Blind World Magazine

Assistance Dogs' travel rights in jeopardy.

NBC4, Los Angeles.
Wednesday, February 22, 2006.

LOS ANGELES -- As you may know -- animals, particularly dogs -- can be trained to help people with almost any kind of disability. There are guide dogs for the blind, hearing dogs for the deaf and service dogs for people with disabilities ranging from epilepsy to cerebral palsy.

The U.S. Department of Transportation is currently considering rules that will impact how these dogs and, subsequently, the disabled, travel on airlines.

PAUL MOYER: Approximately 25,000 people in the United States use service animals.

CHERIE SATO: If he is not on the plane with me, I am not going to be there.

PAUL MOYER: Cherie suffers from seizures, so she has Jake.

CHERIE SATO: He alerts me if a seizure is coming on.

PAUL MOYER: Diane has balance and orthopedic disabilities, so she has Figment.

DIANE WHITE: I have had him for over a year, and I have not fallen once.

PAUL MOYER: And Lisa has cerebral palsy, so she has Montgomery.

LISA KNAPP: He gives me my independence.

PAUL MOYER: Independence that some members of the disabled community say is being threatened. Threatened by the airlines industry and the U.S. Department of Transportation.

ED EAMES: I can't believe what's going on. I really can't believe it.

PAUL MOYER: The DOT is considering putting assistance dogs in cargo.

CHERIE SATO: If he's on the plane with me, I am not going to be there. I won't go.

PAUL MOYER: This is one of several DOT options for airlines on how to deal with assistance dogs.

ED EAMES: They are discriminating against a segment of the disabled community.

PAUL MOYER: Ed Eames advocates for the consumer rights of the disabled and acknowledges that some passengers may not want to sit next to an assistance dog.

PAUL MOYER: Dogs that come in all shapes and sizes.

EAMES: I say to those people, 'You have every right. You have paid for a seat.'"

PAUL MOYER: But, he says, there is an easy fix.

EAMES: Simply ask for a volunteer in the plane who would be willing to share leg space with the dog.

PAUL MOYER: Eames says flight attendants and other passengers are very cooperative, and that this informal approach is extremely effective.

EAMES: It has been working for years.

PAUL MOYER: So if the practice of asking for a volunteer to switch seats has been working, what's the problem?

When asked by KNBC, the department of transportation could not provide any examples of passenger complaints involving assistance dogs.

We wanted to see for ourselves, so we took two flights with Michael Osborn and his guide dog, Hastings.

PASSENGER (VIDEO SHOWS PASSENGER IN PLANE): A stewardess came forward and said there was a guide dog in the back that was a little cramped for space. We said, 'Yeah, no problem, and so we all shifted around.'

PAUL MOYER: Without even being asked, flight attendants arranged for roomier seats, in both cases, moving us to the bulkhead.

PASSENGER: It wasn't a big deal at all.

PAUL MOYER: And passengers willingly changed seats.

CAROL (PASSENGER): On a plane with 200 people, there is bound to be at least one dog lover.

PAUL MOYER: So why are these rules?

The DOT declined multiple requests for an on-camera interview, but provided a statement, saying they "strongly support the rights of persons with disabilities to travel with their service animals on airlines."

PAUL MOYER: So why are the disabled so concerned?

The proposed rule says if a service animal does not fit under the seat in front of the customer, the airline may "offer the option of purchasing a second seat."

ED EAMES: It would put a financial burden on the disabled person, which would make air travel virtually impossible.

PAUL MOYER: Another DOT recommendation - traveling on a later flight.

ED EAMES: That takes an assumption that we don't have to make deadlines.

PAUL MOYER: Finally, and most offensive to the disabled, "having the service animal travel in the cargo hold."

ED EAMES: That defeats the notion of the independence that is being provided to us through working with an assistance dog.

PAUL MOYER: Some say this is the equivalent of asking an able bodied person to check their eyes or their legs with their baggage.

ED EAMES: It's punishing me for being disabled.

PAUL MOYER: It is of note that British Airways automatically blocks out a second seat, free of charge, for people traveling with assistance dogs in their economy cabin.

End of article.

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