Thursday, October 1, 2009

Psychiatric Service Dog Society Gets Transportation Department to Rethink Air Carrier Access Rules

The Department of Transportation has taken the somewhat unusual step of publicizing some criticisms that have been raised concerning its 2008 revision of the air carrier access rules (73 Fed. Reg. 27614, May 13, 2008). The criticisms come from the Psychiatric Service Dog Society (PSDS), which criticized 14 CFR 382.117(e), which reads as follows:

(e) If a passenger seeks to travel with an animal that is used as an emotional support or psychiatric service animal, you are not required to accept the animal for transportation in the cabin unless the passenger provides you current documentation (i.e., no older than one year from the date of the passenger’s scheduled initial flight) on the letterhead of a licensed mental health professional (e.g., psychiatrist, psychologist, licensed clinical social worker) stating the following:
(1) The passenger has a mental or emotional disability recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders—Fourth Edition (DSM IV);
(2) The passenger needs the emotional support or psychiatric service animal as an accommodation for air travel and/or for activity at the passenger’s destination;
(3) The individual providing the assessment is a licensed mental health professional, and the passenger is under his or her professional care; and
(4) The date and type of the mental health professional’s license and the state or other jurisdiction in which it was issued.

The Department of Transportation notes that PSDS criticizes that failure of the regulations to distinguish psychiatric service dogs from emotional support animals. This is a valid objection in my opinion, but in the interest of full disclosure it is appropriate that I acknowledge that I have co-authored with Dr. Joan Esnayra, founder of PSDS, a letter to Treasury and the IRS regarding the deductibility of service dog expenses (published in Tax Notes, August 24, 2009; contact me at for a copy). PSDS argues that by classifying PSAs with ESAs, DOT is effectively distinguishing PSAs from other service animals and imposing additional requirements on handlers of PSAs that it does not impose on handlers of service animals for the physically disabled. PSDS notes that this will encourage users of PSAs to claim physical disabilities in order to avoid the additional requirements of the regulations.

Many people with mental health-related disabilities use general practitioners and do not receive treatment from licensed mental health professionals on a regular basis. The rule lists only psychiatrists, psychologists, and licensed clinical social workers as examples of licensed mental health professionals. Obtaining a letter from a mental health professional would be particularly burdensome for individuals who do not have medical insurance or access to affordable medical care. Providing an airline 48 hours advance notice (14 CFR 382.27(c)(8)) of a passenger’s intention to fly with a PSA is also difficult or impossible in certain short-term situations such as family or medical emergencies, and would exacerbate the mental health professional documentation issue. .

DOT paraphrases one PSDS position as follows:

The rule violates the medical privacy of PSA users by requiring confidential medical information to be provided to airline personnel. Moreover, the rule makes no provision for the confidential treatment of this information once it gets into the airline’s hands, and fails to answer questions concerning the security, storage, or use of the information. PSDS expresses the concern that the Transportation Security Administration could gain access to the information and require additional security measures (e.g., secondary screening) for persons identified as having mental health-related disabilities.

DOT responds that it does “recommend that the carrier take steps to safeguard this information, such as maintaining it in a separate confidential file for the same time it retains the passenger’s reservation record for the flights involved.” DOT specifically asks for comments about this issue, and seems amenable to a more restrictive policy. This should not be a difficult modification, since DOT could require airlines to provide such safeguards as would assure that records are not available for other purposes than to verify a passenger’s status, and not available to staff beyond those needing to access such information.

The release indicates that DOT “has not decided whether to grant the petition by initiating rulemaking action or deny the petition and retain the provisions without change.” Nevertheless, the release concludes with a number of options that the agency might consider, including targeted modification of certain provisions. The issues raised by PSDS are significant. It is to be hoped that DOT will consider some modifications to the final rules. Comments may be submitted online, by mail, fax, or courier. Instructions are contained in the Federal Register, 74 Fed. Reg. 47903, left column. Online is easiest: just go to and follow instructions using DOT Docket ID # OST-2009-0093. Comments must be received by December 17, 2009.


  1. How can a DOT airline service dog access rule over ride a Federal Law, The American's Disabilities Act of 1990, III-4.2300 Service animals? This rule prima facie is clearly discrimination against people with psychiatric disabilities whose individually trained service canines assist them to either moderate or even overcome the effects of physio-biological brain disorders. Contrary to what the average layman may understand is that psychiatric conditions all have a biophysical cause. Example if a brain cell called a neuron which has many, many dendrites or root-looking branches that reach out toward other neurons. The chemical reaction which allows communication at the axion level, if there is either an over abundance of a neurotransmitter such as dopamine, which floods the region between two axions, called the synapse, the resulting effect could be schizophrenia, parkinsons, hallucinations, and mania. If too little of the neurotransmitter is present the effect could be clinic depression with suicidal ideation, and other depressive disorders, OCD, PTSD etc.
    There are a variety of pharmaceuticals which have been found to moderate psychiatric symptoms; however, how and why these medicines work is still a mystery in its infancy.

    Our bodies are not electrically powered robots using conductive wiring or fibre optics, our bodies are an extremely sophistical array of neurons, dendrites, axions and synapses which "wire" every function our bodies do, think or behave. Without this sophisticated array connected by neurochemical reactions, which we often take for granted, we could not think, move, dream, breathe, talk, smile, laugh, enjoy music, or even exist at an intellectual level capable of reflection on the meaning of life.
    To take away a person with a psychiatric disability service canine for any reason is like taking away a wheel chair from a paraplegic or taking away Psychiatric medications and cognitive therapy from those with Psycho-Neurological brain disorders. My service canine has been one of the best things that has ever happened to me. He has been trained and even intuitively responds appropriately in conditions where I am disoriented, confused or disassociated.

  2. What really makes me mad is that PSDS had tried so hard to make a distinction between a service dog and a psychiatric service dog. Perhaps if they had not been so obnoxious about a PSD being different from an SD this wouldn't have happened.

    1. yEAH, ALL THOSE QUESTIONS... and sometimes I'm confounded and to expalin this to others; it's very difficult. I do know that snuggling isn't a task,I know that some tasks can be misconstrued as tricks to others, but to us it can be a life saving act on cue. We have taught tasks, we have taught them to WORK based on our need and in line with the mininum standards.
      I would like these fauxney gofers selling SD junk online to be found out. They're making us, the sd handlers, our health, our integrity and ethics questioned while they're off making money from the uninformed.

  3. thank you for that.