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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:

For more on P382.117, visit 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:

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:

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: Alaska Air: Mr. Paws: Service Dog: Pet Friendly Travel: Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport: Philadelphia Airport: Miami International Airport: Andrea Jehn Kennedy and her husband Craig are co-owners of Access Anything (, travel consultants and writers specializing in marketing and education for all aspects of disability travel.

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