Flying can be stressful! Who wouldn’t love the companionship of their furry friends to help them cope with travel-induced anxiety? The “hurry up and wait” environment of an airport can bring out the worst in people. Some airports recognize this and often provide therapy dogs through the airport to help passengers. Until just a few months ago, travelers have enjoyed the ability to bring Emotional Support Animals on board an airplane with them at no extra charge. Earlier this year, however, the US Department of Transportation (DOT) introduced new rules regarding which animals can fly onboard a plane and how.
Through the beginning of 2021 flying with Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals was allowed on most major airlines with few restrictions. However, some passengers were getting a little wild with their requests and choice of Support Animals! Passengers tried passing off all manner of poorly trained animals as “Support Animals.” People attempted to fly with a variety of animals from peacocks to pigs claiming that they were Emotional Support Animals when they likely were not. Though it was unwelcome news for ESA owners, the DOT received an overwhelming number of complaints. Additionally, airlines frequently experienced problems with these “Support Animals” ranging from nuisances to other passengers, foul smells, and relieving themselves in the aisle to serious safety concerns such as uncontrolled and aggressive behavior. Given the frequency that this was happening the Department of Transportation responded with new rules regarding Emotional Support Animals.
The US Department of Transportation responded by implementing Federal Regulations that ban Emotional Support Animals from flights. Service Dogs, including Psychiatric Service Dogs, are still protected and can fly with their owners with the proper forms. (We’ll review the forms below!)
The Department of Transportation lists the new rules as follows:
Definition of Service Animals: Under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) a service animal means a dog, regardless of breed or type, that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Animal species other than dogs, emotional support animals, comfort animals, companion animals, and service animals in training are not service animals.
To break it down further:
● It defines a service animal as a dog (not another species) with individual training to work or perform tasks for a person with a disability.
● Emotional support animals are no longer considered service animals.
● Recognizes psychiatric service animals and requires that they be treated as service
● Requires that handlers submit a form (at least 48 hours before the flight) with
information pertaining to the animal’s behavior and health.
● Reinforced the rule that airlines cannot deny transport of a service animal based on
The short answer is: YES! Emotional Support Animals can travel as pets if they meet the requirements of your airline.
General requirements for an animal to fly as a pet with Air Carriers:
● Your pet may count as your carry on (depending on the airline)
● You pay the carry-on fee/any applicable fees that apply
● Animals must be in a pet carrier or kennel for the duration of the flight and must always
stay inside their kennels
● The combined weight of the animal and kennel cannot exceed 20 lbs
● Many airlines limit the travel of pets to cats and dogs that meet the requirements above
Before making travel arrangements to fly with your Emotional Support Animal, be sure to check with your preferred airline regarding their Pet Policies. The key to traveling with any type of animal whether it is a pet or service animal is advance notice. There are rules that govern the number of animals that can be in the cabin inside of an airplane during flights.
Emotional Support Animals must fly as pets. However, a Psychiatric Service Dog or Service Dog is allowed to fly in the cabin free of charge with this form. Typical size and weight limit rules that apply to pets do not apply to service dogs.
The new Department of Transportation Form standardizes the information that airlines collect to accommodate Service Dogs. In some cases, the new form requests more information than before and thus has brought with it some confusion. Once you know your way around the form, it is simple. We’ll break it down section by section here to help make it easier for you to fill out.
Click here for the Department of Transportation’s Service Animal Air Transportation Form
This section of the form asks for basic information regarding both the service dog owner as well as the service dog itself.
● List the name of both the handler and the “user” of the service dog. For most, the name of the handler and “user” will be the same person. There may be instances where the handler and user may be different, so two names are required. For example, someone helping to transport a service dog on a flight to its owner.
● You will need to provide a description of your service dog, including its weight and name.
● You do not need to submit a photo or carry ID around for your service dog.
● You must confirm that your service dog has been vaccinated for rabies and will need to provide the date of the last/current vaccination.
● You will need to verify that your service dog would not endanger other people or animals and is free of fleas, ticks, or other diseases.
● You will need to provide the name of your service dog’s veterinarian and their telephone number. The veterinarian does not need to sign the form.
A disability eligible for a service dog can be physical or mental/emotional. It must substantially limit one or more major life activities. A licensed mental health professional can assess if you meet the criteria for mental health disability.
● Physical disabilities may include visual impairment, seizures, mobility challenges, etc.
● Psychiatric disabilities may include crippling depression, anxiety, PTSD, bipolar disorder,
Again, it’s important to be honest with the information submitted on this form. You should never fake a service dog! There are consequences for falsifying federal documents filed with the Department of Transportation.
With this new definition, service dogs must be trained to perform a task or work duties related to the owner’s disability.
Some tasks that service dogs help with are serving as a guide to the hearing or visually impaired, monitoring seizures, providing diabetic alerts (with their owner’s blood sugar changes) or even moving a wheelchair.
Tasks performed by psychiatric service dogs include: Deep Pressure Therapy, providing comfort during moments of panic or anxiety, interrupting negative behaviors, reminding owners to take prescription medication and navigating crowds, and preventing triggering events.
The DOT Form asks for the name of the animal’s trainer. Many owners opt to train their own dogs. The regulations say that you do not need a third-party trainer or organization. Dog owners need not have special certifications or training, you only need to state that your dog has been fully trained.
Your service animal cannot roam free. It must be harnessed, leashed, or tethered at all times while at the airport and during the flight. You must also acknowledge that if your service dog causes any damage, the airline can charge you for any repairs. Finally, you must acknowledge that you are signing an official DOT document.
If your flight will last more than 8 hours, you will also need to submit this Department of Transportation’s Service Animal Relief Attestation Form (AKA: the Relief Form).
This form is pretty simple! Basically, the airline needs to know that your dog either 1) will not relieve themselves on the airplane OR 2) your dog can relieve itself without creating an unsanitary environment.
If you select the second option, you will need to back up your claim by describing how your dog will relieve itself without creating a health and sanitation issue (i.e. Using a doggie diaper).
And finally, the Relief Form requires your confirmation that you will be held accountable for any charges to cover damages caused by your service dog.
Airports have designated service dog relief areas for your pup! You can make a pit stop there to help your dog make it the entire flight without needing a potty break. This is especially helpful to passengers with service animals with long layovers! Ask a customer service agent at the airport for the location of any relief stations at the airport.
Once you submit the completed DOT form to the airline, you are ready to fly! You are not required to show further documentation. For round-trip flights, you only need to complete the DOT form one time.
Keep a copy of your completed DOT form with you during your travel. It’s important to note that, once at the airport or during travel, the airline is not permitted to request further documentation. The Americans with Disabilities Act protects passengers with disabilities – the line of questioning cannot be embarrassing or further traumatizing. As a service dog owner, you have a right to privacy. You do not have to give specifics about your condition, and you also do not have to have your dog demonstrate the tasks that they are trained to perform.
If the customer service agent at check-in or other airline representatives have questions regarding the legitimacy of your service dog, they are trained to verify its eligibility in the following ways:
They can ask these clarifying questions:
1. If your service dog is required because of a disability.
2. What work or task(s) your dog is trained to perform.
3. Look for physical indicators: vest, harness, tether, etc.
4. Observe the behavior of the animal (is it aggressive, does it display disruptive behavior,
or is it well behaved?)
Their main goal with these observations is to determine if the pet is trained and can behave in a public setting.
For international travel destinations, you are subject to the travel requirements of that foreign country for service animals. Before you travel, check to ensure that the country you are traveling to makes allowances for service animals and any specific requirements to enter and exit the country legally.
If you feel you have encountered a problem while traveling with your Service Dog or believe that you experienced unlawful or discriminatory treatment regarding your disability you would first want to make the air carrier aware and give them a chance to try to resolve the situation. Airlines are required to make a Complaints Resolution Official or CRO available to you during operating hours to resolve any disability accommodation issues.
If your complaint with the airline is not resolved in a satisfactory manner you can file a consumer complaint with the US DOT.
Due to the new Department of Transportation (DOT) policy, Emotional Support Animals are NO longer allowed to fly in airplane cabins for free. However, Psychiatric Service Dogs are eligible.
The benefits of an Emotional Support Animal certification and a Psychiatric Service Dog certification are drastically different. Fortunately for you, American Service Pets’ network of active board certified doctors can help you find the right path to certification. To find out whether you need an ESA or PSD letter, take our easy, three-step Pet Owner Survey!
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