For many people, flying is a stressful process. Checking in at a busy airport, finding the right gate on time, and enduring a cramped flight can overwhelm anyone. For people who have a mental health disorder, the experience of traveling is especially anxiety-inducing. Having a psychiatric service dog (PSD) to assist you through the process and knowing what to expect when flying with a service dog can make all the difference.
Health and Safety When Flying With a PSD
Before making plans to fly with a psychiatric service dog, it’s essential to follow through on yearly checkups and vaccinations. Keep the paperwork from your service dog’s most recent checkup because you may need the documents should problems arise. In addition, you want to ensure your PSD is fit for flying to keep you, your service dog, and anyone around them safe.
Depending on your destination, your service dog may need additional vaccinations or documentation. Travel to Hawaii, for example, includes additional health requirements for all dogs — including psychiatric service dogs.
If you are interested in a Psychiatric Service Dog Letter, we can connect you with a licensed healthcare provider.
Notifying the Airlines
Airlines have different policies for service dogs, so it’s important to know the airline’s conditions for service dogs to fly. Some airlines allow you to notify them about your service dog right before your flight, while others ask for the information days ahead of time. Although it may seem inconvenient to notify the airlines that you’re flying with a psychiatric service animal, it helps make the experience more comfortable. Letting the airline know about your service dog well in advance gives them time to make the necessary accommodations for your flight.
Required Forms for Flying with a PSD
All airlines ask service dog owners to complete a U.S. DOT Service Animal Air Transportation Form. This document attests to the health, service dog training, and behavior of the service dog traveling with their handler. The form is available on the DOT or airline website or at airport ticket counters, or you can download a copy below.
An airline may also ask to complete a Service Animal Relief Attestation Form for flights lasting 8 hours or more. This form attests that a service dog will not relieve themselves on the flight or that the handler has a sanitary method to take care of any waste.
Checking In and In-Cabin Flight
Allow extra time when boarding or checking in when traveling with your service animal. U.S. airports have relief stations for dogs, so take advantage of them prior to a flight, no matter how long the flight will be. Also, provide ample exercise for your service dog before flying. This enables your dog to tolerate long flights in cramped environments much more readily.
Onboard Requirements for Service Dogs
As with all airlines, space is at a premium, and safety is paramount. Most airlines typically enforce the following:
- Service dogs may not protrude into the aisle or obstruct the exit of their handler or other customers.
- Handlers and their service dogs are not allowed in emergency exit seats.
- Carriers are safely stowed in designated under-seat areas when the airplane is taxiing, landing, or on take-off.
- Service dogs are typically not allowed to occupy a set or consume food off tray tables.
- If a service dog exhibits aggression, is disruptive, or poses a safety issue, the airline may ask that they travel as pets.
Laws that Protect Your Service Dog While Traveling
Two federal laws protect your right to fly with your psychiatric service dog:
- The Americans with Disabilities Act
- The Air Carrier Access Act
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) acknowledges that service dogs are not pets and are an active part of a person’s treatment for their disability. Unlike pets or emotional support animals, psychiatric service dogs undergo months or years of training to meet the needs of their handler.
The Air Carrier Access Act (ACA) allows people with a disability the right to travel with their service dogs. The airline fees and policies for pets do not apply to service dogs. However, a handler may incur fees if their service dog damages property.
Psychiatric Service Dogs and Traveling
Your psychiatric service dog is vital to your well-being, and they should accompany you on your travels. Understanding your rights, being prepared, and adhering to regulations help ensure that traveling with your psychiatric service dog will be smooth and worry-free.