Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

If you have ever wondered if you can take a service dog on an airplane, the answer is Yes. Unlike a pet rabbit or an emotional support cat, federal laws apply to service dogs while traveling. These laws protect service dog handlers because service dogs are trained to provide an essential service for someone with a disability. Whether it’s a mobility service dog, a psychiatric service dog, or an allergy detection service dog, all service dogs may fly with their handler.

A Service Dog is Not a Pet 

All dogs give their owners a warm, fuzzy feeling because dogs are adorable animals — their presence makes life a little brighter. A service dog, however, offers much more than a wagging tail and a face full of kisses. Service dogs receive extensive training to perform one or more tasks, making life easier and safer for their handlers. 

They offer their handlers a chance to experience life in ways that would otherwise be difficult — or even impossible — because of a disability. So, although a service dog may look like a pet, they are definitely not. Therefore, federal laws require airlines to recognize service animals as a part of the passenger’s life.

As service dogs are not pets, pet fees and most pet restrictions don’t apply to service dogs when traveling on an airplane. 

Service Dog Certifications

Service Dogs vs Emotional Support Animal 

The federal laws that apply to service dogs on an airplane are the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA). The ACAA explicitly protects people with special needs or disabilities when traveling. Under the ACAA, airlines must recognize service dogs on flights to, from, and throughout the U.S. Only service dogs apply to the law — other animal species performing a service for someone with a disability may fly if the airline chooses to allow it.

Unfortunately, emotional support animals (ESA) do not fall under the ACAA. Unless an airline makes an exception, they are not obligated by federal law to transport the ESA. If an airline offers an ESA exception, they may ask for an ESA letter to verify an animal’s status. 

Service dogs are the only animals that, by law, can fly with their owners in the cabin of an airplane. Flying with a Service Dog

To verify your service dog, the airline can’t ask about the nature of a handler’s disability, they may inquire whether the dog is necessary because of a disability and if the dog was task-trained to assist the disability. In essence, the two questions you want to be prepared to answer may sound like this:

Do you have a mental health disability? Has your dog been trained to perform tasks relating to that disability? 

Any questions regarding the details of the disability or requests for a demonstration of the trained tasks are not allowed and are considered a breach of your privacy.

Airlines may request the following documents and may refuse a service animal if the forms are incomplete: 

A United States DOT Service Animal Air Transportation Form attesting to the dog’s health, behavior, and training. For more information on how to fill out the form, read hereA United States DOT Service Animal Relief form attesting that the dog can relieve itself in a sanitary manner on flights that are 8 hours or longer. 

Airlines may only request additional documentation to comply with transportation requirements for a foreign jurisdiction, a U.S. territory, or other federal agencies. An airline can’t refuse a service dog because other customers feel uncomfortable, but they can deny it because it’s disruptive. 

When Can an Airline Refuse a Service Dog?

Airlines can refuse the most well-behaved service dog if the required federal documents aren’t completed before boarding. To ensure that the correct records are completed, fill them out correctly before traveling and make copies to have on hand.

Download the DOT Form – Service Animal Air Transportation Form (pdf) here.

The following are other factors to keep in mind while traveling with your service dog: 

For safety reasons, service dogs must not block the aisle or emergency exit.  A service dog may safely sit on their owner’s lap if they’re small enough.  An airline may refuse a service dog if it doesn’t meet the criteria for safety, like if the service dog is too large or heavy for the cabin. An airline may refuse a service dog if it is a disruption or a direct threat to others.  Traveling Outside the U.S. With a Service Dog

Whether for business or pleasure, people with service dogs may find themselves traveling outside of the U.S. If so, the service dog handler must comply with the destination country’s health regulations. Failure to meet the country’s laws may result in a refusal from the airline. 

Tips on Flying With Your Service Dog  Take your service dog for a run before boarding the plane. Allowing your service dog to stretch their legs and relapse their energy can make flying less stressful for you and your service animal.  Find the nearest relief station before boarding. Airports in the U.S have relief stations for pets. Some relief stations are small and simple; others are elaborate and artful — they all get the job done. Before flying, offer your dog time at a relief station, especially if the flight is long. Have an emergency kit on hand — the kind for “toilet emergencies.” Even the most well-trained service dogs could have “an accident“ at one time or another. Carrying the proper tools for cleaning saves time and effort — and reduces some embarrassment.  Conclusion

You can fly with your service dog, but remember to (1) complete the required paperwork, (2) be aware of the questions others may and can ask and be prepared to give appropriate answers, and (3) keep an emergency kit with you. Proper planning makes all the difference when traveling on an airplane with your service dog. 

If you’re flying with a psychiatric service dog (PSD) for the first time, you may feel anxious, confused, ashamed, hesitant, or all of the above. That’s completely understandable. Flying with a psychiatric service dog for the first time can be intimidating, and it doesn’t help that the new travel rules for service dogs are tricky to understand. You may also need your PSD for a phobia or anxiety/panic disorder, and the uncertainty about what to expect doesn’t help. 

In this article, we’ll tell you about:

what you need to do to fly with your psychiatric service dog; what your privacy rights are; what airline staff can ask and what they cannot ask; and  what to expect the first time going to an airport with a psychiatric service dog. 

Once you know your rights and are familiar with PSD travel rules, you’ll be able to fly with your PSD confidently and without any surprises.  

1. The Basics: Does Your Dog Qualify as a Psychiatric Service Dog?

Before you take any steps to fly with your psychiatric service dog, you’ll want to ensure your dog meets the legal criteria for being a service dog. If you’re already confident that you meet these qualifications, you can move on to the next section. 

There are two basic criteria to qualify for a psychiatric service dog: 

Do you have a mental health disability? Has your dog been trained to perform tasks relating to that disability?  Is your mental or emotional health condition a disability? 

Many potential conditions can qualify for a psychiatric service dog. PSD owners suffer from disorders like depression, severe anxiety, phobias, PTSD, bipolar disorder, autism, learning disorders, and panic disorders. If your mental health condition substantially limits at least one major life activity like sleeping, working, socializing, or going to school, you may have a disability that requires a service dog. 

Still unsure? That’s okay; a licensed mental health professional should evaluate whether you meet the criteria. Some professionals offer signed PSD letters that will document your condition. This is especially helpful since you must self-certify that you have a “disability” on a federal form when you travel (more on that later).  

Is your dog properly trained? 

You don’t get to enjoy the benefits of being a service dog owner until your dog is fully trained. It must be trained to perform at least one task relating to your disability. Psychiatric service dogs can be versatile and take care of a lot of issues for their owners. A few examples:

Remind their owner to take medication or perform a daily task. Interrupt sleep terrors.  Disrupt self-destructive habits or dissociative episodes.  Provide a calming effect by pawing, licking, nudging, hugging, or using pressure during moments of crisis, anxiety attacks, or panic attacks. Provide a buffer or perimeter around their owner in triggering situations. 

Your PSD must also be trained to perform while being out in public. Your service dog should ideally have passed a public access test. Airports and flights can be stressful environments for dogs, and the noise, children, and other commotion can distract or scare them. You should be confident that your dog won’t jump on anyone, growl aggressively, relieve itself in inappropriate areas or run around uncontrolled. 

2. What to Do During Booking and Before the Flight

If you’re flying with a psychiatric service dog to or from the U.S., there is only one document you need to fill out. All airlines accept the Department of Transportation’s Service Animal Air Transportation Form as proof that you have a psychiatric service dog. 

Once you successfully submit this form, you can bring your dog into the cabin free of charge. They can sit on the floor or on your lap if they’re small enough. Larger psychiatric service dogs are allowed as long as they fit in your foot space. 

The DOT Form requires you to self-certify that: 

(i) you have a disability that requires a trained psychiatric service dog,(ii) your dog will be under your control at all times and(iii) your service dog has not exhibited aggressive behavior. 

The DOT Form also requires information on your service dog’s trainer and veterinarian, which may be confusing: 

You may be your service dog’s trainer. The DOT clearly states that you do not need a third-party trainer or organization. If you trained your psychiatric service dog on your own, as many people do, you can put yourself down as the trainer along with your phone number. It is very common for psychiatric service dog owners to self-train their dogs in the privacy of their homes.  Your veterinarian information is for reference only. You need to list your veterinarian and indicate when your dog was vaccinated for rabies. However, your veterinarian does not need to sign the form. The only person that signs the form is you, the service dog owner. 

When booking, most airlines have an option to make a special request for disability accommodation. You can also make this request when booking by phone. After booking your flight, your airline will share a link or an email address to submit your completed DOT Form. 

Download the DOT Form – Service Animal Air Transportation Form (pdf) here.

Make sure you submit the form at least 48 hours before departure. If you book a flight within 48 hours, you can submit the form to an airline agent when you arrive at the airport. You will need to submit the form each time you book a flight (if you book a roundtrip flight, you can submit the form once). Some airlines may even keep your DOT Form on file for a year and give you an ID number that you can use for future bookings. 

3. What to Expect at the Airport  

Once you’re at the airport, you should check in with an airline agent and let them know your psychiatric service dog is with you. You should carry a copy of the DOT Form with you or on your phone in case they ask for it. The airline agent will check to make sure your DOT Form was properly completed and may also assess your dog (i.e., is it exhibiting any aggressive behavior, is it clean, or does it bark excessively). 

Once you check in, you can proceed through security to your gate with your psychiatric service dog by your side. Be sure to have your dog on a harness, leash, or tether. You should not have your dog roaming off-leash even if it is capable of doing so. 

Some items you should bring with you to the airport: Copy of the completed DOT Form A harness, leash, or tether. A pet carrier if your psychiatric service dog is small and prefers this (otherwise, they are free to sit on the floor or on your lap).  Snacks and a portable water dish for your service dog.  Your service dog’s favorite comfort item, like a blanket or toy.  Pads and wipes in case your dog has an accident. 

You may also want to use service dog accessories like ID cards, tags, vest, and harnesses. These items help inform other passengers that you are accompanied by a working animal and not a regular pet. They can also help airline staff identify your dog as a service animal. Many PSD owners like these accessories because they do not have to verbally inform people that they have a service dog.

When flying with your PSD for the first time, make sure you and your service dog are prepared for the process and the experiences at the airport. 4. What Someone Can and Cannot Ask About Your Service Dog 

Once you’re at the airport, you might be concerned about the attention you get by having a dog at your side. Many psychiatric service dog owners suffer from social anxieties or phobias and don’t like receiving additional attention from strangers. Fortunately, disability laws protect both your right to privacy and dignity.

If a fellow passenger asks questions about your health or your service dog’s function, you can choose not to respond. They have no right to question you about your need for a psychiatric service dog. It’s rare to encounter people like this, but if you do, just realize that they’re inappropriate, and you can choose to disregard them.

If an airline agent or flight staff asks to verify your psychiatric service dog, they are legally limited to two questions: 

Is your service dog required because of a disability?

You just need to answer yes or no; there is no need to reveal anything about your mental health condition. Privacy laws protect that information.

What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?

You would just give the basics on what tasks your service dog performs. No one has the right to ask your dog to demonstrate the task. 

Most psychiatric service dog owners need their dogs to perform tasks during their most vulnerable moments or in response to a traumatic or triggering event. It would be awful for anyone to require a psychiatric service dog owner to mimic these conditions. It would also be potentially traumatizing to do this in front of strangers. Air travel disability laws fully recognize this, and no one has the right to make your dog perform its task as proof that it has been task trained. 

5. Additional Tips for Flying with Your Psychiatric Service Dog 

If you’re flying with your psychiatric service dog for the first time, here are some additional tips to help calm your worries:

Remember, your right to be accompanied by a psychiatric service dog is protected by federal law. Most airline employees and passengers are understanding of this and like seeing well-behaved dogs on flights. There’s no need to feel ashamed or embarrassed about your needs.  Give your psychiatric service dog a chance to get a lot of exercise before a flight. That will help your service dog work off any excess energy and may help them sleep during the flight.  Many airports have relief areas for pets. Research this in advance if you’re worried about your service dog having an accident.  Make sure your service dog is prepared to sit on the floor or in your lap during the entire flight. Even if there’s an open seat next to you or space in the aisle, the airline will not let your dog rest in those places.  Bring plenty of treats to give positive reinforcement for your service dog’s first time on a plane. 

Remember that you have a right to privacy. Airline staff can only ask you two questions (as mentioned above), and other passengers don’t have the right to ask intrusive questions. In particular, owners of psychiatric service dogs often suffer from traumatic histories, and talking about their issues can be triggering – no one has a right to interrogate you about your mental health. 

Just like everyone else, service dog owners will stay at a hotel every so often. When they do, they can bring their service dogs with them for the duration of their stay. No matter how extravagant or simple the hotel is, the service dog must be allowed to remain with its owner as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The ADA defines a service animal as any animal trained to provide help to an individual with a disability. Their assistance allows an owner to perform a task that they are unable to perform themselves. Therefore, service animals are not pets because they serve a specific and essential medical function. 

Service dogs may accompany their owners wherever they go. Due to this right, federal regulations let service dogs into public areas, like hotels. Hotels aren’t permitted to decline the presence of a service dog within their business, even with a “no pets” policy in place—hotel’s pet policies do not apply to service dogs. 

What Questions Can a Hotel Ask?  

If a service dog’s function isn’t immediately apparent, like a guide dog, employees may only ask the dog owner two questions:

Is your dog a service dog? If your dog is a service dog, what service does it provide?

It’s against federal regulations for hotel employees to ask for any proof, like a certificate or license. Due to privacy laws regarding health and disabilities, employees aren’t allowed to inquire about the service dog owner’s qualifying disability

Most hotel employees are aware of ADA and service dog regulations. However, some staff may be unfamiliar, ask too many questions, or behave inappropriately. If this occurs, a dog owner can politely ask to speak to their supervisor.

Can a Hotel Make Limitations Regarding Your Hotel Experience?

Hotels cannot isolate service dogs and their owners from other guests or restrict them to certain rooms.

ServiceDogCertifications.com

A hotel isn’t allowed to restrict a service dog owner from amenities that other customers can access. For example, the restaurant areas of a hotel should be accessible to a service dog and it’s owner. Shopping areas and hotel grounds should also be open to service dog owners.

Can a Hotel Charge Extra Fees for Having a Service Dog?

Hotels are not allowed to charge fees for a service animal that guests without a service animal don’t have to pay.

ServiceDogCertifications.com

A hotel can’t charge a fee that wouldn’t apply to patrons without a service dog. For example, a hotel may charge for the repairs for damages incurred by a service dog. However, those same fees would also apply if a non-disabled person would be charged for the same damages. 

Hotel owners should think of a service dog as an extension of a person’s effort to overcome a disability, rather than an animal. It would be wrong to charge a person with a disability a fee for their cane or wheelchair; thus, the same applies to a service dog. 

When Can a Hotel Limit or Refuse Services Due to a Service Dog?

Hotels can refuse customers whose service dog behaves aggressively or becomes disruptive.

ServiceDogCertifications.com

There’s a reason why service dogs undergo extensive training. Poor behavior by a service dog can compromise their ability to do their job. These dogs are around the public more than other dogs and, and need to be safe at all times. 

If a service dog growls or barks at other customers, the hotel can ask the owner to remove the service dog from the premises. 

Hotels may also refuse entry to a service dog in sterile settings. For example, a medical area where surgery is performed can be considered a location where a service dog isn’t allowed. 

What is a Service Dog Owner’s Responsibility in a Hotel?

The hotel employees aren’t obligated to care for the service dog. The dog’s needs have to be met by its owner. Feeding, exercising, grooming, and toileting the dog is the owner’s responsibility. 

A service dog needs to be under the owner’s control throughout the entire stay. The dog should always have a leash or a harness unless it interferes with its tasks. The employees and guests aren’t allowed to feed, pet, or play with the service dog. Also, service dogs should be in the presence of their owner at all times. Leaving a service dog alone in a hotel room can endanger hotel staff and put the legitimacy of the service in question.

When visiting a hotel the service animal needs to be under the supervision of the owner at all times. Visiting Hotels with Your Service Dog 

When staying at a hotel with your service dog be firm but courteous towards the hotel employees and other guests. Recognizing a service animal might be difficult at first. The ADA doesn’t require service dogs to be registered or have a certificate. However, having the appropriate documentation on hand can reduce the need for clarification between service dog owners and hotel employees. Registering a service dog can help make fulfilling their task easier for you and them. 

If initially there is tension between a hotel employee and a service dog owner, it’s best to remain calm and explain the legal rights of service dog ownership. Bad experiences in the past may have shaped the employee’s views. Setting a good example and presenting a well-trained service animal may help overcome any disagreements left in the room.