You are flying out west for your daughter’s wedding and must take your service dog with you. Are you going to encounter problems with the airlines?
The Non-Discrimination on the Basis of Disability in Air Travel Act safeguards your right to travel with a service dog. However, you will need to provide proof the animal is a service animal, which includes written medical documentation, I.D. cards, emergency tags or visible evidence such as a harness, in addition to trustworthy verbal assurances.
You will also need documentation of your disability as well as certification of the animal’s vaccines. Some airlines require notification at least 48 hours in advance of the flight.
Which animals qualify?
Any animal, including monkeys, cats and dogs trained to provide help to disabled persons, is considered a service animal. The animal performs tasks the human is unable to do for himself.
Types of service animals
Most people are familiar with the concept of a Seeing Eye dog but there are other kinds of service animals, including those who assist humans with balance and movement impairments, pulling wheelchairs, carrying items or retrieving articles for those whose mobility is diminished. Some serve as a deaf person’s or hearing-impaired person’s ears and alert the person to sound. Certain service animals are trained to alert the human companion when the human is about to have a seizure or panic attack. Those with extreme social anxiety disorder can benefit from service animals.
Guide dogs in-training are generally allowed to board airplanes (with proper documentation, of course) but the animal must be traveling with its trainer. However, guide dogs en route to their new home do not qualify as guide dogs in-training and are not afforded the same accommodations.
Animals providing medical support and comfort to a human companion qualify as service animals if the appropriate documentation is provided to the airline by a medical professional.
Please note that therapy dogs do not qualify as service animals nor do companion dogs that comfort the unwell and elderly.
Making your reservation
When you make your flight reservation, inform the airlines you will be traveling with a service animal. There shouldn’t be a charge for the animal. The service animal should wear a harness, cap, backpack or vest indicating it is a working animal.
Cut back on the dog’s food and water consumption the day before embarking on the trip. Allow the dog to use the bathroom before boarding the plane. Take along some of the dog’s favorite toys.
Prior to the trip, teach the dog to lie down in a curled up position. Teach this by using a small mat and instructing him to lie on it. Remember, there isn’t much space on an airplane.
Place the dog in front of your seat. After being seated, place both feet on each side of the animal. The dog must stay on the floor. The dog cannot sit on your lap or in a seat.
You may want to take advantage of pre-boarding, which allows you and your service animal to get on the plane before the other passengers. Ask the airlines if it is okay to remove the dog’s harness so he is more comfortable.
The key to travelling with your service dog is to plan ahead, have your documentation ready and take the steps necessary to make sure you and your dog can travel comfortably and safely while allowing your valuable companion to do his job.