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Traveling with a Service Dog

Published on: December 19, 2023  |  Author: Starwood Pet Travel

service dog - black and white labradoodle

If you want to fly with a service dog, you need to understand and follow the rules to have a smooth trip. We've answered some of the most frequently asked questions about air travel with a service dog below.

What is a service dog?

A service dog is a specially trained dog that assists individuals with disabilities. These dogs are trained to perform specific tasks that help their handlers navigate through their daily lives. They are not considered pets but are working animals that provide support and assistance. Emotional support animals are no longer recognized as service animals.

Can service dogs fly on planes?

Yes, airlines should allow you to bring your service dog on the plane with you as long as you meet all of their requirements. This applies to both domestic and international flights. The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) ensures that individuals with disabilities have the right to travel with their service animals. Each airline has its own set of rules and regulations when it comes to traveling with service dogs. Therefore, it is highly recommended that you reach out to the airline directly as soon as you confirm your travel plans. While most airlines require a minimum of 48 hours' notice for service dog accommodations, it is important to plan well in advance, especially for international travel where months of preparation may be necessary.

Some countries have specific regulations regarding the transportation of pets in the cabin of the plane, and as a result, you may need to obtain special approval in order to bring your service animal. These countries may require additional paperwork to grant exceptions for service dogs.

Some destination countries require that service dogs are certified by institutions affiliated with the International Guide Dog Federation  (IGDF) or Assistance Dogs International  (ADI) or other similar organization.

What paperwork do I need to travel with a service dog?

When you fly with a service animal, you need specific paperwork and documents. Firstly, you should have a valid and up-to-date identification card for your service dog, which verifies their training and status as a service animal. This card should clearly state the name of the organization that trained your dog, as well as their contact information.

Airlines have their own forms that need to be completed for service dogs flying in-cabin, so you will need to check with your airline directly. Your destination country may also require additional paperwork and forms in order to grant approval for your service dog to fly in-cabin with you.

You'll need to keep all of your pet's original paperwork on your person throughout the entire journey so that you can present it to the appropriate party when asked.

In addition to service-dog related paperwork, your pet will also need to comply with the import requirements for your final destination. This may include microchip verification, vaccination certificates, parasite treatments, blood testing, import permits, dog licenses, quarantine documents, and customs forms. Most countries have specific timelines that must be met, so it's important to plan well in advance.

What are the rules for traveling with a service dog?

When embarking on a journey with your service dog, it is crucial to keep a few important guidelines in mind. Above all, your furry companion should be well-behaved and under control at all times, adhering to basic commands and ensuring the comfort of fellow passengers. For added safety, consider having a muzzle on hand, as some airlines may require it if your pet's behavior becomes unruly. Remember, failure to be prepared may result in your dog not being allowed to fly. Additionally, unless it interferes with their tasks, it is advisable to have your service dog harnessed, leashed, or tethered throughout the journey.

It is essential to ensure that your service dog relieves itself before boarding the plane to prevent any accidents or discomfort during the flight. Don't forget to pack essential supplies like food, water, training pads, and waste disposal bags to meet your dog's needs throughout the journey. It's important to note that your dog should only relieve itself in designated areas or as discussed with the airline staff, both in the airport and on the plane.

Additionally, be prepared to answer any inquiries about your service dog's tasks or the nature of your disability. While it is not obligatory to disclose personal medical information, offering a brief explanation can foster awareness and understanding among the airline staff and fellow passengers. In certain cases, airline staff may request to see your pet's paperwork, so ensure you have it readily available.

What do I need at check in?

When checking in at the airport, it is essential to plan for an early arrival to allow sufficient time for check-in and security procedures. It is crucial to inform the airline staff that you will be traveling with a service animal, as they will provide guidance throughout the necessary steps. While most airlines will allow your service dog to accompany you in the cabin, they may need to be harnessed or leashed during the flight.

Don't forget to pack all the essential items for your service dog, including food, water, and any required medications. To ensure your furry companion's comfort throughout the journey, it's a great idea to bring along a familiar blanket, thin bed, or toy.

Lastly, you'll need to bring all the necessary paperwork as required by your airline and destination country. Remember, these documents must be originals, so take care not to lose or pack them away! It's also wise to make copies of your dog's paperwork and keep them separate from the originals.

Where do service dogs sit on the plane?

Service dogs are typically allowed to sit in the foot area of the seat in front of you on the plane. However, it is important to remember that they should not block any aisles or areas that need to remain clear. It is also worth noting that when traveling with a service dog, you usually cannot reserve an exit row seat. Throughout the entire flight, your dog should be wearing a harness and should have some form of visible identification or sign that indicates their status as a service dog. For added safety, it is recommended to tie the harness or leash to your seatbelt.

In the event that your dog is too large to comfortably fit in the foot space in front of you, you may need to purchase an additional ticket to provide more space. When making your reservation, the airline will typically inquire about your pet's size, so be sure to confirm this with them.

What happens when me and my service dog land?

Upon arrival at your destination country, you may have the opportunity to independently navigate through customs. The helpful airline staff will direct you to the appropriate area for a seamless experience. However, if you are traveling to a country that requires advance approval for the presence of your service animal in the cabin, you can expect customs officials or quarantine staff to greet you and your loyal companion upon disembarking. The staff will handle all necessary import procedures for your pet. Once this process is successfully completed, you have the choice to take your beloved pet home with you or, if required, they may need to undergo a quarantine period.

By being well-prepared and informed about the requirements and paperwork needed for flying with a service animal, you can ensure a stress-free and enjoyable travel experience for both you and your furry family member.

**Photo by Frames For Your Heart on Unsplash

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