Flying With Comfort Animals

Posted by Annette 06/21/2018 0 Comment(s)

Flying with your service or comfort animal provides for less turbulence (figuratively) when you are prepared.


Continuing our discussion of emotional support animals and how the rules differ for these animals vs. service animals, we want to dive into airline travel.  This is another area that may deal you some frustrations if you are not prepared when you arrive at the airport.  Let’s take a look at what your high-flying pets have in store.



Em”bark” on the Journey


The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) defines “service animal” more broadly than the Americans with Disabilities Act.  According to the ACAA:  “a service animal is any animal that is individually trained or able to provide assistance to a person with a disability; or any animal that assists persons with disabilities by providing emotional support.”   Though service dogs and comfort animals are lumped into one category in this initial definition, the rules after that align more closely with the Americans with Disabilities Act.  One difference you will find is that a service dog will not require advanced notice to fly, although it is a really good idea to give your airline the “heads-up.”  Airlines may require 48 hours’ notice from passengers travelling with a psychiatric service animal or comfort animal.  They may also ask the same type of questions of you that HUD lays out in the Fair Housing Act (see last blog.)  Documentation will most likely also be required for the admittance of psychiatric service/emotional support animals.  Call your airline to ask about specifics; but you should be prepared with:


  • Documentation from your mental health provider or physician stating you have been diagnosed within the past year with a disability recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)
  • That you need the animal as accommodation for the flight or your activities at your destination
  • The licensed health care professional’s date and type of professional licens and the jurisdiction or state in which their license was issued


No Fly Zone       


We know comfort animals can be different species; but for the airlines’ purposes, mostly dogs and cats will be admitted.  Airlines are not required to accept rodents, ferrets, spiders, sugar gliders, snakes or other reptiles.   


Your animal may also be denied boarding or removed from the cabin if your service animal:

  • Relieves itself in non-designated areas
  • Is too large or heavy to be accommodated in the cabin
  • Poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others
  • Significantly disrupts cabin service
  • Is prohibited from entering a foreign country that is the flight’s destination


Fly Off the Handle


Try not to do this.  If you believe your rights have been violated under the ACAA, ask to speak with the airline’s Complaints Resolution Official.  This individual is trained in disability accommodation issues and airlines are required to make one available to you at the airport or by phone during the times they are operating.  For more information, head to the transportation.gov site.



Straighten Up and Fly Right


Are you over the flying puns yet?  That’s the last one…we promise.  On the good idea list, we recommend you contact the airline in advance as each may have different requirements to admit your service animal.  Ensure your animal is well-behaved and if you have a vest or tags marking it as a service animal, that will help airline employees and other passengers know at a glance that your dog is on the job, performing tasks that help you enjoy the flight as much as possible.  We can’t help you with delays, TSA searches, lost luggage or missed flights.  It’s all part of the joy of air travel; but we hope that at least you are better informed and ready to pack up and get out of town.  Tell us about your experiences flying with service/comfort animals.  Did you encounter questions?  How did other passengers react?  Did you sit next to a fantastic Golden on your last flight?  Let us know!

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