You are ready to board your plane for a well-deserved vacation, when you notice that there is a dog, on a leash, in the boarding line. What? A Dog? Flying with you in the cabin? Yes, that dog is a service dog or an emotional support animal, and has been cleared to fly by the airline.
There is not an official definition of what species can constitute a service animal or emotional support animal. The Department of Transportation, which overseas airline travel, has ruled out reptiles, ferrets, rodents, and spiders as creatures acceptable on flights. The Americans with Disabilities Act defines designated dogs and miniature horses as service animals, which are trained to assist the deaf or blind. The 1986 Air Carrier Access Act opened the door to a wide variety of animals that accompany disabled passengers who have a doctor’s note. However, individual airlines still have the final say as to whether a creature can fly with a disabled person, and can determine whether the animal creates a health or safety concern, or obstructs evacuation routes. Airlines are constantly updating and evaluating their policies as more and more passengers are testing the rules by trying to fly with unusual animals such as barnyard animals or exotic pets. Recently there have been news reports of a peacock and a pot belly pig trying to fly as emotional support animals. Neither were allowed to board. Always check with your specific airline as to their most recent guidelines for flying with service and emotional support animals before you plan your flight.
Most airlines require documentation confirming the safety and necessity of the animal at least 48 hours before departure. Rules differ for service animals and emotional support (or comfort) animals. Airlines require that all animals, support or service, have a veterinary health form or vaccination record confirming the safety and necessity of the animal.
In addition to the veterinary form, many airlines require the passenger to provide the following for emotional support animals:
- A letter signed by a doctor or licensed mental health professional stating the passenger’s mental or psychological need for the animal.
- A signed letter stating that animal is trained to behave without a kennel.
In most cases, the airlines will not allow unusual animals, such as peacocks, hedgehogs, sugar gliders, non-household birds, pot-belly pigs, and other animals with tusks or hooves, or animals that are not properly cleaned or those that smell.
Airlines also caution passengers flying with animals to be aware of different rules in other countries. Some countries require advance notice before an animal is allowed into the country, and some routinely quarantine animals for periods of time even if notified of the animal’s arrival ahead of time. Some countries, like Japan, require 40 days’ notice ahead of the arrival date. New Zealand will only allow service dogs, and will not permit emotional support animals. The Department of Transportation can tell you what you need to know to enter another country with a support animal.
Some tips for flying with service or emotional support animals include:
- Do not fly with large or heavy animals.
- Animals may be required to sit on the floor or in the owner’s lap.
- Call the airline ahead of time to ensure that you have followed all the airline’s rules, and that you have the correct documentation.
- Let the airline know you plan to fly with a service or emotional support animal so they will be prepared when you arrive to board the plane.
- Animals must behave. Airline staff will watch the animal’s behavior before boarding, and if there are any signs of threatening behavior, barking, or excessive physical behavior, the animal will not be allowed to board. If the animal makes other passengers or the flight crew uncomfortable, the airline can refuse to allow it to fly.
When you arrive at the airport with a service or emotional support animal, you and your service dog/animal will be screened by a walk through metal detector. You may walk through together, or you may lead the animal through separately on a leash. If the detector alarms, you and your animal will undergo additional screening. Once cleared through security, proceed to your gate for boarding.
If you need a service animal or emotional support animal to accompany you on your flight, be sure that you have notified the airline ahead of time and have the proper documentation. Flying with your animal does not need to be a hassle.
The Stilwell Law Firm handles all kinds of aviation questions and claims. Call the Stilwell Law Firm for your free consultation today: 713-931-1111 or 844-931-3111.