Traveling With A Service Dog

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Traveling with a service dog requires some planning on your part. Whether you travel by car, bus, train, or airplane, you are allowed to take your service dog with you. It just requires some planning.

Airline Travel

Travelling by airline takes a bit of planning. When you call for a reservation, do NOT mention your service dog. Airlines have been known to say that a flight is full when someone has said they are bringing their service dog with them. Get your reservation, with a confirmation number.

If you would like to sit in bulkhead seating, which may or may not have more legroom, call the airline back in 30 minutes or so, and tell them that you are bringing your service dog with you. You ONLY need to do this if you are requesting bulkhead seating.

The Air Carriers Accessibility Act (ACAA) requires that the airlines get 24 hours notice for requests of bulkhead seating, and 48 hours notice for an onboard wheelchair to use an inaccessible lavatory. Except for the bulkhead seating issue, you will need to contact the airline 48 hours in advance. My suggestion is to tell the airline after you have your confirmation number, just call them back. This way you don't have to remember to call them 24 or 48 hours before your flight. However, you do NOT have to sit in bulkhead if you don't want to. Many persons with guide dogs prefer to sit in regular coach seating. The airlines, however, are taking the ACAA to the extreme, in demanding that passengers sit in bulkhead whether they want to or not. However, airlines can restrict seating in the following case: "Carriers must permit a service animal to accompany a traveler with a disability to any seat in which the person sits, unless the animal obstructs an aisle or other area that must remain clear in order to facilitate an emergency evacuation, in which case the passenger will be assigned another seat."

In regards to restricted seating, the ACAA says, "Airlines may not keep anyone out of a seat on the basis of disabilty, or require anyone to sit in a particular seat on the basis of disability, except as an FAA safety rule requires. FAA's rule on exit row seating says that carriers may place in exit rows only persons who can perform a series of functions necessary in an emergency evacuation." The airlines may also move a passenger "If a service animal cannot be accommodated at the passenger's assigned seat, the carrier shall offer to move the passenger to an alternative seat that can accommodate the animal."

Airlines have consistantly turned their bulkhead seating into exit row seating, therefore, reducing the places that a disabled person can sit with their service dog. And airlines expect you to place your feet, or allow others to place their feet on your dog when they fly, by seating people in seats next to you, or making you put your dog right where YOUR feet go. This is NOT allowed, and you should never do this. If the airline has bulkhead seating that doesn't give you enough room for your dog, or the bulkhead seating is unavailable due to it being an exit row, demand to speak with the CRO and ask that the airline NOT place anyone next to you (could be the two seats in your row, even and if they won't do that, then ask to be moved to first class. It's not YOUR fault the airlines are deliberately reducing bulkhead seating space, and trying to make it so a disabled person has to place their dog in an uncomfortable position.

If the airline refuses, contact me and we can deal with the issue at a later date. Unfortunately, the ACAA doesn't give the provision that attorney's fees are paid by the losing party, so most disabled won't be able to afford to sue the airlines and the airlines KNOW this, and take advantage of it.

If you're going to be sitting in regular coach, or first class, you can just show up at the airport with your dog. The ACAA says that "Carriers must permit dog guides or other service animals with appropriate identification to accompany an individual with a disability on a flight. Identification may include cards or other documentation, presence of a harness or markings on a harness, tags, or the credible verbal assurance of the passenger using the animal." This means they can not demand an ID card if your dog is dressed in a harness, or cape, or if you tell them the dog is a service dog. However, if you have a psychiatric disability, the ACAA does allow airlines to ask for a letter from your doctor stating you have a disability and that you require the presence of a animal for your well-being. This is if you have an emotional support animal ONLY, not if you have a service dog, trained to mitigate your disability. The airlines do not have the right to know what your disability is.

People with disabilities have the right to pre board the aircraft prior to all other passengers. Airlines typically begin boarding 30 minutes before the scheduled flight time. Therefore to pre board and get settled with your service dog you should arrive at the gate no less than 40 minutes before flight time. You should inform the gate agent of your desire to pre board and then stay near the gate so that you can be located for pre boarding.

You do not need a health certificate for your service dog. These certificates are only required for dogs shipped as CARGO. This is an undue hardship to require such a certificate (which typically are only good for 10 days), when travelling in the US.

In passing through security checkpoints at airports, you must allow the airport personnel to either use a hand wand (if they have one) to pass over you, or to hand search you. This is for the safety of all persons in the airport, and even though you're disabled, you have to go through the same thing. Your dog is also supposed to be searched. If your dog is wearing detachable backpacks, remove them and put them through the X-Ray machine. If your dog has backpacks that can't be removed (without undressing the dog), request that the airport personnel do a hand check of your dog and his equipment. Many personnel will not want to touch your dog, but I demand it, because they need to know that they have to check EVERYONE.

The Transportation Security Administation has a page that addresses the security issue for those with disabilities.

Aircraft of more than 100 seats are required to provide priority in cabin storage space for at least one folding wheelchair. Smaller aircraft are also required to provide such in cabin storage if they have a closet large enough to hold a folded wheelchair. Wheelchairs have priority over all other luggage and items unless the aircraft has passengers on board with baggage stored in the closet from a prior stop on the flight. Wheelchair have priority over first class passengers' luggage and the luggage of the flight crew and the cabin crew.

Here is a PDF copy of the Air Carriers Act for download... Air Carrier Access Act. This requires Adobe Acrobat reader. Right click on it to save to your own computer.


If your dog hasn't flown before, then you should visit the airport and take your dog around to get him accustomed to the sounds and smells. Go to the airline that you will be flying on and ask if there is any way to let you and your dog onto a plane that is on the ground. Some airlines will do this, so you may go aboard and get your dog accustomed to the narrowness of the aisles, and such.

Bring a blanket with you for your dog to lay on, as the floors of aircraft can be cold. Provide your dog with a chew toy to occupy him during take off and landing, when the engine sounds are extremely loud.

Pack your dog's food in your luggage, with a 1 or 2 day supply in your carry on luggage, or in your dog's pack. Also consider using bottled water, so that your dog doesn't have problems with the local water (diarrhea).

Your mobility devices do not count against the two pieces of carry on luggage everyone is allowed to take on the plane. I have travelled with my service dog, a pair of crutches, my manual wheelchair, and cushion. On my dog, were backpacks, with a blanket, food, water, extra leashes, chew toys and treats.

Pre-board with your dog so you can get him settled before the other passengers board. Once he's on his blanket, give him a chew toy to play with while the other passengers board. He will most likely be interested in all the people going by, as this vehicle is like nothing he's ever seen before.

Dogs do not have the ear problems that humans have, so they don't need to chew anything when flying. The chew toy distracts them from the engine sounds and from the fact that the floor just tilted sharply!

Do not give your dog food and water in the morning, so that he won't have to potty, during the flight. Before you enter the airport, give your dog a chance to take care of business, and then check in. If you have connecting flights, make sure there is enough time for you to take your dog potty before your next flight leaves. Airline and airport personnel do not have to take your dog out for a walk, that is YOUR responsibility, however, I know many airline personnel that love to do so, and will ask you if they can.


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