting assistance dog teams that travel by air worth noting is that it will not impose a limit on how many hours the flight may last. The DOT also decided U.S. airlines will not mandate that the dog wear a special harness that can be attached to a seat belt on take off and landings as the British airlines presently insist upon. Foreign carriers that require an absorbent mat be placed under the service animal may continue this practice, but the airline must provide the mat and not expect the disabled passenger to do so.

Those wishing to read this new Guidance document on travel to the U.K. can find it at: http://airconsumer.ost.dot.gov

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