In the United States, every Service Dog handler enjoys the right to travel with their Service Dog. However, finding straightforward information about airline policies and requirements, international laws, TSA regulations, security checkpoints, and other commonly encountered situations isn’t easy! To help you prepare you for your trip, we’ve compiled Service Dog travel tips, tricks, hacks, guidelines, and resources.
Terminology note: U.S. Federal law includes miniature horses in the list of allowable Assistance Animal species. Miniature horses trained as Assistance Animals usually provide either guide services or brace and mobility support. Since the majority of Assistance Animal handlers partner with a dog, we usually utilize the term “Service Dog” instead of the more universal “Service Animal.” However, any time you see “Service Dog,” you could replace it with “Miniature Guide Horse” or “Brace and Mobility Support Horse” seamlessly. Miniature horse users possess identical public access rights to Service Dog teams.
Airlines Updated Service Dog and ESA Policies Several Years Ago
Throughout the course of 2018, nearly every major domestic airline updated their Service Dog travel policies. Most airlines designed their new protocols to crack down on people using legal loopholes to transport untrained or unsuitable dogs free of charge in the cabin. As such, many of the new rules differ greatly from the “old” airline Service Dog requirements. This is particularly true concerning Emotional Support Animals (ESAs).
Many airlines now require an extensive, multi-step approval process for Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals. Some airlines outline different rules or behavioral expectations for different types of Service Dogs. As an example, American Airlines requires Psychiatric Service Dogs to meet the Emotional Support Animal (ESA) requirements instead of the standard Service Dog requirements.
Other types of professional working dogs, like Search and Rescue Dogs and Police K9s, often fly under an airline’s established Service Dog policy. However, that’s far from universal — airline working dog policies range from nonexistent to clearly defined with everything in between! All handlers should confirm their airline’s Working K9 or Service Dog travel policy several days prior to flying.
Airlines accept Service Dogs in Training (SDiTs) at their own discretion. Service Dnimals in Training are not covered by the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) and therefore have no legal rights to fly under any Service Animal policy. Some airlines provide better SDiT policies than others.
Service Dog Definitions and Requirements Vary Widely
In addition to tightening the rules for flying with a Service Dog, many airlines clarified their definitions for Service Dogs, Assistance Animals, and Emotional Support Dogs / ESAs. Rules, requirements, and definitions vary widely airline to airline. Some airlines expect strict adherence to specific behavior and training standards. Others, like American Airlines, no longer transport certain types of Support Animals on flights over 8 hours.
If you don’t follow your airline’s exact Service Dog protocols, then the airline doesn’t have to transport your Service Dog. Some airlines (United and Delta) rolled out their new Service Dog policies in March 2018 with immediate, strict enforcement. Other airlines (Southwest, Alaska, and Frontier) waited to implement their updated Service Dog rules until later in the year.
Almost every major U.S. air carrier who updated their Service Dog transport policy set an implementation date for some point in 2018. For the 2019 – 2020 travel season all airlines with updated Service Dog and Emotional Support Animal travel policies expect strict compliance with the new rules. Airlines regularly turn away teams who do not meet the new Service Dog travel or ESA requirements.
The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) specifically grants trained Service Dogs the right to fly in cabin, with their handler, at no charge. In contrast to some of the better-known Service Dog laws dealing with public access rights, the ACAA also allows airlines to outline and enforce additional requirements for handlers and dogs seeking access to air transport.
Updated Service Dog Travel Policies by Airline
Current Service Dog travel requirements appear below in alphabetical order by airline. You’ll find a summary of the airline’s specific Service Dog rules, plus links to their published protocols and requirements. We strive to keep this information up to date, but always double-check the official airline policy prior to arriving at the airport.
Alaska Airlines Updated Service Dog Policy
Official Policy: Alaska Airlines “Traveling With Service or Emotional Support Animals”
Notes: Alaska Airlines suggests making flight reservations as early as possible in order to ensure accommodation of Service Dogs or ESAs. Passengers can request services while booking online, or call Alaska Airline’s dedicated accessible services line at 1-800-503-0101 (711 for relay services).
Alaska Airlines Service Dog Travel Policy
Trained Service Animals fly in cabin, for free, on all Alaska Airlines flights. Alaska Airlines does not require any documentation for fully trained Service Dogs of any kind, including Psychiatric Service Dogs. Agents will make inquiries concerning the Service Dog’s training and task work.
Service Dogs must behave appropriately at all times. They should be under the direct control of their handler at all times. They may travel only in the handler’s space, which includes the space under the seat in front. A Service Dog must not infringe on another passenger’s space or obstruct the aisle. Service Dogs cannot sit in a seat or eat off the tray table.
If a Service Animal is disruptive, acting in a dangerous manner, vocalizing inappropriately, isn’t housetrained, or is otherwise out of control, Alaska Airlines’ pet policy will immediately apply to further transport. All applicable fees and requirements will be assessed.
Alaska Airlines directly mentions multiple types of Service Dogs in their new policy, including Guide Dogs, Hearing Dogs, Diabetic Alert Dogs, Psychiatric Service Dogs, Mobility Support Dogs, and others. They allow dogs, cats, and miniature horses on board under the updated requirements.
Alaska Airlines Service Dog in Training (SDiT) Policy
Alaska Airlines only transports Service Dogs in Training (SDiTs) in cabin, free of charge, under very specific circumstances. The SDiT must be ready to graduate, traveling with a credentialed trainer, and on its way to placement. The trainer must be certified and carry an official trainer ID card issued by the organization overseeing the placement.
Additionally, the trainer must provide a health certificate for the SDiT and official, organization-provided documentation that the puppy / dog has successfully completed training. The trainer must know the name and location of the SDiT’s placement and be able to provide them upon request. The trainer must confirm space for the SDiT in advance of the travel dates. Finally, travel must be contained to the United States.
Alaska Airlines occasionally transports SDiTs in a kennel, as cargo, without charge. However, all of the above requirements still apply, and there may be some additional paperwork. Contact Alaska Airlines directly to discuss this Service Dog in Training travel option.
Alaska Airlines Emotional Support Animal (ESA) Policy
Emotional Support Animals fly in cabin, at no cost, on all Alaska Airlines flights. Handlers may only fly with one Emotional Support Animal. Before flying, ESA handlers must submit documentation for approval. The approval process can take 48 or more hours. All documents must be submitted a minium of 48 hours prior to the flight. Download the required ESA forms from the Alaska Airlines resource section. Handlers must include documentation from their doctor, so try and leave plenty of time!
ESAs must be leashed or in a carrier at all times. If traveling in a carrier, the carrier must fit under the seat in front of the handler. Emotional Support Animals may not be aggressive, disruptive, overly vocal, or otherwise out of control. If an ESA is observed engaging in inappropriate behaviors, Alaska Airline’s pet policy will be in effect for the remainder of the trip, including assessment of any and all fees. Alaska Airlines allows dogs and cats as Emotional Support Animals.
Alaska Airlines Working Dog Policy
“Alaska accepts for transportation, without charge, a properly harnessed dog trained in law enforcement, explosive detection, drug search, and search and rescue, or other specific functions, when accompanied by its handler on official business as authorized by an appropriate federal, state, or local government agency. Such official duty status must be documented in writing to the satisfaction of Alaska. The dog will be permitted to accompany its handler into the cabin, but not to occupy a seat. A Passenger traveling with such a dog must present a letter of mission and a copy of the dog’s certification. Alaska retains the right, at its sole discretion, to refuse to transport any Animal that exhibits aggressive behavior or any characteristics that appear to Alaska to be incompatible with air travel at the airport, in the boarding gate area, or onboard the aircraft.” (Alaska Airlines Contract of Carriage Rule 14 Point 3)
Allegiant Air Service Dog Travel Policies
Official Policy: Allegiant Air “Passengers With Special Needs“
Notes: Allegiant Air will not transport pit bull type dogs, regardless of status. Service Dogs are not exempt from the Allegiant airline breed requirements. Per their published Service Dog policy, Allegiant Air also denies boarding to all dogs who do not fit within their handler’s personal seat space.
Allegiant Air Service Dog Travel Policy
Allegiant Air accepts fully trained Service Dogs accompanied by their disabled handler on board all flights without charge. Prior to flying, handlers should complete Allegiant Air’s “Trained Service Animal Veterinary Health Form.” Submit completed forms to a ticket or counter agent at least 45 minutes prior to departure.
Handlers may fly with up to 3 Service Animals. Allegiant Air accepts dogs, cats, and miniature horses under their Service Dog travel policy. Pit bull type dogs are universally excluded from transport.
All Service Dogs should be well behaved, with obvious training and public access skills. In order to qualify as a Service Dog, the dog must provide tasks or work that directly mitigate the handler’s disability. All Assistance Animals must be healthy, odor-free, and free of aggression or excessive timidity. Disruptive behavior or excessive vocalization results in immediate exclusion from the flight.
Allegiant Air Service Dog in Training (SDiT) Policy
Allegiant Air proudly transports Service Dogs in Training under their established Service Dog travel policy. See above. Allegiant Air requires handlers / trainers to provide documentation attesting to “in training” status. Additionally, Allegiant Air needs a minimum of 72 hours notice in order to verify and approve the transport request. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to begin the approval process.
Allegiant Air Emotional Support Animal (ESA) Policy
Allegiant Air allows Emotional Support Animals and Psychiatric Service Dogs to fly with their handler, in cabin, at no charge. However, prior to travel, teams must complete forms documenting the handler’s mental health status, the dog’s health status, and the dog’s behavior and training. You can download the forms for ESAs / PSDs from Allegiant’s website.
A licensed doctor or mental health provider must complete the Mental Health Professional form. Allegiant Air verifies all documentation prior to approving the travel request. Forms must be presented to a ticket or counter agent at least 45 minutes prior to departure. Handlers may fly with a single Emotional Support Animal.
ESAs must be of sound temperament, healthy, and odor free. They may not vocalize excessively, interfere with other passengers in any way, or appear unruly. Allegiant Air reserves the right to deny transport to any ESA who acts in an aggressive or out of control manner.
Allegiant Air Working Dog Policy
Allegiant Air transports Search and Rescue Dogs and Law Enforcement K9s under their established Service Dog policy. See above. At least 72 hours prior to the flight, contact email@example.com to begin the approval process. An exception to the 72 hour rule exists for Search Dogs and handlers deploying to disaster scenes. Allegiant Air mandates supporting documentation for all professional Working Dogs.
American Airlines Updated Service Dog Policy
Official Policy: American Airline’s “Service and Emotional Support Animals“
Notes: American Airlines excludes livestock, exotics, insects, non-household birds, reptiles, or smelly animals of any species from its Service Animal / ESA policy. The sole exception to the livestock rule is Miniature Horses trained as Assistance Animals.
American Airlines Service Dog Travel Policy
On all American Airlines’ flights, fully trained Service Dogs fly in cabin at no charge. In order to be eligible for free, in-cabin flights, Service Dogs must meet a number of requirements. First and foremost, the dog in question must be trained to do tasks or provide work for a person with a disability. Per American Airlines guideline’s anxiety relief and emotional support do not qualify as trained tasks.
Second, the Service Dog’s training, good temperament, and manners should be clearly evident. The handler should be able to concretely outline the Service Dog’s tasks or specific training. American Airlines lists Guide Dogs, Hearing Dogs, Seizure Dogs, and Mobility Dogs as examples of Service Dogs. However, the policy allows for other types of Service Dogs. Passengers can expect American Airlines staff to ask a number of questions regarding their Service Dog, the Service Dog’s training, and the Service Dog’s purpose.
Unacceptable behaviors include jumping on other passengers, lunging at people, other dogs, or objects, any vocalizations unrelated to trained tasks, excessive timidity, any aggression, and eating off tray tables. American Airlines specifically defines aggression to include growling and biting or attempts to bite. Any urination, marking, or defecation in the airport, gate area, or on the plane is expressly forbidden, except in designated relief areas. Service Dogs must not appear to be out of control.
If American Airlines observes a Service Dog displaying unacceptable behaviors or being disruptive at any point in a passenger’s journey and the behavior isn’t immediately corrected, the dog loses Service Dog status. Such a dog is considered a pet and all applicable pet transport rules and fees apply for the remainder of the journey.
Third, Service Dogs on American Airlines’ flights must fit within the handler’s personal seat space. This includes the floor directly in front of the passenger and the space under the seat in front of the passenger. Smaller Service Dogs may travel in their handler’s lap, provided the Service Dog weighs less than 25 pounds or so. A Service Dog cannot occupy a seat, even if the seat is empty.
If a Service Dog does not fit in the required space, American Airlines cannot safely accommodate the team. American Airlines provides 3 alternatives if a team can’t fly on a particular flight due to size constraints:
- The handler and Service Dog rebook on an alternate flight with additional open seating so the dog has enough room without infringing on another passenger’s space.
- The handler buys the Service Dog a ticket so the adjoining seat remains open and subsequently, the dog has enough space. This is a good tactic if a handler wants to ensure a large or giant breed Service Dog can be accommodated on a particular flight.
- The Service Dog flies kenneled in cargo under American Airline’s live animal shipping program. All applicable requirements and fees apply. To arrange cargo transport of a Service Dog, contact American Airline’s Special Assistance Desk.
Finally, for some flights, the Service Dog handler may have to provide additional documentation, espcially if the flight is international. If any AA flight lasts longer than 8 hours, handlers must complete and submit the Animal Sanitation Form. This form outlines the handler’s plan for handling the Service Animal’s relief needs during the flight. If the Service Dog needs to relieve itself during the flight, it must do so in a sanitary way, such as on a potty pad that can be wrapped and disposed of. American Airlines recommends keeping the Service Dog’s vaccinations records accessible throughout the journey.
American Airlines Service Dog in Training (SDiT) Policy
American Airlines specifically cites “fully trained” Service Dogs in its policy. AA makes no direct mention of Service Dogs in Training (SDiTs).
American Airlines Emotional Support Animal (ESA) Policy
American Airlines transports Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) in cabin at no charge, providing the handler obtains approval from the airline. The ESA approval process itself can take 2 or more days. The handler must download and complete several forms and provide any additional requested documentation to AA a minimum of 48 hours prior to the flight. To begin the approval process, handlers should submit a Disability Assistance inquiry.
Before submitting the packet, ESA handlers must have their doctor fill out the Mental Health Professional Form so it can be included. American Airlines requires Psychiatric Service Dog (PSD) teams to comply with all of the listed ESA requirements. American Airlines validates all forms provided by the ESA handler. The airline will contact the handler’s mental health provider for document verification.
Unlike Service Dogs, Emotional Support Animals do not need specific task training. However, all ESAs flying with American Airlines must meet the same temperament requirements as Service Dogs. Additionally, they should have enough training to allow them to work safely in public. Any ESA showcasing disruptive, out of control, or dangerous behavior will not be permitted to board. If an ESA is removed from the flight or refused access for any reason, all applicable pet requirements and fees apply.
American Airlines Working Dog Policy
American Airlines’ official policy regarding Search and Rescue Dogs, Disaster Response Dogs, and other professional Working Dogs, including Detection K9s and Police K9s, is to transport them in cabin at no charge under the current Service Dog policy. American Airlines requires professional Working Dogs to fly with their handler or trainer. In order to qualify for in cabin transport, the team must be on their way to a mandated training event, official mission, or a deployment.
Official documentation showing team status / affiliation, K9 certification, and travel necessity will be required. Handlers should provide this on unit or organization letterhead. Vet records, health certificates, or other paperwork might be required, destination depending. If flying internationally, responsibility for ensuring the K9 meets any and all of the destination country’s import requirements rests with the handler, unit, or team, not with American Airlines.
If your K9 cannot fly in cabin for any reason, American Airlines will ship them as cargo in an appropriately sized kennel. American Airlines does not offer discounts for Working Dogs traveling as cargo. They do offer a 50% military discount. Working Dogs flying in a kennel must meet all of American Airlines’ standard animal shipping requirements and pay the appropriate fee. American Airlines requires extensive documentation for dogs flying as cargo, so plan ahead. Fees vary depending on origin, destination, and combined weight of K9 and kennel. You can get an estimate for shipping your Working Dog by using American Airline’s Rate Calculator tool.
Delta Airlines Service Dog Travel Rule
Official Public Policy: Delta Airlines “Flying With Service and Support Animals“
Official Professional Policy: Delta’s Internal “Service and Support Animal” policy issued to Delta professionals
Notes: Pit bull and bully type dogs, regardless of status or training, are forbidden from flying with Delta. Emotional Support Animals may only fly on Delta flights shorter than 8 hours. No animal under the age of 4 months may fly under Delta’s Service Dog rules or ESA policies.
Delta Service Dog Travel Policy
Delta allows handlers with a disability to travel with one or more Service Animals in cabin, free of charge. Delta assesses the need for multiple Service Animals on a case-by-case basis. Delta encourages, but does not require, Service Dog handlers to provide advance notice prior to travel.
Delta encourages all Service Dog handlers complete and submit the Trained Service Animal Request Veterinary Health Form at least 48 hours prior to flying. However, Delta’s official Service Dog policy clearly states handlers with a fully trained Service Dog are not required to submit the form before air travel. Instead, they may bring a copy with them to check-in. Service Dog teams can check-in for their Delta flight via Delta.com, the Fly Delta mobile app, airport kiosks or with an airport agent
Delta policy also permits Service Dog handlers to present vaccination records as proof of immunizations instead of the Delta form. If a handler wishes to upload the completed form, they can add it to their reservation via the Accessibility Service Request Form located in Delta’s My Trips. If there are any questions concerning travel with a Service Animal or the Trained Service Animal form, contact Delta’s accessibility assistance line at 404-209-3434.
Delta’s Service Animal policy makes specific provision for the free shipment of accompanying gear and equipment. Examples listed include kennels, food, blankets, or toys. If checking the Service Dog’s associated items as baggage, declare them as medical equipment to the counter agent during check-in. Checked gear and equipment must meet standard Delta checked baggage requirements regarding size, weight, and packaging.
All Service Dogs flying with Delta must be well mannered, well trained, and under the direct control of the handler at all times. Delta will not tolerate unsanitary, disturbing, rambunctious, or dangerous behaviors from any Service Animal. Service Animals displaying unacceptable behaviors will be refused transport. If refused transport, alternate arrangements must be made. Dogs unable to travel in-cabin can fly in a kennel as cargo, as long as the team meets the requirements and pays the applicable fees.
Delta’s Service Dog guides mention Guide Dogs, Hearing Dogs, Diabetic Alert Dogs, Seizure Assistance Dogs, and Mobility Support Dogs. It does, however, note that other types of Service Dogs exist. Delta considers all dogs who perform trained tasks to mitigate a handler’s disability to Service Dog. The only exception is Psychiatric Service Dogs, regardless of disability-specific task training.
PSDs fall under Delta’s Emotional Support Animal policy; see below. Under the updated Service Dog travel requirements, Delta allows both dogs and cats. Requests for travel with Assistance Animals of other species should be submitted to the accessibility assistance line at 404-209-3434 or online to Delta Reservations.
Delta Service Dog in Training (SDiT) Policy
Delta’s new Service Dog and Support Animal policy does not mention Service Dogs in Training. However, official Delta policy clearly exclude puppies under the age of 4 months. Rule 9 of the Delta Domestic General Rules Tariff states that Guide Dogs and Hearing Dogs who are traveling with their trainer to complete their training at the home of their new owner may fly in-cabin at no charge.
Delta Emotional Support Animal (ESA) Policy
Along with other requirements, Delta requires customers traveling with an Emotional Support Animal or Psychiatric Service Dog to submit a signed Veterinary Health Form and/or an immunization record (current within one year of the travel date), an Emotional Support/Psychiatric Service Animal Request form that requires a letter prepared and signed by a doctor or licensed mental health professional, and a signed Confirmation of Animal Training form.
Prior to beginning the paperwork, submit an accessibility request via Delta’s online Service Request Form. Visit Delta’s site to download the required ESA flight packet. Once complete, upload it through the Accessibility Service Request Form located in Delta’s My Trips. Utilizing the My Trips functionality requires a Delta login. For assistance with Delta’s required ESA forms, call the dedicated accessibility assistance line at 404-209-3434.
Handlers must submit all required documentation to Delta’s Service Animal Support Desk via Delta.com at least 48 hours before travel. ESA and PSD handlers may only check in for their Delta flight via Delta’s full-service counter service with an agent. Handlers must bring hard copies of all documentation to the check-in for all flights. Delta’s completed ESA and PSD packets remain valid for all travel within the following 365 days.
Emotional Support Animals do not need disability-specific training. However, they should exhibit the control, manners, and temperament necessary to safely work in public. ESAs must ride on the floor. If smaller than 30 pounds, they may ride on the handler’s lap. They may not eat off tray tables or intrude into other passenger’s space. Delta tolerates absolutely no aggression, excessive vocalization, or lack of house training.
Delta will refuse transport to any ESA / PSD showcasing out of control or dangerous behavior. Delta universally excludes Emotional Support Animals and Psychiatric Service Dogs from flights over 8 hours. No ESAs or PSDs under the age of 4 months may fly under Delta’s ESA travel policy. Young ESAs or PSDs may be eligible for in-cabin flight as pets in a kennel. All applicable pet requirements and fees apply.
Delta Working Dog Policy
Delta transports Explosive Detection Dogs and Search and Rescue K9s in-cabin at no charge. The K9 must be accompanied by a U.S. military or government handler. Delta’s Working Dog policy comes directly out of the Delta Domestic General Rules Tariff, last updated June 2018. Rule 9 refers to “Specially Trained Service Dogs” and mandates transport of several types of Assistance Dogs, plus working K9s and certain Service Dogs in Training.
Additional Delta Info
If a Service Dog team needs assistance at the airport, handlers can ask any Delta customer service agent. The agent can connect teams to specially trained Complaint Resolution Officials (CROs). All CROs receive extensive training on disability regulations and Delta disability policies.
Delta will universally enforce the updated Service Dog and Emotional Support Animal policy after February 1, 2019, regardless of ticket issue date. On July 10, 2018, Delta enacted breed restrictions for all Service Dogs and ESAs. Pit bull and other bully type dogs are not permitted aboard Delta flights, regardless of training or status. The airline also updated their policy to allow only one ESA per customer.
Effective December 18, 2018, Service Animals and ESAs under the age of 4 months may not travel under Delta’s updated Service Dog policy. Emotional Support Animals may not travel on flights longer than 8 hours.
Delta’s policy excludes all species other than cats or dogs. The policy notes the airline considers other animals on a case by base basis. The official, listed restrictions include rodents, reptiles, hedgehogs, livestock, birds, amphibians, snakes, spiders, sugar gliders, ferrets, insects, horned or hooved animals, and any animal, regardless of species, that is smelly or fouled.
Frontier Airlines Service Dog Guidelines
Official Policy: Frontier Airlines “Traveling With a Trained Service Animal” (Policies are located within toggle options, 5th and 6th from the top, under “Trained Service Animals” and “Emotional Support Animals.”)
Notes: Frontier Airline specifically reserves the right to refuse to accommodate any Service Animal or Emotional Support Animal in the cabin if the handler cannot provide the requested documentation or if the animal appears aggressive or disruptive. Frontier’s Contract of Carriage disallows crew from administering oxygen to Service Animals on board during an emergency.
Frontier Airlines Service Dog Travel Policy
Frontier Airlines accepts all Service Dogs trained to assist passengers with disabilities in the aircraft cabin free of charge. The new Frontier Service Animal policy includes cats, dogs, and miniature horses. Additionally, Frontier Airlines considers task trained Psychiatric Service Dogs to be fully qualified Service Dogs. There are no requirements for PSDs beyond those mandated for all Service Animals.
All Service Dogs must be trained for public access. Good manners, controlled behavior, and a lack of timidity and/or aggression must be apparent at all times. Service Animals of all kinds must be impeccably house trained. Any Service Dog exhibiting unsafe, unsanitary, or disruptive behaviors will be refused transport.
In addition to meeting basic behavior and training expectations, Service Dogs must also abide by space restrictions. All Service Dogs must occupy only the floor space directly in front of their handler. The handler’s space encompasses the floor under the seat in front of them.
At no point during the journey may a Service Dog infringe on another passenger’s space or encroach into the aisle. They also may not sit in any seat designed for humans, even if the seat is empty. Service Animals unable to remain in their handler’s space may require re-accommodation on a different flight or via alternate transportation options.
Frontier requests Service Dog handlers provide advanced notice of intent to travel with a trained Service Dog. However, the airline does not require it. Passengers should be aware that without advanced notice, larger Service Animals may not be able to be accommodated. To communicate with Frontier concerning Service Animal requests, use their Accessibility Request Form.
Passengers can add their Service Dog to the reservation during booking by selecting the “Trained Service Animal” option under the “Special Requests” section. For existing travel, Service Dog handlers can update their reservation online. If an animal does not meet the qualifications to travel in-cabin as a trained Service Animal, the animal may be eligible to travel in accordance with Frontier’s Pet Policy for a fee.
Frontier Airlines Service Dog in Training (SDiT) Policy
Frontier Airline does not mention Service Dogs in Training (SDiTs) within their updated Service Dog rules.
Frontier Airlines Emotional Support Animal (ESA) Policy
Frontier Airlines transports qualified Emotional Support Animals in cabin free of charge. They accept one ESA per reservation with both Emotional Support Dogs and Emotional Support Cats allowable under the ESA guidelines. Frontier requires authorization for all ESAs prior to travel without exception.
Prior to seeking approval for air travel with their ESA, handlers should complete Frontier’s Animal Behavior Acknowledgement and secure a completed Medical/Mental Health Professional Form from their doctor or care provider (click to download both). The handler then uploads the completed ESA packet for approval via Frontier’s online Emotional Support Animal Documentation tool. All documentation must be submitted for validation no later than 48 hours prior to the flight. Frontier’s ESA packet remains valid for one year after the date of issuance.
ESAs traveling with Frontier Airlines must be aggression free and able to work in public without disturbing others. The animal must be housetrained, responsive to the handler, and keep to itself. Emotional Support Animals may not sit in a seat or eat from the tray table. They must occupy the space at the handler’s feet. They may not invade other people’s space.
For safety reasons, no part of their body may protrude into the aisle. Any dog or cat traveling under Frontier’s Support Animal policy exhibiting unsafe, unhygienic, or uncontrolled behavior will not be allowed to travel. Frontier requires excluded animals to complete their travel as pets, with all regulations and fees in full effect.
Frontier Airlines Working Dog Policy
Frontier transports Explosive Detection Dogs, Contraband Search Dogs, or Search and Rescue Dogs on active duty and traveling for that purpose at no charge. The passenger must present credible documentation the animal is traveling for that purpose. (Frontier Contract of Carriage Rule 6, Point 3)
JetBlue Service Animal Rules
Official Policy: JetBlue “Service and Emotional Support Animal Travel“
Notes: JetBlue’s updated Service Dog policy forbids traveling with both a Service Animal and a firearm. If someone checks in for a JetBlue flight with both, the airline requires the individual to check their weapon as baggage.
JetBlue Service Dog Travel Policy
JetBlue allows fully trained, handler accompanied Service Dogs aboard all flights at no charge. They recommend but do not require, advanced notice for Service Dog teams. Trained Service Dogs do not need any documentation to fly with JetBlue.
Handlers can ensure a smoother airport and travel experience by including their Service Dog in their JetBlue reservation. JetBlue’s online booking process offers both Service Animal and ESA options under their Accessibility Options. Alternatively, handlers can call 1-800-JETBLUE (538-2583) to notify JetBlue of their travel plans.
JetBlue Service Animal policies cite domestic dogs, cats, and miniature horses as the only allowable species aboard JetBlue flights. The guidelines offer Guide Dogs, Hearing Dogs, Brace Dogs as examples of Service Dogs. Internal JetBlue publications remind associates they’ll encounter additional types of Service Dogs regularly. JetBlue mandates that handlers may only travel with Service Animals trained to meet their specific needs.
The new JetBlue Service Dog policies allow handlers to travel with multiple Service Dogs. However, the airline clarifies that while they’ll make every reasonable effort to accommodate the space needed for multiple Service Dogs, the space allowances don’t change. Per Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) safety regulations, all Service Dogs must fit within the handler’s personal foot space.
If a team requires more space, they may purchase additional seats to ensure space on a specific flight. If the team’s scheduling provides flexibility, the handler can wait for a later JetBlue flight with enough open seats to accommodate the Service Dog(s).
Service Dogs ride on the floor in JetBlue aircraft. If a dog is 20-30 pounds or lighter, they may be allowed to ride in their handler’s lap if necessary. Service Dogs may never occupy a seat, even if it’s empty. They may not eat off tray tables or interfere with in-cabin service.
All Service Dogs must be unobtrusive, calm, and well mannered. They may not growl, bite, try to bite, or vocalize excessively. They should remain attentive to their handler’s needs and requests. Any Service Animal displaying threatening, erratic, or concerning behaviors will be prohibited from entering the aircraft.
JetBlue Service Dog in Training (SDiT) Policy
Service Dogs in Training are not allowed aboard JetBlue flights. JetBlue specifically excludes all Service Dogs in Training from inclusion in the updated Service Dog travel rules. SDiTs may travel as pets, providing the handler meets all requirements and pays the full fee.
JetBlue Emotional Support Animal (ESA) Policy
JetBlue transports Emotional Support Animals aboard all aircraft at no charge. JetBlue requires airline approval for all ESAs as well as 48 hours minimum notice of intent to fly. Only one ESA is allowed per handler. ESAs may be any breed of domesticated dog or cat. Miniature horses also qualify for ESA status.
JetBlue transports Emotional Support Animals aboard all aircraft at no charge. JetBlue requires airline approval for all ESAs as well as 48 hours minimum notice of intent to fly. Only one ESA is allowed per handler. ESAs may be any breed of domesticated dog or cat. Miniature horses also qualify for ESA status.
To start the approval process for flying with an ESA, passengers should notify JetBlue they’ll be accompanied by an Emotional Support Animal. This can be done while booking a ticket online or by calling 1-800-JETBLUE (538-2583). JetBlue must be notified a minimum of 48 hours prior to the flight. In addition to adding the ESA to the reservation, the handler must complete and upload JetBlue’s required ESA documentation. Both of these things must be completed 48 hours prior to takeoff, so get started early with the packet.
JetBlue’s ESA approval process requires documentation from the handler, the handler’s doctor, and the animal’s veterinarian. Download the JetBlue Emotional Support Animal forms, complete them per instruction, and then upload them via JetBlue’s Emotional Support Animal Documentation tool. Handlers must upload this packet for every JetBlue flight as JetBlue does not keep the documents on file. Documents remain valid for a year following their initial use. Here’s a step by step guide covering JetBlue’s entire Emotional Support Animal approval process.
JetBlue’s Emotional Support Animal definition stipulates ESAs don’t need specific task training. In contrast, Service Dogs, including Psychiatric Service Dogs, must be specifically trained to assist their disabled handler. Nonetheless, all ESAs flying with JetBlue must be aggression free and overall well behaved. They cannot be disruptive or disturb other passengers.
ESAs who do not meet or abide by JetBlue’s training and behavior standards can be refused access to the aircraft or removed from a flight. Barred Emotional Support Animals must continue the journey as pets, with all applicable requirements and fees.
JetBlue Working Dog Policy
JetBlue’s working dog rules prohibit the in-cabin transport of dogs providing any service other than assisting a person with a disability. This policy includes Police Dogs, Bomb Dogs, Detection K9s, and Search and Rescue Dogs.
Southwest Airlines Service Dog Rules
Notes: Southwest specifically excludes all Therapy Dogs from transport under their Service Dog policies.
Southwest Airlines Service Dog Travel Policy
Southwest Airlines welcomes trained Service Animals to travel in-cabin, free of charge, on all Southwest flights, including those with international destinations. The new Southwest Service Dog rules officially include Psychiatric Service Dogs in the “Service Dog” designation. While flying Southwest, PSDs travel under the same requirements as all other Service Dogs.
All handlers must provide credible verbal assurance regarding the Service Animal’s function. The Service Animal’s conduct and behavior should reflect a high level of training and appropriate socialization. Southwest Airlines does not accept harnesses, vests, jackets, certificates, or ID cards as sole proof of Service status.
Southwest encourages Service Dog handlers to include their partner in their reservation as early as possible. When booking a new flight, handlers can use the “Add/Edit Disability Options” to add a trained Service Animal to the reservation. For existing reservations, handlers can simply update their Disability & Accessibility options via Southwest’s online portal. Southwest Airlines also invites anyone with disability-related questions or concerns to call 1-800-I-FLY-SWA (1-800-435-9792) for prompt service.
All passengers traveling with a Service Animal must check in at the ticket counter or with a gate agent to complete a verbal screening. In order to ensure the animal is eligible to fly under the updated Service Dog policy, a Southwest employee will inquire as to the nature of the service provided and the type of training the animal has.
Fully trained dogs, cats, and miniature horses fall under Southwest Airlines’ Service Dog policy. In order to qualify for free transport, the animal must not only be trained, but also be partnered with someone with a diagnosed disability. Southwest Airlines does not accept exotic or unusual animals on board its aircraft.
Animals exhibiting disruptive behavior or deportment unsuitable for a highly trained professional may not be allowed to fly. All Service Animals must be housetrained and under the control of their handler at all times. Service Animals who act in an aggressive or threatening manner will be denied boarding.
While on board the aircraft, Service Animals must quietly occupy only their handler’s space. They must not infringe on other passengers’ space, nor may they intrude into the aisle. All animals must travel on the floor. Only humans may sit in seats, and only humans may eat off tray tables.
Every airport Southwest Airlines services provides indoor Service Animal Relief Areas. Handlers may ask any Southwest employee for directions to the closest facility.
Southwest Airlines Service Dog in Training (SDiT) Policy
Southwest Airlines doesn’t have a published Service Dog in Training Policy online. However, handlers with an SDiT can call Southwest for accommodation. The airline generally allows SDiTs in cabin, but usually requires the handler to purchase a ticket for the dog in training for half of the current price point of a seat.
Southwest Airlines Emotional Support Animal (ESA) Policy
Southwest Airlines always invites Emotional Support Animals with proper documentation and approval aboard all domestic and international flights at no cost. Only dogs and cats qualify as ESAs under the Southwest ESA guidelines. A handler may travel with only one ESA.
Emotional Support Animal handlers must provide recent documentation on official letterhead from a licensed mental health professional or medical doctor who is treating the handler’s mental health-related disability. To be accepted by Southwest Airlines, the letter must include all four of the following points:
- The Passenger has a mental or emotional disability recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
- The Passenger needs the Emotional Support Animal as a specific accommodation for air travel and/or for activity at the passenger’s destination
- The individual providing the assessment is a licensed mental health professional and the passenger is under his or her professional care
- The date and type of the mental health professional’s or medical doctor’s license and the state or other jurisdiction in which it was issued
While in the airport and aboard Southwest aircraft, all ESAs must be in a carrier or on a leash. They must be well mannered, of sound temperament, and have enough training to safely work in public. Any Emotional Support Animal that engages in disruptive or potentially harmful behavior may be denied boarding.
Southwest Airlines Working Dog Policy
Southwest Airlines accepts fully-trained Law Enforcement K9s trained in explosives or drug detection (or other specific functions) as well as Search and Rescue Dogs for in-cabin transportation, without charge, when accompanied by handlers on official business. Each passenger traveling with a Law Enforcement K9 or Search and Rescue Dog must present an official letter of mission and a copy of the animal’s certification. Search Dogs and Working K9s must sit at their handler’s feet without obstructing the aisle. In addition, Working Dog handlers with a K9 cannot sit in an emergency exit row.
Spirit Airlines Service Animal Policies
Official Policy: Spirit Airlines “Can I bring my Service, Emotional Support, or Psychiatric Service Animal on my Flight?“
Spirit Airlines Service Dog Travel Policy
Spirit Airlines allows fully trained Service Animals of a wide variety of species on board all domestic and international flights. There is no limit to the number of Service Animals allowed per guest. Spirit asks handlers to verify training and status during check-in.
In order to fly under Spirit’s Service Dog policy, a Service Animal must fulfill all of the following criteria:
- Possess specific training that allows them to perform mitigating tasks or work for a person with a disability
- Possess training that allows them to safely work in public around a variety of people and distractions
- Be partnered with a person with a disabiliy whom they work for regularly
- Be well-behaved, under control, and non-aggressive
If a dog does not fulfill all 4 of the above points, they do not qualify to travel as a Service Dog. Spirit Airlines will not allow an animal to travel that shows signs it will cause a disruption in the cabin, it has not been trained to function as a service animal in a public setting, or it has potentially dangerous temperament issues.
When traveling in a Spirit Airlines aircraft, Service Dog teams must abide by all safety regulations. Dogs ride on the floor, at their handler’s feet. They can’t occupy space belonging to another passenger. Service Dogs cannot sit in exit rows. They may not occupy a seat. They can’t lounge in the aisle. They cannot interfere with food service or steal food from tray tables or people.
If the team requires more space than is available at a single seat, Spirit offers several options. One of the more comfortable options is an upgrade to one of the Big Front Seats. Teams could also purchase an additional seat to allow the dog(s) room to stretch out. If the team has budget constraints, they can accept re-accommodation on a later Spirit Airlines flight with more available space.
Spirit Airlines Service Dog in Training (SDiT) Policy
Spirit Airlines Emotional Support Animal (ESA) Policy
Spirit Airlines transports both Emotional Support Animals and Psychiatric Service Dogs at no cost on all domestic and international flights.
Eligibility to fly requires completion and submission of the Spirit Airlines Emotional Support Animal documentation at least 48 hours prior to departure, plus good behavior on the part of the ESA. Start the process by downloading the Spirit Airlines forms in English or Spanish. Follow the directions in each document. Once completed, upload the documents via Spirit Airline’s Emotional Support Animal and Psychiatric Service Dog tool.
Carry copies of the forms because Spirit doesn’t keep them on file. Handlers will need to upload them for every future Spirit flight they take with their Emotional Support Animal. Spirit reminds handlers that all documents must be submitted online at least 48 hours prior to departure. If the documents are late, Spirit cannot ensure they’ll be verified in time. Airport personnel cannot approve Spirit Airlines ESA documentation under any circumstances, as Spirit’s specially trained team of Disability Coordinators handles this task.
This hip airline seems very open about ESA species and expresses willingness to accept a wide variety of animals. Spirit’s Emotional Support Animal policy excludes rodents, reptiles, spiders, ferrets, and sugar gliders. Animals cannot pose a threat or hazard to fellow passengers and must only occupy their handler’s space. To discuss requests for ESAs other than dogs, cats, or mini horses, contact Spirit via spirit.com/help.
No Emotional Support Animal, regardless of species, may exhibit aggressive behavior. All ESAs must be under control and non-disruptive. Spirit reserves the right to determine if an ESA has not been trained to function in a public setting and to deny the animal access to the aircraft.
Spirit Airlines Working Dog Policy
United Airlines Service Dog Rules
Official Policy: United Airlines “Service Animals“
Notes: United Airlines offers no-charge kennel transport of Service Dogs who don’t meet size requirements for in-cabin flight. Emotional Support Animals must weigh less than 65 pounds. United requires Psychiatric Service Dogs to meet all Emotional Support Animal requirements in order to be eligible for transport.
United specifically excludes all Therapy Animals, including Crisis Response Dogs, from traveling under their Service Animal Policy. All Therapy Dogs must travel via the PetSafe program with standard fees.
United Airlines Service Dog Travel Policy
United Airlines accepts trained Service Animals aboard all flights at no cost as a reasonable accommodation for a person with a disability. The United Service Animal policy covers dogs, miniature horses, monkeys, cats, and birds, with case by case discretion allowed for trained Support Animals of other species. Rodents, reptiles, snakes, ferrets are not allowed in the cabin of the aircraft for any reason.
All Service Animals traveling aboard United aircraft must adhere to high standards of behavior and deportment. United will not tolerate aggression, threatening behavior, or out of control conduct. Service Dogs should behave professionally at all times. They sit on the floor at their handler’s feet, without protruding into the aisle or intruding into other travelers’ space.
If a Service Dog or Service Animal cannot comfortably rest within the allotted space, United Airlines offers two solutions. The handler can purchase a second seat so the SD has additional room. Alternatively, the handler can release their teammate to the United Live Animal Desk for the duration of the flight at no charge. The Live Animal Desk will provide a free kennel for the Service Dog. A United agent will bring the Service Animal to the aircraft door to greet the handler upon arrival.
Handlers should be aware, though, that United Airlines’ Contract of Carriage allows United to remove both the Service Animal and handler from any United flight at United’s sole discretion, with the potential of a permanent ban from United flights, if an animal is oversize, overweight, or falls short of behavioral or training expectations.
United Airlines Service Dog in Training (SDiT) Policy
United Airlines’ Service Dog in Training Policy is complicated. The Service Dog policy in the passenger accommodation of the site straight out says “Service Animals are not accepted.” However, there is a proviso specifically for organization-affiliated trainers who are working with a Service Dog in Training on flight-related skills and behaviors. These trainers may bring a single SDiT on board free of charge. The proviso ends with “Trainers transporting Service Animals in the ordinary course of business or Service Animals who are not in training must check these animals.”
United Airlines Emotional Support Animal (ESA) Policy
United Airlines accepts Emotional Support and Psychiatric Service Animals in cabin, free of cost, for qualified individuals with a disability if certain information and documentation are provided in advance of travel. Approved United passengers may travel with a single ESA weighing 65 pounds or less.
United passengers traveling with an Emotional Support Animal or a Psychiatric Service Animal must submit the required documentation at least 48 hours before the customer’s flight via United’s secure portal. If United cannot validate the documentation, if the passenger does not provide completed documentation, or if the passenger doesn’t provide advance notification, the animal may be denied boarding.
If an animal is unable to fly under United’s ESA policy, they may be eligible to be transported as a pet, and pet fees may apply. A handler can contact the United Accessibility Desk at 1-800-228-2744 if there are questions about this process or if booking a flight within 48 hours of the departure time.
United Airlines Working Dog Policy
United Airlines transports, without charge, properly harnessed professional Working K9s. The K9 must be accompanied by their handler on official emergency business as authorized by an appropriate federal, state, or local government agency. Such official duty status must be documented in writing to the satisfaction of United Airlines. Rule 16 of United’s Contract of Carriage includes Explosive Detection Dogs, Narcotic Detection Dogs, Search and Rescue Dogs, and other Working K9s trained for a “specific function.”
Service Dog Travel Laws for Flying
Before you can educate anyone else about your right to travel with a Service Dog, you need familiarity with the laws yourself. While U.S. federal law grants near-unrestricted public access to Service Dogs, air access laws for traveling with a Service Dog are actually defined by a separate piece of legislation, the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA). Federal Service Dog law and the ADA only apply to public access while you and your partner’s feet are on the ground.
Fortunately, though, the ACAA is relatively straight-forward. Individuals with a disability traveling with a Service Dog are to be granted access to air travel with their partner riding in the cabin, free of charge. Additionally, any equipment used in conjunction with an assistance animal’s work is to be considered an assistive device and can be flown free of charge in the cargo hold as medical equipment. (Please note that food is not equipment under this definition and therefore may count as carry-on or checked baggage.)
The ACAA specifically cites documentation and paperwork as examples of policies airlines may opt to enforce. The laws within the Air Carrier Access Act specifically grant Service Dogs the right to fly in cabin, with their handler, at no charge. However, unlike the better-known ADA, the ACAA allows airlines to require compliance with additional requirements from Service Dog teams and ESA handlers in order to gain access to secure areas and aircraft.
To determine flight eligibility, all air carriers may make inquiries regarding the dog’s status and training. In the case of Service Dogs, airlines must accept credible verbal assurance from the handler, plus the presence of a harness, vest, or other identifying gear, ID cards or other written documentation as proof of the dog’s job.
Each airline determines their own requirements for access to air travel. Once an airline grants access, teams can expect pretty universal rules regarding flying in the aircraft itself. In addition to standard public access skills and behavior, the highlights include:
- No dog can block or obstruct aisles on the plane for any reason.
- Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals must occupy only the space allowed to the ticketed passenger, which includes the footspace and the space under the seat in front of the handler.
- Even if the seat is empty, dogs may not sit in an airplane seat designed for a human.
- Small dogs may never be placed on the tray table.
- No working dog team of any kind can be seated in an emergency exit row.
- Dogs cannot interfere with in-cabin service.
- Dogs cannot steal food or eat off tray tables.
- All dogs must behave in a manner that allows other passengers to enjoy a flight experience similar to a flight without the dog present.
Flying With Giant Breeds or Mini Horses
If your partner is an extra large or giant breed Service Dog, airlines are not required to accommodate you on your specific flight if your dog infringes on other passengers’ space. Typically, if there are seats available, many airlines will try to seat you so there’s at least one seat between you and another passenger. That way, your dog has space. However, this is not required and shouldn’t be expected.
If it’s a full flight or they cannot shuffle seats, airlines can offer you a later flight where they can accommodate you and your dog’s size. Depending on the airline, they may also offer to allow your dog to travel in a kennel in the climate controlled cargo hold. You always have the option of purchasing a second seat to accommodate your Service Dog, should your dog require the additional space. If you are concerned about your Service Animal’s size and you must travel on the selected flight, then purchasing a second seat assures your ability to do so.
Service Dogs, SDiTs, ESAs, and Access
While Emotional Support Animals are not granted access under the ADA, the ACAA does allow them to fly with their owners. However, there are special requirements for flying with an Emotional Support Animal (ESA). In 2018, most airlines established more restrictive policies concerning ESAs; you can view them above. The majority require documentation to be submitted a minimum of 48 hours prior to the flight and specific approval granted to each ESA team.
Keep in mind that federal law does not mention Service Dogs in Training (SDiT) or grant them access under the ADA or ACAA. Access rights for Service Dogs in Training is determined by the state you reside in. Check your state laws before planning trips if you’re traveling with an SDiT. Know, though, that airlines may set and enforce their own Service Dog in Training policies.
The Department of Homeland Security’s Transportation Security Administration has universal guidelines for traveling with a Service Dog or Assistance Animal and clearing security. Just know that you and your dog must both go through the metal detector. You can go through together or separately. Your Service Dog is going to be patted down regardless, so you’ll need to decide if you’re willing to undergo additional physical examination if your partner sets the alarm off.
If you’re not, go through the metal detector separately, which means your Assistance Dog needs a solid stand-stay. After you’re both through the metal detector, your dog will be physically examined by a TSA officer, so his stand-for-exam should be practiced and proofed before traveling. TSA cannot ask you to undress your Service Dog and they cannot separate your partner from you.
The easiest way to seamlessly move through security is to either send your partner’s gear through the xray and walk your partner through separately from yourself on only an “airport leash,” or one without metal hardware that will alarm OR to use the minimum amount of gear necessary so the pat down for your partner is quick and easy. You do NOT have to remove your partner’s gear unless you’d like to.
International Service Dog Travel
Are you flying out of the country or to an island like Hawaii? Service Animals may need to be quarantined depending on your destination. If you are taking your pet out of the United States to another country, whether permanently or for a visit, it is defined as “export.” The United States has minimal requirements for animals to be exported to other countries. If you’re just planning on visiting, please be advised that there may be certain re-entry requirements if you plan to return to the United States with your Service Dog.
Recognize that even though your Service Dog isn’t a pet, pet import/export requirements, unless otherwise noted by your destination country, may still apply. Please visit the USDA Pet Travel page for important information and things you must do. The U.S. Department of State offers further explanation on their “Pets and International Travel” page. Don’t forget to contact your airline to find out what the current regulations are for your destination country. Confirm policies with your airline and ask if your destination enforces any quarantine requirements for Service Dogs.
Do research ahead of time on the laws concerning Service Dogs in the country you’ll be traveling to. Not all countries provide access for Service Dogs, and requirements can vary widely. Assistance Dog International provides a list of laws covering common international destinations. They also offer resources for travelers heading to other countries. Responsibility to meet all guidelines required for international travel with your Service Dog rests with you.
Prepare For Success
Even the best trained Assistance Animal may have difficulty flying. You need to judge your own animal’s temperament before you consider flying. If you are at all concerned about how your assistance animal will react to flying consider driving, Amtrak, Greyhound or Megabus.
Each airline interprets ACAA guidelines slightly differently. The key to success? Always call first!
Service Dog Flight Skills
Make sure your Service Dog knows the behaviors and skills required for a smooth trip through the airport and on the plane. Before they travel, your dog needs to know how to navigate confined spaces, ignore dozens of distractions, and showcase excellent impulse control. Check out our guide to Service Dog Flight Skills for more info.
Contact Your Airline Before You Travel
The airline crew may need to make preparations for your boarding, so it’s an excellent idea to make them aware of what type of Service Animal you use. The agent may also be able to help you select the most comfortable seat, as well as offer you additional accommodation, like priority boarding. Find a direct flight if possible because it will make for an easier experience for both you and your partner.
The experience others have with you and your Service Dog may be the first and only they will ever have. It is up to you to leave them with an excellent impression.
While traveling with a Service Dog, keep your partner under control at all times. Avoid becoming the center of attention. Do not play with or show off your Service Dog in the airport or during your flight. Remember, how you and your Service Dog act directly affects other Service and Assistance Dog teams. The best compliment any dog working in public can receive is, “Wow! I had no idea there was a dog there!”
Airlines Require Proof of Service Dog Status
Airlines do require some form of assurance that your dog is indeed a Service Animal and not an ESA or pet. Identification, such as cards or documentation, the presence of a harness or markings on the harness, a doctor’s letter or other credible assurance of the passenger using the animal for their disability is required. Please call or review each airline’s policy.
In addition to your Service Dog, it’s possible your disability may have further circumstances that require special consideration when moving through security and boarding the plane. You’re not required to provide medical documentation to an officer, however, many passengers find it helpful to have medical documentation as a way to discreetly communicate information about their needs to an officer. The TSA has created an optional Notification Card that passengers can use for discreet communication. Neither use of this Notification Card or the presentation of medical documentation exempts a passenger from TSA screening.
Be prepared to explain what tasks does your animal performs to help you with your disability. What makes a Service Dog different from a pet are the specific physical tasks or work the animal performs to help someone manage their disability. While it is inappropriate for someone to ask you about your disability, they may ask what tasks your dog is trained to perform.
If you have an invisible disability and use a Service Dog, it helps to have a letter from a physician in addition to any other identification materials you may have. Some airlines include Psychiatric Service Dogs in their Service Dog policy, but others require PSDs to meet their Emotional Support Animal guidelines. Check the airline’s Service Animal policies carefully.
Misrepresenting a Dog’s Training or Abilities is Fraud
Remember, misrepresenting an animal as a Service or Assistance Dog isn’t only unethical, it’s against the law. Many states have hefty fines for people lying about their dogs’ status to gain access to places pets aren’t allowed or to avoid paying pet fees. If you misrepresent your dog’s training or abilities in order to fly with them in-cabin, free of charge, you are committing fraud. Additionally, you’re part of the problem real Service Dog teams face from people to have fake Service Dogs.
Flying With a Service Dog Step by Step
Being polite and friendly with the Security Officers will go a long way to making your admission quicker. Remember, they have a stressful job and treating them with respect will make things easier. Security Officers have been trained how to treat Assistance Animals and their handlers. They know not to communicate, distract, interact, play, feed, or pet Service Animals.
You must assist with the inspection process by controlling the Service Animal while the Security Officer conducts the inspection. You must maintain control of your animal in a manner that ensures the animal cannot harm the Security Officer.
Proceeding through Security
Recent changes now require that after you successfully go through the metal detector, you cannot make contact with your dog (other than holding the leash) until the dog has been inspected and cleared by the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) personnel. Even if you walk through the metal detector and do not set off the alarm, you can be required to undergo additional screening if you touch your dog before it has been cleared.
Secondly, depending on the airport regulations, you may be asked to maintain contact with your dog’s leash at all times. If this procedure creates a problem for you, simply explain this to the security officer. Of course, the responsibility for maintaining control of your Service Dog rests with you at all times.
Your Service Dog may require a special screening
Finally, passengers traveling with any kind of animal may now be required to undergo explosives trace testing. This process is quick and easy and generally takes place after you have cleared security. You may be asked to hold your hands out, palm side up. The security officer will then wipe a swab about the size of your palm across each of your hands and then ask you to wait while a machine analyzes the swab for traces of explosives. This process leaves no residue on your hands.
Remember, TSA personnel cannot request that you be separated from your dog nor are you required to remove your dog’s gear, harness, leash or collar. If you experience any problems at the security checkpoint, you should request that a supervisor be contacted for assistance.
Check in at the gate
After clearing security, check in at the counter at the gate. Let the flight attendants know that you have an Assistance Dog. If this is your first time flying with your Service Dog on this airline, ask them what you need to do. Most airlines offer Service Dog teams and ESA handlers priority boarding or pre-board access.
Boarding the airplane
Once you’ve passed through the skybridge to the aircraft, the flight attendants on board will guide you to your seat. Most airlines require your Assistance Dog to use the space at your feet. Keeping small treats readily accessible for your partner helps them feel more comfortable. Avoid bringing water onto the plane for your dog.
Aisles on airplanes are very narrow, so it’s helpful to teach your partner to either walk behind or in front of you. For dogs who are used to only heeling by their handler’s side, this unique situation can be slightly confusing. It’s easiest to send your partner into your seating area first, and then to follow, so you’re not trying to shuffle your Service Dog while also situating yourself. If your dog has a solid “under,” you’ll both be significantly more comfortable. Even large dogs can travel comfortably by settling their rear end under the seat in front of you, and resting their upper half between your feet.
Tips for take-off and landing
Service Dogs easily slide like crazy on take off and landings. To reduce this, have them sit facing you, so you can hang on to them with your legs while you feed a few small treats or let them chew on a favorite toy. If you use a toy, be sure to choose one that you are able to keep a grip on in case they drop it. Chew toys and treats help distract your dog and keep them calm while also reducing pressure in their ears when cabin pressure changes.
Like babies, even a well-trained Service Dog may fuss if they’re not distracted and the sliding and ear popping can scare them. Since dogs are very situational, one bad experience can color the dog’s view of airplanes and flying for a long time. Planning for this potential pitfall in advance prevents both immediate and future problems.
Consider crate transport
Depending on your disability, you may not need your animal with you in the airport and airplane, though you will when you land at your destination. Some disabled individuals choose to transport their animals as cargo and some airlines even have special transport programs like United’s PetSafe. A couple of airlines transport Service Dogs in an appropriate kennel as cargo free of charge. Many airlines allow small animals to travel in-cabin as well. Check with your airline for details.
Questions or Concerns About Service Dog Travel?
Still have questions about screening procedures? In 2011, the TSA launched TSA Cares, a new helpline number designed to assist travelers with disabilities. Call TSA Cares toll free at 1-855-787-2227 prior to traveling if you have questions about screening policies, procedures and what to expect at the security checkpoint. The TSA website lists the hours of operation for the TSA Cares helpline as Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. – 11 p.m. Eastern time; weekends and federal holidays, 9 a.m. – 8 p.m. Eastern time. You can also e-mail TSA-ContactCenter@dhs.gov to request info about screening procedures.
If you feel you were the victim of discrimination If you believe you experienced discriminatory treatment by air carrier personnel or contractors (pilots, gate agents, or flight attendants), request immediate on-site assistance from a Complaint Resolution Official, commonly referred to as a CRO. You may also file a complaint with the Department of Transportation (DOT).
Include your name, address, phone number and email address as well as the date/time you went through the security checkpoint, the name of the airport, and the name of the airline, flight number and departure gate if known. Give a brief description of what happened and include as much as you can remember about your experience and the TSA personnel involved.
For those wishing to learn more about the rights of individuals traveling by air with a Service Dog, you may call The DOT’s Disability Hotline at 1-800-778-4838 (voice) or 1-800-455-9880 (TTY). The Hotline is available from 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. ET, Monday through Friday, except holidays.
Special thanks to The Evolution of the Soapbox for assistance in compiling information on the revised TSA screening procedures.