QANTAS says it is getting an increasing number of requests from passengers who want to bring "comfort animals" on flights to help them cope with stress, but the airline fears it will fall foul of anti-discrimination laws if it refuses.
While rules allowing guide dogs for vision- and hearing-impaired people on board flights are well established, the law is less clear when it comes to animals that help people cope with psychological conditions.
The airline says that allowing the animals on board could put it in breach of aviation safety rules, leaving it squeezed between those rules and anti-discrimination laws.
Retailers, transport operators and local governments have all previously raised concerns that the Disability Discrimination Act does not provide an adequate definition of an assistance animal and could provide recognition to animals other than trained guidedogs.
This leaves them open to prosecution under the act if they refuse entry or boarding to people with pets claimed to be an assistance animal - usually cats or dogs - in order to meet other regulations regulating transport or food safety.
But there may be some clarity on the horizon, with a bill currently before the Senate set to give a clearer definition of what constitutes an assistance animal- - excluding animals or pets used for companionship or reassurance in social situations.
Qantas's concerns were raised in a draft report from the Productivity Commission into the burden of regulation on businesses. The airline also raised concerns over the rules for exit row seating: aviation laws require people there to be fully mobile, but preventing impaired people from sitting there could be a breach of equal opportunity laws.