Tips for Flying With Your Service Dog

The US Department of Transportation, estimates that over two million pets and other live animals, including service dogs, are transported by air every year in the United States. Federal and state governments impose restrictions on transporting live animals. Each airline establishes its own company policies for what service dog equipment and gear it will allow as baggage, or service dog carry on bags. They also decide if there will be a fee or charge for large equipment (like a kennel or crate) put in baggage, or an additional carry on. There are rules and procedures that passengers have to be aware of when they travel with their service dog. Additionally, foreign ports of entry have their own laws that passengers with service dogs must comply with.

Not all people know and understand all of the laws and procedures of traveling with a service dog. It is very important for all owners and handlers of service dogs to not only know and understand these laws. Do understand that the people you encounter on your travels may not be as knowledgeable. The best way to handle these situations is to be courteous, calm and informative toward airline, airport and TSA employees.

A service dog is not a pet. It is individually trained to provide assistance to a person with a disability. In the US, a passenger with a disability can travel with his or her service animal in the passenger cabin with relatively few limitations. There is no limit to the number of service animals that can be on any flight. Service animals do not need a health certificate to travel and they do not need to be confined in a container or cage.

US airlines are required to make accommodations for travelers with service animals, however, there may be situations where a service animal may not be allowed in the cabin. If you are a person with a disability accompanied by a service dog who will be needing disability assistance, contact the airline prior to your travel to find out the procedures for the accommodations you are requesting.

Here are some tips to make your trip less stressful:

  • always contact the airline you will be flying on to make sure what their rules for flying with your service dog are
  • if you are flying internationally (or to Hawaii) with your service dog there will be special rules that apply to you. Please talk to your airline to make sure you know and understand all of the procedures for international flights with your service dog
  • ask the airline if they are aware of any quarantines regarding your service dog when you reach your destination
  • try to exercise your service dog before your flight, either at home or walking through the airport terminal
  • plan ahead for each airport terminal and locate the animal toileting areas before arriving at the airports
  • limit water and food that you give your service dog prior to your flight
  • clarify with your airline if you made bring a carry-on for your service dog
  • clarify with your airline their policy and fees for service dog related baggage such as food, kennels, crates, or other bulky equipment
  • arriving at the terminal with plenty of time
  • at the check-in point identify your dog as your service dog, at this time you can also request accommodations such as early boarding, and an attendant to assist you moving about in the terminal and taking your service dog to relief areas
  • some people flying with larger service dogs have more success backing them into position between the seats for laying down during the flight
  • an airline may require a person traveling with service dog on a flight that is expected to last more than eight hours to provide the airline with a 48 hour notice and also a note from the person Dr. stating that the person is disabled and requires being accompanied by their psychiatric service dog, or emotional support animal
  • an airline may require a 48 hour notice for anyone that is traveling with a psychiatric service dog, or emotional support animal that will be kept with them in the cabin
  • please remember that your service dog’s paws, muzzle, or tail cannot protrude in the aisle
  • it may be helpful to carry on your person or in your service dog’s pack or vest: your itinerary; copies of your service dogs rabies and routine vaccinations along with the name address and phone number of your veterinarian; a copy of your emergency (ICE) contacts; a copy of your medication list and any major medical conditions that you have; it may help to have your service dog clearly marked as a service dog to prevent access challenges; be prepared that you and your service dog will be scanned, patted down and swabbed for explosive residues as normal procedures for boarding an airplane
  • it is helpful to be patient and respectful of the employees that are helping you go through the procedures to fly with your service dog

Airlines may require a doctor's letter of a person traveling with either PSD or an ESA. This documentation can also be required of people who do not give credible assurances.

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