Flying with your service animal can be a head splitting anxiety fest. Should I call the airline beforehand? Does my dog have to be on a leash? Does she get her own carry on bag?
Flying in general is enough to make your head spin, and dealing with delays and gate changes can only compound to a negative headspace. So how do you do it with your companion? Especially one you rely on for your livelihood!?
Before we get to the list, know that it is your federal right to travel with your service dog, you are protected not only by the ADA, but also by the Air Carrier Access Act which states that you cannot be charged extra fees for bringing your dog through security and onto the plane.
Here’s How To Survive.
1) Be Prepared to Explain – You will probably be asked by airport gate checkers, security, and front desk managers what your disability is and what purpose your dog serves you. Having a dog properly registered with a certificate/id and bright service dog vest can help butter this sometimes awkward interaction. Practice explaining who your dog is and what your dog does for you. Airport personnel are trained to ask if your dog is a working dog.
2) Registration Certificate – Print of a registration certificate or card like the one found here at the iServiceDog registry can prevent a hassle or an otherwise uncomfortable situation from arising. Of note, the iServiceDog registry and others like it are all unofficial and are only meant to serve as a deterrent and convenience. By the law of the ADA you have to be taken at your word that your dog is a service dog, for more on what defines a service dog, check out our article here or read the excellent article on anythingspawsable.com
3) Flying Internationally - If flying internationally call your destination country before flying because your animal may need to be quarantined upon arrival. This is the case in most southeast asian countries like Korea and the Philippines. You may need to provide proof of vaccination and even blood tests. More information on flying internationally with your pet can be found at pettravel.com
4) Test Before you Fly - Go on a long car trip, use Amtrak, or if you're really adventurous hop on a Greyhound with your dog before flying. Graduate up to the flight so you can make sure your dog will be a cool cucumber when she’s being propelled through the lower atmosphere at 500 miles an hour. Some dogs just won't be cut out for flying and that's ok. Check out our breed competition breakdown if you are looking for a chiller breed to travel with, better to discover your dogs travel tolerance closer to home.
5) Before you arrive – Take your dog on a long bathroom walk and cut water off three hours before the flight. Most airports will have a dog relief section so be on the lookout for those when you’re in the terminal. My advice: it should be the first thing on your to-do list when you get through security
6) Security – Per the recent changes you must now walk through security without touching your dog. You can still hold the leash, but all dogs must be inspected by TSA (U.S. Transportation Security Administration.)
Security personnel are familiar with service dogs and ADA regulations, so this shouldn't be their first rodeo with a service dog. Advise security personnel on how you would like to proceed through the metal detector with your dog. Some will have the dog walk behind them as support while others might prefer to go through separate entirely from their animal, the choice is yours. If the metal detector does go off, you will be subject to additional searching, though security will always ask you before they touch your dog.
Any other questions about TSA and service dogs call TSA Cares (TSA’s website for travelers with disabilities.) Also you can call the hotline at 1-855-787-2227
7) Know Your Airline Specific Requirements – This seems like a repeat but it's not. You must know your country specific restrictions on animals (if flying internationally or to Hawaii) AND your airline specific restrictions. US Airways, Virgin America, and Alaska Air all require a harness or a tag that indicts your animals status as a service dog, don’t get caught out in the cold on this one! Here are links to informational pages on service animals for all the major carriers:
8) At the Gate – Let your airline attendant personnel know that you are traveling with a service dog, they will often allow you to board first. This is also a good time to ask the airline where they expect your dog to reside during the flight.
9) On the Plane – Most airlines specify that your dog must remain in between your legs and in front of your seat. You can bring dog treats on the plane to keep your animal happy during the flight.
10) In Review – For true peace of mind, do your homework and make sure you call the carrier and destination of travel for special restrictions. Bring documentation and have your dog wear a bright vest to be seen easier by airport personnel. Be prepared to answer questions about your dog, and remember that you are protected by federal documents (ADA, Air Carrier Access Act.) Proceed through security, alert the personnel at your gate and have a great flight!