Flying with your service animal

In recent years, it has grown close to impossible to go a week without hearing about individuals traveling by air with their emotional support animals (ESAs). These animals ranged from peacocks to hamsters and often disrupted fellow passengers on flights. Additionally, a growing number of individuals registering their pets as emotional support animals grew exponentially, questioning the legitimacy of the need for an ESA on a flight. Even more concerning, however, was the increased safety concerns for service animal handlers and other passengers while traveling by air.

As a result of these growing concerns, the Department of Transportation (DOT) proceeded with a change in regulations within the Air Carrier Access Act, which subsequently had a significant impact on service animal handlers traveling by air. Below, you will find a summary of these changes, which took effect Jan. 11, 2021, to prepare you for your next trip.

Changes to the Air Carrier Access Act

After a period of public comments and careful consideration, the Air Carrier Access Act has changed to be in alignment with the Americans with Disabilities Act’s definition of a service animal. This means that a service animal is specifically limited to dogs, without breed restrictions, and does not include any other animals. They are there to provide help for vision impaired people or those with other disabilities. Passengers wishing to bring an emotional support animal on a flight will be required to follow the guidelines and procedures for having the animal travel as a pet.

Service animal handler responsibilities

Traveling by air will require some advanced preparation if you are planning on traveling with your service animal. Service animal handlers will be required to complete two mandatory DOT forms including the following:

The forms are official DOT federal forms and require, amongst basic demographic information, the name of your dog’s veterinarian and the expiration date of your dog’s rabies vaccination. All U.S. and foreign airlines with flights that originate or end in the U.S. are required to post accessible versions of the forms on their websites.

The forms should be completed online at least 48 hours prior to your scheduled flight. If you will be traveling within less than 48 hours, you may complete the forms and print them to present at your boarding gate.

It is important to note the airlines are not required to keep copies of these forms online for future access and that if these forms are not completed, the airline has the right to refuse travel, even if the animal is providing help for vision impaired people. Lastly, if you would like to file an appeal regarding an airline’s decision, you may reach out to the airline’s Complaints Resolution Official.

While these changes create an extra step for all service animal handlers, the intent and purpose of these new changes is to enable greater access to airline carriers for individuals who use legitimate service animals as help for vision impaired individuals. As with many new regulations and changes, there will likely be some bumps in the road with accessing and effectively completing the forms. If you require any assistance using your assistive technology to access these forms on the airlines’ websites, be sure to reach out to our Adaptive Technology team to schedule a one-on-one training session. We hope you and your service animal have safe travels in the future.