Guest Op-Ed: Just Like Other Victories, Women Should Celebrate Progress in the Skies

March 28, 2019

Picture this: it’s still snowing outside, work is in that rare slow period, and you decide you want to use vacation time you have accumulated for a much-needed getaway. You search for flights, looking for the most affordable option. As luck would have it, you score a roundtrip ticket to Paris for $800.

But, that affordable ticket wasn’t so much the result of luck as it was the result of years of product innovation, vibrant competition, and significant progress in how airlines are regulated by the government.

It’s no secret a lot has changed since passengers first took to the sky, both in terms of regulation and operation, and not just when it comes to affordability. After years of progress, women are now in the cockpit and the boardroom, Elaine Chao heads the Department of Transportation (DOT), and women are making names for themselves in a previously male-dominated industry.

The industry has also been transformed by smarter regulations, one of my areas of focus at American Airlines. The Airline Deregulation Act (ADA) in 1978 paved the way for air travel to become something the average American could afford, not just a luxury for the elite.

But, there’s still progress to be made, and regulations need to be clear and commonsense. For example, right now, service animal and emotional support animal guidelines on aircrafts are outdated and hard to interpret. A dog on a flight is routine, but what about a peacock? While the airline industry is thankful to the DOT for recently taking steps to clarify service animal rules, there are still some issues that require addressing. The current regulation stipulates that both trained service animals as well as untrained emotional support animals are permitted to fly on an aircraft free of charge. So unlike rules that regulate other modes of transportation or even the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), untrained emotional support animals are allowed on aircrafts.

This is problematic because what constitutes an “untrained emotional support animal” is still ambiguous, and untrained animals are not conducive to a safe and enjoyable flight. That’s why the rules governing these regulations require updating.

This is what I enjoy working on—helping regulators understand how their rules will help or hurt our industry. As we celebrate and champion women making inroads into the transportation space, we need to remember that a competitive and successful airline industry needs forward-thinking in the regulatory space too.

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