Traveling with a pet can be an extremely rewarding experience, both for you and for your furry friend. If you live with a disability and keep a service dog, don’t think that it’s impossible for you to travel. The ADA mandates that airlines accommodate for registered service dogs, so the process has become increasingly common, which for you, means increasingly doable.
Here are five tips to flying safely and stress-free with your service dog.
1. Consider the Travel Details
Where are you traveling? It makes a difference whether it’s a quick domestic flight or a drawn-out international flight involving multiple transfers. The hardest thing about traveling with a pet is making sure they won’t need to eat, use the bathroom, or get exercise for the duration of the trip. If you’re the proud owner of a healthy two-year-old German shepherd but really want to see Thailand, consider postponing until your dog’s a little older and more sedentary.
No matter the age of your service dog, you should make sure they have been exercised, fed, and made their bathroom trip as close to flight time as possible, to ensure an interruption-free trip.
2. Assess Your Dog’s Behavior
Certifying your animal as a service dog usually requires specialized training that factors in temperament and concentration. If your dog is a service dog, in other words, they are probably quiet, calm, and keep to themselves. That’s good.
Nearly every airline with guidelines on the subject requires that dogs don’t bite, bark, growl, jump, lunge, or act in any way aggressive or disruptive during the flight. Consider if there’s any kind of food, toy, or reassurance you can give your pup to ensure that.
3. Register Your Dog with the DOT
There are many different types of service dogs. Guide dogs for the blind and visually impaired, seizure assistance dogs for those with epilepsy, mental health service dogs for those who live with conditions like depression or PTSD, and more. As long as your dog is a certified service animal, and not an emotional support animal or therapy dog, they’re free to accompany you on board.
Most major airlines require a Department of Transportation Training and Attestation Behavior Form, submitted 48 hours prior to takeoff. This form simply certifies that your dog is healthy, well-trained, and will be properly leashed/caged, but you should always check with your specific airline. There is a wide range of liability releases they’ll ask you to sign on to that you’ll want to know about.
4. Know the Travel Requirements
Every airline has its own set of guidelines, and they’re all easily accessible with a single Google search. Make sure you download yours and follow them. For the most part, there will be overlap across every airline’s guidelines: your dog doesn’t have fleas, your dog has never bitten anyone, etc. These guidelines are easy to follow, but if you cross outside their bounds you may be subject to a serious fine.
Another thing to research is pet travel requirements at your specific destination. Some locations, like Hawaii, Auckland, New Zealand, and St. Vincent, and the Grenadines may impose a short-term quarantine on the pet upon arrival, where others might require you to register with the destination airport prior to landing.
5. Don’t Forget to Have Fun
Remember: this is a vacation, it should feel like the opposite of work. Don’t be intimidated by all the rules and regulations. Thousands of people travel with their service dogs every year, from across the country, to around the world. Airlines face serious consequences if they’re found to be discriminating against Americans with disabilities, thanks to the ADA.
Know your rights, and enjoy your flights.