Flying with a service animal

Flying with a service animal is quite different than flying with a pet, though many rules and regulations  are the same, the process for service animals is a bit different.. So what is a service animal exactly?

Service pets are usually dogs or in some cases miniature horses who provide a service to a handler. Service animals are intricately trained to provide a variety of services to their humans, these are working dogs that have been tested by professionals, not to be confused with Emotional Support Animals who are usually only trained to provide comfort. Service animals are individually trained to work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual. The work or tasks performed by a service dog must be directly related to the individual’s disability. Some of these tasks include: pulling a wheelchair, guiding the blind, alerting and protecting their handler during a seizure, indicating the need for a medication, interruption of impulsive or destructive behavior, etc. These dogs have gone through many years of training and have been vetted in a variety of circumstances, making them a reliably working animal, not a pet.

People flying with a service animal need to adhere to many of the same rules and regulations that people flying with pets need to follow. From vaccination records to health certificates, depending on where the service dog is flying, they might even need to be quarantined, our pet travel experts can provide assistance with these regulations. What is always important is to do plenty of research ahead of time so that flying with a service animal goes smoothly.

After doing research about the rules and regulations of the place you are traveling to, it is important to contact the airline you will be using. They should be advised well in advance that you will be traveling with a service or assistance animal. Since many airlines now require advanced notification and in some cases special verification forms, experts recommend that even if you have booked a flight online through a booking service that you contact the airline as soon as the flight is booked. At this time they will make a reservation for your service animal as well. The airline can provide specific information about their process and will be ready for you and your service animal when you arrive at the airport so there aren’t any last minute surprises. Book the most direct flight for your service animal and if there has to be a stop, make sure the airport has a pet relief area for your service animal in case there are any delays.

Service animals are allowed to travel for free inside the cabin while assisting their handler on most airlines. The dogs ride on their handler’s lap or in the space at their handler’s feet, the dog needs to be tucked in so they don’t obstruct the aisle. This means that for safety issues the dog and handler can’t be on an exit row. Any equipment required for the assistance or service dog, such as a crate, food, or other gear can be flown free of charge in the cargo hold as medical equipment.

Airlines and security personnel may make inquiries about the dog’s status as an assistance or service dog. While they are not allowed to ask about the person’s disability, they are allowed to ask about the specific tasks that the dog is trained for. They must accept verbal assurance from the handler, written documentation, ID cards, vest, harness or other identifying gear as proof of the dog’s job. However it does make it easier if the handler can provide official documents, the TSA has a disability notification card that can be filled out ahead of travel to inform officers of the disability discretely.

Flying with a service dog can make check in and the security screening process lengthy so arriving at the airport with plenty of time is a must. Inform security personnel that your animal is a service animal, not a pet so you can move freely with your partner. At no time during the screening process should the personnel ask the handler be separated from the animal, though in some cases, depending on the animal’s gear, they might need to be at the end of a leash while they pass through security.

Download TSA Notification Card

Once through security, dog and handler should go directly to the check in counter at the gate. Inform the flight attendants that you are flying with an assistance dog, they will be able to guide you through the airline’s process, the plane and into your seat when the time comes.

If you need assistance or more information about flying with a service animal, contact our team of pet relocation experts, we are here to help.

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