1.3. Traveling with a service animal
By Andrea Jehn Kennedy
For four years, my husband Craig and I were blessed to travel with our service dog Mohawkie. While there were challenges, it was always nice to have her at our feet. Since she passed away in 2007, the numbers of travelers with service animals has increased considerably, and thus there have been many changes in laws, regulations, and services provided for those traveling with a service animal. As a result, it is an increasingly better world for handlers and their animals, but there are still plenty of tips to share for those who do.
Under the American's with Disabilities Act (ADA), service animals are defined as "individually trained animals that perform tasks for people with disabilities such as guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling wheelchairs, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, or performing other special tasks." These animals are not referred to as "pets" and can legally accompany the handler into any public facility. Business owners do have the right to ask what the animal does for the handler, but not what the handler's disability is, and are allowed to remove these animals only if they are unruly and misbehaving.
Do not confuse these working, certified animals with those who have been "prescribed" by a doctor as emotional or psychiatric support animals. Those animals are not protected by the ADA as of yet, and do not apply to any of the laws below. Owners of emotional support animals are required to give at least 48 hours notice to the airline carrier, and must have a letter of documentation from the prescribing physician. More and more airlines are confirming these letters by calling the physician's office upon receipt of the letter; Southwest Airlines has set the precedent by calling on every one, and I suspect all other airlines will soon follow suit.
In 2009, the Department of Transportation rewrote a major portion of the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), known as Part 382 (P382), altering and improving the rules and regulations of all aspects of air travel for people with disabilities. For travelers with service animals, P382's section 117 applies to you and your animal. Notes from this section include:
- Service animal is allowed to accompany handler at all times.
- Animal must fit in assigned location (below seat in front) and must not create an obstruction to other passengers on the airplane.
- Animal may not be charged extra for travel services.
- Animal must behave professionally and be able to hold its bladder and bowel for the duration of the flight. Airline can request documentation of the latter for flights of more than 8 hours.
- Airline carrier can ask what services the animal provides, but cannot ask what the handler's disability is.
- Carrier is allowed to accept ID cards, written documentation, presence of harnesses or other working equipment, and verbal assurances as evidence that an animal is a service animal.
- Carrier is responsible for creating Service Animal Relief Areas (more below).
- Carrier cannot require advance notice of traveling with a service animal (as they can with emotional support animals).
- Foreign carriers must comply with these rules unless their existing laws contradict. (Currently only a few countries' laws do not permit entrance of animals to their countries; Jamaica and Bermuda are two of them.)
- Unusual animals (horses, pigs, monkeys, etc.) can be evaluated on a case-by-case basis as to whether they pose a threat to the health or safety of others, and may be denied by the airline for any of those reasons.
For more on P382.117, visit www.airconsumer.ost.dot.gov/rules/382short.pdf. Responsible handling is expected while traveling with a service animal.(For those who have traveled with service animals for years, these points are redundant, but for those who haven't, they are worth mention.) Tips for traveling with a service animal:
- Find hub airports that have excellent Service Animal Relief Areas to transfer through; a list of those is below.
- Schedule a lengthier layover (2-3 hours vs. one hour, standard) if you are traveling through an airport that does not have an in-terminal relief area (or if you do not know either way).
- Ask your service animal trainer about the best methods for dehydrating your service animal before a flight if needed.
- Pack enough food and water for your animal during and immediately after flight.
- Handler is responsible for having your animal under leash control at all times, and flight attendants are not required to assist you in any way with your animal during flight.
As a result of P382, airlines and airports are adding their required Service Animal Relief Area (SARA) to every U.S. airport. While the responsibility to create these areas does fall on the carrier, some airports are taking the initiative on themselves because P382 also has sections on airport accessibility, which SARAs also fall under. Requirements for SARAs include:
- Carriers must consult with local service animal training organizations to establish SARA
- SARA must be within a reasonable distance for passengers to get to
- SARA must be accessible to all persons with disabilities and good for all sizes of dogs
- SARA may not double as a smoking area
- SARA must provide trash receptacle for waste disposal and be maintained regularly so that the area is clean of debris and dog waste (e.g., so blind users do not track waste away with them)
- SARA must be labeled on online and in-flight maps
Currently no requirements state that SARAs must be safe-side, i.e., past the TSA security checkpoints, and therefore most do not yet meet the requirement of "reasonable distance" for transferring passengers. This is an area that many airports and carriers are currently looking at, and will be one of the highest priorities in the creation of new SARAs in the near future. Finally, the US Access Board and the Open Doors Organization are collaborating on a guidebook for airports and carriers to utilize to create the best SARAs possible. New technology, methods, and ideas are being used to create this guide as well as create the best possible SARA possible for the dog and its handler, so the future is bright for traveling working dogs as well as the millions of pets who travel with their owners each year. Links for finding SARAs at your preferred airports: Southwest Airlines: www.southwest.com/travel_center/petReliefAreas.html Alaska Air: www.alaskaair.com/as/www2/help/faqs/Animal-Relief-Areas.pdf Mr. Paws: mrpaws.com/airport_relief.html Service Dog: www.servicedogblog.com/2009/09/service-animal-relief/ Pet Friendly Travel: www.petfriendlytravel.com/?page=airports Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport: www.mspairport.com/accessibility/accessibility-faqs.aspx#pet_relief Philadelphia Airport: www.philly.com/philly/business/homepage/20100803_Philadelphia_airport_caters_to_pets_with__relief_areas_.html Miami International Airport: www.miami-airport.com/pdfdoc/ANIMAL_RELIEF_LOCATIONSv1.pdf Andrea Jehn Kennedy and her husband Craig are co-owners of Access Anything (www.accessanything.net), travel consultants and writers specializing in marketing and education for all aspects of disability travel.