Travel season is underway, and those traveling with a service dog should know what to expect. Airlines are required to transport service animals who are trained to assist individuals with a documented disability under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), but they may have some requirements themselves.
Keep these essential tips in mind when traveling with a service dog to be sure your journey is nothing but smooth sailing.
Traveling with a Service Dog
When traveling with a service dog, ensure a smooth journey by contacting your airline in advance, carrying essential documents, and packing supplies for your dog's comfort. Be aware of legal rights, accommodation options, and local regulations to make your trip stress-free and enjoyable.
1. Fill Out the Required Department of Transportation (DOT) Form
There’s just a little bit of paperwork beyond your passport when traveling with a service dog, and that’s the Department of Transportation (DOT) Service Animal Air Transportation Form. This form will ask you to certify the animal’s health, training, and behavior, and give written assurance that you understand the airline’s requirements for traveling with a service dog.
This is the only documentation airlines can ask for when traveling with your service dog. They’re also required to make this form available on their websites in an accessible format, but the DOT provides a sample form as a PDF to make it easy for them and for travelers.
2. Inform The Airline You Have a Service Dog
While airlines are required to transport trained service dogs, it’s still good to let your airline know ahead of time that you’ll be traveling with one. Informing the airline and providing the required DOT forms at least 48 hours in advance of traveling with a service dog is typically required, and will give them time to prepare to accommodate you and your dog as best as possible.
Service dogs are trained to do work or perform specific tasks that benefit those with disabilities. These can include visual or hearing impairments, mobility challenges, or psychiatric conditions like anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
3. Ensure Your Service Dog is Fully Trained
The main requirement for being a service dog is proper training, and this is something airlines will look for in transporting your service dog. They should be able to remain calm, follow instructions, and complete tasks that directly assist their handler with their disability.
Airlines reserve the right to refuse to transport animals if they violate safety regulations, including behavior. If your dog is engaging in behavior like barking, growling, or jumping, they likely won’t be accepted as a service animal. Airlines also have the right to refuse to transport service dogs who are still in training, so be sure service dog training is complete before traveling.
4. Make Sure Your Service Dog is Comfortable in Crowded Places
If you’re planning on traveling with a service dog, it’s important that they’re socialized in public environments before you take flight. The process of getting on a plane with a service dog requires moving through several public spaces, including airport security, airport terminals, and being on the airplane itself.
When your dog is already comfortable in crowds, you don’t have to worry about them becoming overwhelmed or reacting to busy situations you might encounter while traveling. Service dogs (and really all dogs) need to be able to be alert without being reactive and stay present in unfamiliar situations to travel well.
5. Bring a Clean Up Kit
Even if you’re not taking an extended flight, the process of traveling can be a long one. Waiting to check bags, then to get through security, and finally for your flight to board can have you and your service dog waiting for quite a while.
Be prepared for bathroom emergencies by bringing disposable puppy pads, poop bags, and wet wipes or paper towels that can be used to clean up if necessary. Try not to overfeed your dog before or during travel to avoid too many bathroom breaks.
Keep in mind if you’ll be traveling on a flight longer than eight hours, you’ll also have to fill out the DOT’s Service Animal Relief Attestation Sanitation Form. This states that your dog will either be fine without relieving themself for the duration of the flight or that they’ll be able to do so in a way that doesn’t cause a health or sanitation issue, which you’ll have to describe. Using the resources in your cleanup kit should work just fine.
6. Make Sure Your Service Dog is Fully Vaccinated
All animals being transported by plane, including service dogs, should be healthy enough to travel. While airlines can’t require you to provide additional health documents when traveling with a service dog, the forms you will be required to fill out ask you to attest to the fact that your dog is fully vaccinated and up to date on shots.
Scheduling a check-up with your veterinarian before traveling with your service dog will make sure they’re in good health and ready to fly. This is the best way to keep you, your service dog, and all other passengers safe and healthy for your journey.
7. Be Prepared for Questions About Your Service Dog
Airlines are not allowed to ask you questions about your specific disability, but they may ask you to confirm whether or not your dog is required for your disability. They may also ask questions that will help them confirm your need for a service dog, and whether or not your dog meets the requirements to be defined as such.
Some questions you may be asked by airline authorities could include:
- What tasks or functions does your animal perform for you?
- What has the animal been trained to do for you?
- Would you describe how the animal performs this task or function for you?
8. Know Your Rights
When traveling with a service dog, you’re protected under certain laws through the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).
Airlines are required to recognize and transport all breeds of dogs as service animals, though they’re not required to recognize any other species as such, even if the airline has a policy of no pets.
It’s unlawful for airlines to require you to sit in a certain spot due to the fact that you’re traveling with a service dog, and your service dog must be permitted to sit in the space under the seat in front of you if their size allows.
Airlines aren’t permitted to require any documentation from individuals traveling with service animals other than the DOT transportation form and the service animal relief form we mentioned previously.
What About Emotional Support Animals?
Unlike the protection provided by the Department of Transportation to service dogs, airlines are not required to transport emotional support animals (ESAs) or other companion animals even if they are dogs. In this case, it’s up to the individual airline.
There are a handful of airlines that will still transport ESAs, like Volaris, WestJet, and Latam Airlines. These airlines may, however, require additional documentation and usually additional fees to transport companions that don’t meet the requirements of service animals.
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