Service dogs are a vital part of life for many people, as guide dogs and animals trained to alert others. However, in recent years there have been new of laws and restrictions regarding what animals can and can’t board a commercial flight.
This causes confusion for everyone, and owners of service dogs are no exception. Anxiety over this can easily lead to a feeling that vacationing near home and traveling by road might be easier and less stressful.
The good news is that this doesn’t have to be the case. You can absolutely take a service dog onto an aircraft, as long as you can offer credible assurance that the animal is not just a pet, and state which functions the animal provides.
If you’re still worried, though, here are some tips for making your journey as stress-free as possible.
Traveling Stress-Free With a Service Dog
Contact Your Airline in Advance for Assurance
One of the best things you can do for traveling stress free is to contact your airline in advance, and ideally obtain written communication that they understand due procedure and are aware of the situation.
This is not required for domestic US flights, but is absolutely essential for international flights; many international airlines require that you provide them with the following information in advance:
Information you'll need to provide to an international airline
➤ Name of handler
➤ Name of Guide or Hearing Dog
➤ Type of dog e.g. Guide Dog
➤ Weight of dog
➤ Length of dog (measured from neck to tailbone)
➤ Name of Approved Training Organisation or Trainer
➤ Intended class of travel
➤ Documents that prove your dog is suitable for travel on public transport
It’s worth noting that approval from one airline does not guarantee approval from other airlines. So it’s important to reach out to every airline you’ll be flying on your vacation.
Even though this is not required on domestic US flights, it’s still a good idea to get a written assurance; in the event that a member of the airline isn’t sure how to proceed, you can help things go smoothly by having this assurance on hand.
Similarly, you can contact TSA Cares to ensure your journey through the security screening process goes as smoothly as possible. This is a helpline that provides travelers with disabilities, medical conditions and other special circumstances additional assistance through security.
Call 72 hours prior to traveling with questions about screening policies, procedures and what to expect at the security checkpoint. Re contacting your airline, we advise you do this as far in advance as possible.
It’s important to stay updated on the most current airline policies and laws, as regulations are commonly subject to change.
Registration providers offer assistance for service dog owners, legal news regarding service dogs, as well as other information that is useful to know about the policies.
If you’re traveling internationally, most airlines will require you to provide current proof that your dog is a certified service dog, so it’s important to have up to date paperwork that details your dog’s training with you.
While this is typically not required on domestic flights, it’s still not a bad idea to have up to date information with you, which details your medical history / disability, and proves your genuine need for animal assistance.
Distinguish Your Dog
It’s a good idea to make sure your service dog is distinctively marked to distinguish it from pets or emotional support animals.
This is not a requirement, but if you don’t have anything that differentiates it from any other animals, people may be less likely to accept that it’s providing assistance for you.
And there’s a much higher standard of proof for traveling with an emotional support animal vs a service dog.
A colored vest is the most common way to identify a service dog, and the public are less likely to try to stop you in this case. A blue vest is an indication that the dog is assisting someone with a disability.
Service Dog vs ESA: Know the Difference
Emotional support animals (ESA’s) and service dogs are often confused, but they are very different, and treated very differently under law. It’s important to note that you cannot claim to have a service dog, if your animal is actually an ESA.
While these animals are similar in that provide a service to their owner, a service dog is specially trained to perform a function or job for someone with a physical, intellectual, or emotional disability; they help their owner with physical tasks.
A person with a service dog has been diagnosed with a disability, and requires a dog for services like alleviating vision or hearing impairments, or they could act as a medical alert dogs, help those with limited mobility, and improve life for children with autism.
An emotional support animal serves as more of a companion, and while this may still be essential for someone traveling with mental health issues like anxiety and depression, ESA’s do not have the same legal protections as service dogs do.
Traveling with an emotional support animal is a different ball game when it comes to flying, and the standard of documentation required is much higher than that of a service animal.
Helping Your Dog Enjoy Travel
Considering how your service dog will experience the airport environment is also a really good move; for example, is the dog used to negotiating busy places?
It’s also worth bearing in mind that your companion animal may have to go for a substantial period of time without relieving itself. U.S. travelers with access to a smartphone can download the free Where To Go app, which allows you to find animal relief areas nearby while at the airport.
If you’re not in possession of a smartphone or are unable to use one, asking for assistance with this at information points is a top tip. Read this post for more tips on flying with your dog and training them for the plane.
Make sure you have extra food and water with you too – you never know if your flight will get canceled or delayed. Your best option is to have about two servings of extra dog food in your carry-on bag.
If you’re traveling outside the U.S., you’ll need to consider whether there are extra requirements, like vaccinations, paperwork, micro-chipping, etc, for entering the country with a service dog.
The best tip we can give you on this is to research the countries you’ll be visiting and their requirements, as each country’s policies will differ. It’s best to contact your embassy who can point you in the right direction of forms and information.
Also, if traveling to Hawaii, you must make sure your dog meets the special rabies requirements. This process should be undertaken 3-6 months before travel, and involves vaccination, micro-chipping and a blood test.
A final comfort is that when on the plane, your companion must be allowed to sit in the space at the front of your seat.
Considerations such as the allergies of nearby passengers obviously need to be taken into account, but your dog will be with you every step of the way.
Always remember that you can take your service dog on a flight without any restrictions, but if you want extra assurances, you know who to get in touch with.