Flying with Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals:
Everything You Need To Know
|Flying with a Service Dog||Travel to Hawaii|
|Step by Step: At the Airport||Travel to the UK|
Flying with a Service Dog or ESA
If you have a service dog or an emotional support animal (ESA) registered with National Service Animal Registry (NSAR), our service animal documentation, and the dog is wearing service-appropriate apparel, then making reservations and taking your service dog or ESA with you in the cabin of the aircraft will be a simple, low stress experience. ALL airlines are bound by the same rules: The Air Carrier Access Act of 1986.
Essentially, all domestic airlines are required by federal law to allow a service or emotional support animal to accompany their disabled handler inside the cabin of the aircraft, except when the size of the dog is prohibitive. Some airline websites aren't as obvious as others to find service dog and ESA policies, such as Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air, which, at first glance, address only vision and hearing related assistance animals. You must scroll down and find a specific link for "Travelling with service animals" (or similar) to read about service and emotional support animals.
Although airline representatives are not allowed to ask you for official documentation of your need for a service dog (a physician's letter, etc.), a handler with an emotional support animal WILL need a letter from a licensed mental health professional that prescribes an ESA before being allowed in the cabin of the aircraft. Airline requirements for these letters are very stringent and very specific. To find out more about these letters of prescription, click here.
Click a link for specific Service Animal info
It is unlawful for airlines to charge a fee for a service animal or ESA.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) allows for Service dogs and emotional support animals to travel in the cabin of the aircraft as long as the dog does NOT obstruct an aisle or any other area used for emergency evacuations.
Although general in-flight rules will always be enforced by every airline company, the processes of actually making reservations, passing the ticket counter, baggages check in, security checkpoint, and gate may vary slightly, depending on the airline and airport. By reviewing the websites for individual airlines, you'll learn most of their guidelines, including that all request and require service dog and ESA identification and identifying apparel (see Airline Links on this page).
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Step By Step: What To Expect At the Airport
- Flying with a service animal or ESA for the first time can be very anxiety producing, but in reality, the experience is actually easy and low-stress for prepared handlers. It is a very good idea to contact the airlines or consult their website a week or more before the flight (or at the time tickets are purchased) to find out what the requirements are for flying with a service animal or ESA. Most airlines now require advance notification and some, like Frontier and Midwest Airlines require special forms to be completed, in addition to the letter of prescription.
- At the airport and on the plane, the animal should wear a solid color harness or vest (NSAR recommends red, although there is no standard color), service animal patches, and a photo ID clipped to the leash or harness. All airlines strongly encourage this because it makes identifying your dog as a service dog or ESA much easier and will prevent unnecessary confrontations (this is also true for all other settings in which you may be accompanied by your dog).
- When you arrive at the ticket or baggage check-in counter, make sure the airline representative is aware of the service animal/ESA. Airline personnel have typically seen and managed many passengers with service animals, and have a specific process they must follow before a passenger with a service dog can proceed without delays.
- First, you'll be asked questions to determine if the animal is a working service dog or an ESA. If the animal is a working service dog, the airline representative will ask what task your dog is trained to perform for you because of your disability. You, as the passenger, must be able to provide credible verbal evidence at this point (that means you need to be prepared to convincingly tell airport personnel what task your dog performs specific to your disability. We can assist you with appropriate verbiage once you have registered with NSAR).
- If the animal is an emotional support animal (ESA), then you must tell the airline representative that the dog is an ESA. You will be required to produce a formal letter of prescription for a service dog or ESA from a licensed mental health professional. A letter from your medical doctor will NOT be accepted, as the letter must be written by a licensed mental health professional (psychiatrist, psychologist, therapist, counselor, social worker). There is no way around this. In addition, it is becoming increasingly common for airlines to require you to submit a copy of this letter several days prior to the flight. Click here to find out more about a letter of prescription. Some airlines (Midwest and Frontier, for example) actually require you to have your therapist or licensed mental health professional complete one of their third party verification forms. If you don't have a therapist, click here.
- Once you're on your way to the boarding gate, the next step is to pass through the security checkpoint. This is easy, and your dog may walk or be carried through the scanner with you, but the dog's leash, collar, harness, or anything else with metal in or on it must be removed prior to going through. Once through, the dog can get dressed again and you'll be on your way to the gate. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officer may also ask about your dog, but it's just a formality.
- Having arrived at the boarding gate, it's a good idea to let the attending airline personnel know that you are being accompanied by your service dog or ESA, although it isn't required. Often, they will allow you to board first and be seated ahead of others out of convenience for you, as well as other passengers.
- Once you have boarded the aircraft, most airline policies state that your dog must be on the floor between your knees and the seat in front of you. Most of the time, however, flight attendants rarely seem to mind if small a service dog or ESA sits on your lap.
Travel to Hawaii
Travelling to Hawaii is easy, but it's very complicated to get out of the airport because Hawaii is allowed some autonomy when it comes to service animals (Emotional support animals are not recognized as service animals by Hawaii).
A handler can easily fly to Hawaii, but they will NOT be allowed beyond the Airport Animal Quarantine Holding Facility unless they are able to present reinforcing documentation that their service animal has conformed to a long list of stringent requirements. Emotional Support Animals are NOT recognized as service animals by Hawaiian authorities. The following information is from the state of Hawaii Dept. of Agriculture website:
Key Points for Qualifying As a Service Dog or An Exempted Guide Dog
The dog must have current rabies vaccination. (Documentation of the vaccination must include the product name, the lot or serial number, and the expiration date of the lot.)
- The dog must have an electronic microchip implanted for identification.
- Prior to arrival the dog must have passed one OIE-FAVN test after 12 months of age, with a level of 0.5 I.U. rabies antibody or greater. The laboratory will not perform the tests unless the microchip number accompanies the test request form. A passing test result is valid for three (3) years.
- The dog must have a standard health certificate issued not more than 30 days prior to arrival in Hawaii.
- For a service dog, there must be a physician's statement which certifies as to the disability, and that the service dog provides assistance having to do with that disability and documentation of training, or a certificate of training as a service dog by a training program accredited by Assistance Dogs International, Inc., or a service dog training program with equally rigorous administrative, operational and training standards.
- To prevent delays on arrival, it is strongly advised that all required documents be sent to the Rabies Quarantine Branch well ahead of your intended arrival date. Information can be mailed to the Animal Quarantine Station, 99-851 Halawa Valley Street, Aiea, HI 96701 or faxed to (808) 483-7161. Staff may be contacted by telephone (808) 483-7151 or (808) 837-8092 or e-mail: email@example.com to assist your with preparations.
- The Rabies Quarantine Branch must receive notification at least 24 hours in advance of arrival information and location where the dog will be staying. Information can be faxed to 808-483-7161.
- On arrival in Hawaii, the dog must be brought by the airline to the Airport Animal Quarantine Holding Facility for verification of compliance with the above requirements and examination of the dog for external parasites. If all is in order, the dog will be released at that point.
- Qualified Guide dog and Service dog users may request inspection in the terminal at Honolulu International Airport between the hours of 8:00 am and 4:00 pm, by notifying the Rabies Quarantine Branch 7 days or more before arriving. In these cases, a "Notice of Terminal Inspection" with tracking number will be issued and sent to the user. To avoid confusion and delays, this Notice must be presented to airline representatives upon arrival in Hawaii. After inspection, if all is in order, the dog will be released.
If you have questions, please contact:
Travel to the United Kingdom (UK)
Because of the strict procedures and rules governing service and emotional support animals in the United Kingdom, if you intend to travel with a service animal you must obtain a preapproval letter from DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), a UK government agency. The preapproval process for transporting service animals to the UK can take two or more months.
Click here to visit the DEFRA website for more information about requirements and procedures for taking animals into the UK, or contact DEFRA by phone: +44 0 20 7238 6951 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. UK time (Please note: Before dialing the number above, you must first enter the international direct dialing code. In the United States and Canada, this code is 011).
The UK requires that a service animal is PETS-compliant. A service animal is PETS-compliant when the passenger can demonstrate that the animal meets the UK's animal health requirements for entry into the UK (i.e., it has an embedded microchip ID, it has had a rabies vaccination, a rabies anti-bodies blood test no earlier than 6 months prior to the animal's entry into the UK, and treatment against certain parasites), and possesses either a European Union (EU) pet passport or a third country official veterinary certificate documenting that these health requirements have been met. Under PETS, only dogs, cats and ferrets that meet these requirements may be transported into the UK from outside the EU without a six (6) month quarantine upon arrival.
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Other International Travel
Many countries restrict the entry of animals. Restrictions vary by country, and if you're considering travel with your service dog, you should contact the appropriate embassy or consulate at least 4 - 6 weeks before departure to make sure that all necessary procedures are followed.