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Flying with Your Service or Emotional Support Animal

Accessibility, Assistance Animals

By Sey In – Staff Attorney

It’s hot outside and what better way to escape the heat than to travel?  Here are some important tips you should know before flying with your service animal.

The Air Carriers Access Act (Act) is a federal law that explains your rights with service animals (including emotional support animals).  Please see Monday’s post for more information about the Act’s service animal definition.  However, the Act distinguishes between service animals that are emotional or psychiatric support animals in whether providing documentation may be required.

Service Animals

Airlines determine whether an animal is a service animal by using the following:

  • Credible assurances from you that the animal is a service animal. Explain what tasks the animal performs and how the animal performs the task.
  • Physical Markers such as harnesses, tags, or vests indicating the animal is a service animal.
  • Personnel can observe the animal’s behavior. If the animal is behaving aggressively or is not within your control, then the airline may refuse to allow the service animal to board.

Emotional or Psychiatric Support Animals

If your animal is an emotional support animal or a psychiatric service animal, the airline will likely ask you for documentation.  The documentation should:

  • Be less than a year old,
  • State that you have a mental or emotional disability as recognized in the DSM-5,
  • State that you need your animal because of your disability, and
  • It should be prepared by a licensed health care professional and should state the professional’s type of license and state the license was issued (usually, the professional’s letterhead will state this information)

At the Security Checkpoint

  • The Transportation Service Agency (TSA) states that you and your service animal will have to clear a walk-through metal detector.
  • If the metal detector alarms, then you and your service animal will be subject to a pat-down.
  • If the service animal alarms, you may not make contact with your animal except through leash.
  • You can walk through the metal detector together, or you can lead your service animal with a leash.
  • If your service animal takes medications, it must be cleared through X-ray or inspection screening. Notify the security officer that the medication is for your service animal.

Not all animals can fly.  Below are some restrictions that may apply:

  • When it comes to flying, service animals are generally dogs or cats. Exotic animals like snakes and spiders will likely be denied.
  • The service animal must fit comfortably in the area between your feet, or in your lap if it is safe to do so.
  • The service animal must not block the aisle.
  • The service animal must be in your control. This means curbing and should pose no threat to the health and safety of others.
  • If you have a long flight, ask the airline before your trip, where you should curb your animal. If you are waiting at an airport terminal, there are spots available to curb your animal. Sky Harbor Airport has nine animal relief areas located past security checkpoints. Tucson International airport has two animal relief areas located near the baggage carousels.  When traveling in other states, check out USA Service Animals state-by-state list of airport animal relief areas.

If you have a complaint or feel you have been discriminated against:

  • You should ask to speak to a Complaint Resolution Officer (CRO) first. The CRO can resolve the complaint on behalf of the airline, but cannot overrule the pilot if the pilot has determined there is a safety issue.
    • If the CRO agrees with you, then the CRO must give you a written summary of the facts and what steps the airline will take to resolve the issue
    • If the CRO determines there was no violation, the CRO must provide a written explanation either in-person, or within 10 days of the incident
  • You can contact the Air Travelers with Disabilities Hotline at 1-800-778-4838 (voice) or 1-800-455-9880 (TTY). They are available 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. EST, Monday-Friday, excluding federal holidays.
  • You can file a complaint with the airline. Every airline is required to have information on submitting complaints on their websites.
  • You can file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation if you feel that the airline did not satisfactorily resolve the complaint or if you feel that you have been discriminated against.

Other Tips

  • Foreign carriers traveling to and from the United States are only required to accept dogs and may have additional restrictions. Please check with the foreign carrier before flying because certain animals may not be allowed inside the country.
  • If your entire flight time, including stops and layovers, is over 8 hours, the airline may require 48-hour advance notification.

For more information about traveling with service animals (including emotional support animals), please check out this video by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Safe travels!

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