Air Travel with Service Animal

  • June 13, 2016

Guidance Concerning Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals in Air Transportation

Many people with disabilities use a service animal in order to fully participate in everyday life. The laws relating to animals in the lives of people with disabilities can be complicated and vary based on the animal’s role and the setting. DRT’s work helps people with disabilities who use service and emotional support animals across multiple settings including business, government, housing, schools and transportation. It is important to keep in mind that the rules for service animals on airplanes are different than those for service animals in business and government settings. For example, unlike in business and government settings, emotional support animals are allowed on planes. In addition, animals in addition to dogs and miniature horses are allowed on planes.

During this season of travel, it’s important to know your rights and responsibilities when traveling with a service animal or emotional support animal by plane. Below is some guidance from the ADA Network concerning service animals and emotional support animals in air transportation.

Air Travel

The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) requires airlines to allow service animals and emotional support animals to accompany their handlers in the cabin of the aircraft.

Service animals – For evidence that an animal is a service animal, air carriers may ask to see identification cards, written documentation, presence of harnesses or tags, or ask for verbal assurances from the individual with a disability using the animal. If airline personnel are uncertain that an animal is a service animal, they may ask one of the following:

  1. What tasks or functions does your animal perform for you?
  2. What has your animal been trained to do for you?
  3. Would you describe how the animal performs this task for you? (15)

Emotional support and psychiatric service animals – Individuals who travel with emotional support animals or psychiatric service animals may need to provide specific documentation to establish that they have a disability and the reason the animal must travel with them. Individuals who wish to travel with their emotional support or psychiatric animals should contact the airline ahead of time to find out what kind of documentation is required.

Examples of documentation that may be requested by the airline: Current documentation (not more than one year old) on letterhead from a licensed mental health professional stating (1) the passenger has a mental health-related disability listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV); (2) having the animal accompany the passenger is necessary to the passenger’s mental health or treatment; (3) the individual providing the assessment of the passenger is a licensed mental health professional and the passenger is under his or her professional care; and (4) the date and type of the mental health professional’s license and the state or other jurisdiction in which it was issued.(16) This documentation may be required as a condition of permitting the animal to accompany the passenger in the cabin.

Other animals – According to the ACAA, airlines are not required otherwise to carry animals of any kind either in the cabin or in the cargo hold. Airlines are free to adopt any policy they choose regarding the carriage of pets and other animals (for example, search and rescue dogs) provided that they comply with other applicable requirements (for example, the Animal Welfare Act).

Animals such as miniature horses, pigs, and monkeys may be considered service animals. A carrier must decide on a case-by-case basis according to factors such as the animal’s size and weight; state and foreign country restrictions; whether or not the animal would pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others; or cause a fundamental alteration in the cabin service.(17) Individuals should contact the airlines ahead of travel to find out what is permitted.

Airlines are not required to transport unusual animals such as snakes, other reptiles, ferrets, rodents, and spiders. Foreign carriers are not required to transport animals other than dogs.(18)



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