Traveling with a Service Dog

service dog3

The needs of handlers with service dogs don’t stop when they leave home. When the person travels, the service dog comes along. For any of us, journeys both long and short bring their share of logistical and other challenges. But for people with mobility dogs, those challenges can be multiplied.

Here are some FAQs that address the rights and responsibilities of service dog handlers who wish to travel with their canine companions.

HOW EXACTLY IS A “SERVICE DOG” DEFINED?

  • Under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), a service animal means a dog, regardless of breed or type, that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability. The disability may be physical, sensory, psychiatric, or intellectual. Airlines are required to recognize dogs as service animals and accept them for transport on flights to, within, and from the United States.
  • Animal species other than dogs, emotional support animals, comfort animals, companion animals, and service animals in training do not qualify as service animals.
HOW EXACTLY IS A “SERVICE DOG” DEFINED?

Department of Transportation Logo

HOW DO AIRLINES DETERMINE WHETHER AN ANIMAL IS A SERVICE ANIMAL?

Airlines can determine whether an animal is a service animal or pet by:

  • Asking an individual with a disability whether the animal is required to accompany the passenger because of a disability and what work or task the animal has been trained to perform.
  • Looking for physical indicators such as the presence of a harness or vest.
  • Looking to see whether the animal is harnessed, leashed, or otherwise tethered.
  • Observing the behavior of the animal.

The airlines are permitted to deny transport to a service dog if it:

  • Violates safety requirements – for example, if the animal is too large or heavy to be accommodated in the cabin (sorry, you’ll have to leave Nana the Newfoundland at home).
  • Poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others.
  • Causes a significant disruption in the cabin or in the airport.
  • Violates health requirements – for instance, is prohibited from entering a U.S. territory or foreign country.

Airlines may also deny transport to a service dog if the handler fails to complete the Department of Transportation (DOT) service animal form. The DOT form can seem daunting. For help completing it, check out: “How to Fly with a Service Dog Using the DOT’s Service Animal Air Transportation Form.”

WHAT KIND OF DOCUMENTATION CAN BE REQUIRED OF PEOPLE TRAVELLING WITH SERVICE ANIMALS?

Airlines may require:

  • A U.S. DOT form attesting to the animal’s health, behavior, and training.
  • A U.S. DOT form attesting the animal can either avoid relieving itself or can relieve itself in a sanitary manner if the animal will be on a flight for 8 or more hours.

Airlines are not permitted to require other documentation from service animal users. Except to comply with requirements on transport of animals by a Federal agency, a U.S. territory, or a foreign jurisdiction.

WHAT ARE THE ONBOARD REQUIREMENTS FOR A SERVICE DOG?

  • Your service animal must be permitted to accompany you in the space under the seat in front of you. Certain small service dogs may be permitted to sit on your lap, if it can be done safely. Your service animal cannot block a space that must remain unobstructed for safety reasons. (an aisle or access to an emergency exit, for example).
  • Your service animal must of course behave properly. An animal that displays disruptive behavior (barking or snarling, running around, and/or jumping onto other passengers without being provoked) will not be accepted as a service animal. However, airlines cannot refuse to allow your service animal onboard simply because its presence makes other passengers or flight crew uncomfortable.

WHAT ABOUT TRAVEL OUTSIDE THE UNITED STATES?

U.S. airlines flying to foreign countries are subject to the requirements of the destination country. Regarding the acceptance of service animals. Not all countries permit service animals from other countries; do your homework regarding rules and regulations in your destination country.

If you believe your rights under the Air Carrier Access Act are being or have been violated, ask to speak with a Complaints Resolution Official (CRO). A CRO is the airline’s expert on disability accommodation issues. Airlines are required to make one available to you, at no cost. In person at the airport or by telephone during the times they are operating.

All photos courtesy of MobilityDog.org.

Black Poodle Service Dog with Red Harness

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