Posts Tagged ‘air travel’

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

If you plan to fly with a service dog, there is one document you should be familiar with. In 2021, the U.S. Department of Transportation revamped its rules for assistance animals on flights. As a result, emotional support animals were banned on flights, but service dogs maintained their right to board flights as long as the passenger submits a new federal form to the airline before departure. 

If you own a service dog, you are allowed to board the cabin of flights free of charge and with an exemption from pet rules under U.S. air travel rules. That includes both service dogs that help with physical disabilities and psychiatric service dogs that help with mental health disabilities. 

In this article, we will review the DOT’s Service Animal Air Transportation Form and explain how to use it when flying with your service dog in the future. 

Basic Requirements

Before you consider completing the DOT’s Form, there are three essential requirements you must have fulfilled:

Have an eligible disability

To own a service dog, you must have an eligible physical or mental disability under ADA and ACAA rules. 

Have a task-trained service dog

You must have a dog that has been trained to perform one or more tasks relating to your disability.

Have a service dog trained for public settings

Your service dog must be capable of behaving at the airport and during the flight.

Read on below for more details on these three requirements. 

Information about the Owner and Animal 

The first part of the Service Animal Form asks for information about you and your service dog. In most cases, service dog owners will fill in their names as the “Handler” and leave the “User Name” blank. The “User Name” might be needed if the person transporting the service dog is different from the person who needs the dog for their disability. For example, a transporter may be taking a service dog on a flight to meet the dog’s new owner in another location. 

The Service Animal Form also asks for the dog’s name and weight. Note that service dogs are not subject to the same weight restrictions as pets on flights. A service dog can sit on the floor in your foot space as long as it does not encroach on the space of another passenger or the aisle. 

Animal Health Section 

This part of the Service Animal Form asks you to verify that your service dog has been vaccinated for rabies and does not have fleas, ticks, or a disease that would threaten other people or animals. 

You must also include your veterinarian’s name and phone number. The Service Animal Form notes that a signature from the veterinarian is NOT required. Your veterinarian’s contact is requested for informational purposes — you make the certifications about your service dog’s health. 

Disability and Training Requirement Section  Service Dog Owners Must Have a Disability 

The most important part of the Service Animal Form is the section that asks you to verify that your service dog has been trained to assist with a disability. By definition, a service dog must be fully trained to perform a job or tasks relating to a physical or psychiatric disability. 

The term “disability” is a legally defined term under federal disability and air travel laws. A disability includes physical conditions like visual impairment or compromised mobility and mental health conditions like severe depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder. Whatever the condition may be, it has to “substantially limit” at least one major life activity.

If you believe you may have a psychiatric disability, a licensed mental health professional is best qualified to evaluate whether you meet the eligibility requirements. If a licensed professional such as a therapist or doctor assesses that you have a disability, they can sign a PSD letter for you that puts their findings in writing.  

There are penalties and legal consequences for making misstatements on the Service Animal Form. That has caused some anxiety among service dog owners who previously have not been subject to any documentation requirements. For owners with “invisible disabilities,” a PSD letter can provide comfort knowing they have a documented, eligible disability. 

Service Dogs Must Be Fully Trained 

Whether it is a service dog for a physical or a psychiatric disability, a service dog cannot be considered a legal service animal until it is fully trained to perform tasks that assist with the handler’s disability. 

On the Service Animal Form, you must indicate who the trainer or training organization was. If you trained your service dog yourself, you would list yourself. The DOT has made clear you do not need a third-party trainer or organization to have a service dog. Many service dog owners train their dogs on their own without outside assistance, and the DOT recognizes this. 

Service Dogs Must Always Be Well Behaved 

In addition to being task-trained, service dogs must be trained to handle public settings without causing any disruptions. You must also verify on the Service Animal Form that your service dog has not behaved aggressively or caused serious injury to another person or dog. 

Other Assurance Section

The last part of the Service Animal Form asks you to confirm that your service dog will be harnessed, leashed, or tethered at all times at the airport and on the plane. You have to acknowledge that the airline may charge you for repairs if your service dog causes any damage on the plane. 

It’s important to recognize that there are consequences for not completing the form accurately. You must check the box acknowledging that you are signing an official U.S. DOT document which can subject you to fines if you knowingly make false statements. You must be truthful about your disability, and the level of service dog training your dog has achieved.   

Conclusion 

While at the airport, service dog owners should keep in mind that in addition to the Service Animal Form, there are a few other ways airport and airline staff can verify that you have a service animal

Airport and airline staff can verbally ask two questions:1. Is your service dog required because of a disability?, and2. What work or task has your dog been trained to perform?Note that they are not allowed to ask for specific details regarding your condition or for your service dog to demonstrate its task on command.  Staff can observe whether the service dog has been properly trained to be in a public setting or if it is disruptive.   Staff may be on the lookout for physical accessories, such as harnesses and vests, even though these are optional and not required by law.

The Service Animal Form may, at first glance, cause anxiety among service dog owners; after all, before the DOT’s rule changes, service dog owners were generally not accustomed to any type of documentation requirements. 

While the new form is a burden for service dog owners, individuals with eligible disabilities and properly trained service dogs should be able to complete the form and make the necessary representations easily. 

Widely known for its excellent customer service, Southwest Airlines is one of the most preferred airlines in the United States. If you’re one of their lucky customers and have a service dog, you’ll find that Southwest Airlines accommodates service dog owners exceptionally well. That said, you may still want to familiarize yourself with the Southwest Airlines service dog policy to ensure a smooth travel process. 

About Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airline’s award-winning customer service and employee satisfaction are what the company is known for. Southwest consistently ranks high on FORTUNE’s list of the World’s Most Admired Companies. The airline also lands routinely on J.D. Power’s top companies for customer service. As an employer, its remarkable dedication to employees ranks the company on the Forbes Best Employer list year after year. 

With this kind of reputation for excellence, you know you’ll be traveling with your service dog in comfort on Southwest. 

Laws that Protect Your Service Dog While Traveling

As with all US airlines, two federal laws protect you when traveling with your service dog: 

1. Americans with Disabilities Act 

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) sets service dogs apart from pets and protects the rights of people with disabilities. Unlike pets, service dogs undergo extensive training to perform specific tasks for people who have a disability

2. Air Carrier Access Act

The Air Carrier Access Act (ACA) enables people who have a disability to travel with their service dogs. The airline fees and regulations which apply to pets do not apply to service dogs. 

Although these laws exist, airlines may still request prior notification and documentation before flying with a service dog. Prior notice enables the airline to make the reasonable accommodations necessary to fly with a service dog. 

Before booking a flight on Southwest Airlines with your service dog get to know their service dog policy. How to Fly With Your Service Dog On Southwest Airlines

Pets, emotional support animals, and therapy animals do not qualify under the existing ACA laws. Because of those changes in federal regulations, Southwest only accepts trained service dogs for travel. 

Service dogs are individually trained to perform a task for a person with a disability and are welcome to fly the cabin with their handler. Southwest Airlines only recognizes dogs as service animals. Other non-canine service animals must fly as pets. 

Step 1: Booking a Flight 

When traveling with a service animal, Southwest allows customers to notify the airline in advance through the “Special Assistance” link, which is accessible through the Passenger & Payment page (when booking online) or by calling 1-800-I-FLY-SWA (1-800-435-9792) before the travel date. 

Step 2: Filling Out the Form

Southwest Airlines requires completing the U.S. DOT Service Animal Air Travel Form before flying with a service dog. If you purchase your ticket in advance, you must submit your form at least 48 hours in advance to Southwest.

U.S. DOT Service Animal Travel Form

The U.S. DOT Service Animal Air Travel Form attests to the health, training, and behavior of the service dog that is traveling. The U.S. DOT Service Animal Air Travel Form must be completed accurately and presented at the gate or ticket counter before boarding on the day of travel. The form is available on the Southwest Airlines website and at airports. 

Southwest Airlines requires a U.S. DOT Service Animal Form dated on the ticket purchase date or afterward. Be especially careful to thoroughly complete the form, as an incomplete form is grounds for denial of transport. Southwest does not allow you to replace the form by simply using an ID card, registration, or service animal vest.

Step 3: Arriving at the Airport 

At the airport, the individual traveling with the trained service dog must present the U.S. DOT Service Animal Air Travel Form to the ticket counter or gate agent. Keep in mind that the gate agent will not ask you to disclose your disability but may ask fact-finding questions as to what tasks your service dog performs. 

Step 4: Boarding and In-Flight

As with all airlines, space and safety are vitally important. The following regulations apply to service dogs while on-board: 

Individuals with service dogs may not sit in an emergency exit seat.  The service dog can not obstruct the exit of their handler or others in the event of an emergency.  If traveling with an animal carrier, the carrier must be safely stowed under the seat in front of the handler while the plane is taking off, landing, or taxiing.  A service dog may sit on the customer’s lap as long as the animal is no larger than two-year-old.  The service dog may not obstruct the aisle or occupy a seat.  The service dog may not consume food off the tray tables.  Service dogs who are disruptive, aggressive, or pose a safety or health issue may be asked to travel as pets.  Other Considerations When Flying with a Service Dog on Southwest

Some locations may have additional health regulations for dogs, so do check the animal requirements for your destination. In addition, all U.S. airports have animal relief stations available. Feel free to have your animal utilize a relief station before and after flying.

For more information on how to fly with a service dog on Southwest Airlines, take a look at the customer service site or call 1-800-I-FLY-SWA.