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How to travel with a Service Dog: a step-by-step guide

It’s that time of year again that many of us begin to think about traveling to be with family and friends for the holidays. While traveling with your trained Assistance Animal is your privilege, there are some steps you need to take to make sure your trip goes as smoothly as possible.

Know what to expect
The Department of Homeland Security’s Transportation Security Administration has universal guidelines for traveling with your assistance animal. But each airline interprets them slightly differently. The key to success? Always call first!

International traveling
Are you flying out of the country or to an island like Hawaii? Service Animals may need to be quarantined depending on your destination. Check with the airline to find out what the current regulations are for your destination country. Confirm with your airline and ask if there are any quarantines happening that you need to be aware of.

Some people are uncomfortable flying, and so are some animals
Even the best trained Assistance Animal may have difficulty flying and you need to judge your own animals temperament before you consider flying. If you are at all concerned about how your assistance animal will react to flying consider driving, Amtrak or Greyhound. Please note that Psychiatric Service Animals may also require special documentation from your doctor in the form of a letter.

Contact your airline before you travel
The crew may need to make preparations for your boarding, so you must call to make them aware of what type of animal you use. The agent may also be able to help you select the most comfortable seat for you and your animal. Find a direct flight if possible because it will make for an easier experience for you and your animal.

We’ve provided some links to the major carriers to make your life easier.

Before you arrive, limit water and exercise your assistance animal
Most likely, it will be a long time before you’ll find a good place for your Service Animal to relieve themselves again. Note: If you need to leave the secure boarding area to relieve your animal, you must undergo the full screening process again. Inform the Security Officer upon your return to the security checkpoint and she/him will move you to the front of the screening line to expedite the screening process.

You and your Service Dog must remain courteous and professional at all times
The experience others may 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 it is your privilege under the law to be accompanied by your Service or Assistance Dog, you still need to be respectful of others who may be uncomfortable around animals. Keep your Service Dog under control at all times to 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.

Arrive at the airport early and let security know that your Service Dog is not a pet
Inform the Security Officer that the animal accompanying you is a Service Animal and not a pet. This will provide you with an opportunity to move to the front of the screening line since the Security Officer may need to spend more time with you. At no time during the screening process should you be required to be separated from your Service Animal.

Identification and documentation
Airlines do require some form of assurance that your dog is indeed a Service Animal and not a 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.

What tasks does your animal perform to help you with your disability?
What makes a Service Dog different from a pet are the specific physical tasks the animal can perform 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 a Psychiatric Service Dog it helps to have letter from a physician in addition to any other identification materials you may have. Remember, misrepresenting an animal as a Service or Assistance Dog isn’t only unethical, it’s against the law.

Be polite and accommodating of the Security Officers
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. They are also trained to handle

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
Advise the Security Officer how you and your dog can best achieve screening when going through the metal detector as a team (i.e., whether walking together or with the Service Dog walking in front of or behind you). If the walk through metal detector alarms in the situation where you and your Service Dog have walked together, both you and the dog must undergo additional screening.

If the walk through metal detector alarms on either you or your Service Dog individually (because you walked through separately), additional screening must be conducted on whoever alarmed the walk through metal detector. If your Service Dog alarms the walk through metal detector, the Security Officer will ask your permission and assistance before they touch you Service Dog and its belongings. The Security Officer will then perform a physical inspection of your dog and its belongings (collar, harness, leash, backpack, vest, etc.) The belongings will not be removed from your dog at any time.

Check in at the gate
After you’ve gone through security, check in at the counter at the gate. Let the flight attendants know that you have an Assistance Animal. If this is your first time flying with your Assistance Animal on this airline, ask them what you need to do. Most likely you will be allowed to board the aircraft first.

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 Animal to use the space at your feet. Small dry treats for your animal will help them feel more comfortable. Avoid bringing water onto the plane for your dog.

Consider using Pet Airways
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 book their Service Animals on a special flights with airlines like Pet Airways.

Happy Thanksgiving and safe traveling!
We want to wish all of you a warm and happy Thanksgiving holiday! You can always refer others to confirm your registration here with your 10 digit code. Safe traveling!


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