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The Air Carrier Access

Act allows service

animals on airplanes

Air Carrier laws protecting service animals and individuals.

The Air Carrier Access Act of 1986 (ACAA; 49 U.S.C. 41705) is the federal law that protects people with disabilities from discriminatory practices by commercial airlines (carrier). 

It protects individuals with disabilities to be accompanied by their service animals on air carriers and when accessing services owned or operated by air carriers. 

According to the Air Carrier Act,

"Individual with a disability means any individual who has a physical or mental impairment that, on a permanent or temporary basis, substantially limits one or more major life activities, has a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having such
an impairment."

The US Department of Transportation (DOT) enforces the ACAA. This law does not apply to foreign air carriers or to airport facilities outside the US, its territories, possessions and commonwealths, nor does it apply to airport services such as restaurants, newsstands and other airport concessions that are not government or carrier owned or operated. 

These public accommodations are covered by Title III of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). Likewise, airports are often not owned by
airlines, but are state or local government owned and are covered by Title II of the ADA. When the ACAA conflicts with state or local laws, or with individual air carrier policy, whichever law or policy grants greater protection (that is, is less restrictive) to the person with the disability is the law or policy that will take precedence.

Amendments to the ACAA further clarify the provisions of that law. As with other civil rights laws, both the carrier and the person with the disability have rights and obligations for conduct. In general, a carrier cannot, because a person has a disability, discriminate against that person:

In the provision of air transportation.
Require the person to accept special services not requested by the passenger. Exclude a qualified individual with a disability from, or deny
the person the benefit of, any air transportation or related services that are available to other persons.

Take any action adverse to an individual's rights that are
protected by the ACAA (14 CFR 382 382.7).
This doesn't mean that an air carrier cannot ever deny services to a person with a disability. Air carriers may refuse to provide transportation to any passenger on the basis of safety, and may refuse to provide transportation to any passenger whose carriage would violate the Federal Aviation Regulations. For example, if a
person with a disability is belligerent and threatens air carrier personnel with violence, that person may be denied services if such behavior by anyone violates federal regulations.

The ACAA requires carriers to modify policies, practices or facilities as needed to ensure nondiscrimination, consistent with section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Carriers are not required
to make modifications that would create an undue burden or would fundamentally alter their programs (14 CFR 382 382.7). Carriers must also ensure that their contractors (including US travel agents) comply with nondiscrimination provisions in those activities carried out on behalf of the carriers, and that the contractors comply with directives issued by carrier complaint
resolution officials (CROs) under section 382.65 (14 CFR 382 382.9). Air carriers are required to have CROs. Air carrier personnel that deal with the public must, within 60 days of assuming job duties, receive training about the provisions of the ACAA that relate to air travel by people with disabilities.

Training tailored to the employees' functions must also be provided to contractors who deal directly with the traveling public at airports (14 CFR 382 382.65).

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