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« Cruise Ship Reservations; Cabin Selection | Main | Selecting an Airplane Seat »

Air Travel with a Service Animal

The Americans with Disabilities Act defines a service animal as “any animal trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability. These tasks include guiding people with impaired vision, pulling a wheelchair, or retrieving dropped items.” Additional assistance needs include: Dogs for the hearing impaired, for seizure responses, and for some emotional support problems. (Don’t forget that there are other service animal types, such as cats, pot-belly pigs, and monkeys. Since dogs are most prevalent as traveling companions, we will focus on them in this discussion.).

Remember to talk with the air carrier when making reservations. Explain your needs, and discuss seat assignment. One suggestion is to request a bulkhead seat. Dogs are expected to lie obediently at the passenger’s feet. Insist that the animal is not placed in a space where it will be cramped or stepped on by other passengers. A dog may not obstruct an exit row or aisle.

For a large animal, you may need a first class seat, or need to purchase a ticket for a second seat. Note: If an animal cannot be accommodated, you may have to take a later less crowded flight, or ship it as cargo. The US Air Carriers Access Act permits an airline to select a seat location where it can be accommodated.

Research foreign country’s regulations. The access of service animals in public places abroad may be limited. Some countries have religious beliefs and other concerns. For example: Taxi drivers or waiters in Muslim countries may refuse service. Dogs are to be caged when riding on public transportation in Greece. They will not be allowed in a museum in Turkey.

Tip: Contact the embassy of the nation of your destination to review rules about bringing a service animal into its country.

Prepare your service animal prior to flying. Visit the airport prior to flying, in order to get your service dog familiar to the sounds and smells.

Be prepared to take a day or more worth of food in your carry on luggage or in your dog’s pack. Use bottled water. Bring an extra leash. Take some sheets of paper towels as a precaution, as well as pick up bags. Take some small treats to reward your service animal for remaining calm.


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