At Petjoy we receive a lot of calls regarding flying with service dogs and emotional support animals. While we are not legal experts, and we don't claim to speak on behalf of the TSA or the airlines, there is some advice we have given over and over again. This advice, based on feedback we've received from our customers, has proven useful over the years and has saved many a headache.
In addition to our own advice, we have also compiled a useful list below from the airlines so you can read their policies on travel with service animals and emotional support animals (also referred to as an ESA). We should note, before we go any further, that we have always been very upfront with our customers that our service dog vests, IDs and other products are not mandatory and do not make your dog a service animal. Having said that, you will notice that the airlines are now beginning to require either a harness/vest, and ID and tags or written documentation from a medical or mental health professional. If you are able, we have always been of the opinion that if you have all of these items, you will save yourself a good amount of stress.
The phone call we receive is often a last minute call from somebody with a newly acquired assistance dog or emotional support animal and the individual is really not used to preparing for such travel. This is understandable and that preparation is actually the second thing on our to do list. While our list may seem a bit redundant at times, remember the old saying "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure". This is certainly true in this scenario.
- Make sure it's legit: If your dog is not a real service dog or emotional support animal, then simply pay the fee if you need to transport your K-9. Breaking the law is bad for everybody, but hurts mostly for those who obey it.
- Prepare: make sure you take the time (whenever possible) to book your flight well in advance. When you are making your flight arrangements, let your airline know you will be traveling with a service dog or an ESA. This phone call will also assist in letting yo know if your specific airlines asks for anything else prior to travel. Make sure you write down the date as well as the name and department of who you spoke to and get a confirmation number for your conversation if available. At this time, you should also call and speak to the manager of your lodging provider.
- Talk with your medical or mental health professional: if you have not already done so make an appointment with your provider and let him/her know that you're dog is serving you in a necessary way and you would like documentation from them. If your medical professional does not already know, be prepared to answer some specific questions about what your dog is doing to help you.
- Vest and/or IDs: while not required under the ADA, the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) and airlines have their own requirements once you are getting ready to get on an airplane. Whether you purchase your service dog vest or IDs from us or somebody else, we highly recommend them. Time and time again we have been told how huge the difference is when your dog is properly outfitted.
- Call them again: 24-48 hours before your flight, call your airline again. Reference the date and confirmation number of your original call to them. Reiterate that you will be flying with a service dog or an emotional support animal. Confirm that they have noted this and get another confirmation number for this conversation as well. You should keep the records of your conversation with your airline together on the same sheet of paper. Take this with you to the airport. It would be a great idea at this time to call your lodging provider again and just remind them when you arrive you will have your dog with you.
- Get there early: this may sound like common sense, but it is worth repeating. This can reduce so much stress. If your airline recommends you get there an hour before your flight, we would say get there two hours before. It may seem like time wasted, but it's not. An extra 60 minutes can be the difference between efficiency and mayhem.
- Go to the desk: when you're checking in for your flight, find an airline customer representative. Take your information from your prior two conversations and let them know you are here early and ready for your flight. Ask if there is anything they can think of that you would need their assistance for. An airline with great customer service may even help escort you through security.
- Enjoy your flight: it is always advisable to be as pleasant as possible with the public. We completely understand that at times people will try to pet your service animal and may stare. While it's not easy to do, remember that the public is largely uneducated when it comes to these wonderful dogs and what they can do. Why not consider being a change agent for the cause? Perhaps you could be the one to educate them. If not you, then who? But do it with the heart of a teacher. If somebody is being just plain rude, keep moving; they are not worth you wasting your time and possibly missing your flight.
Here is some additional, airline specific, service dog and emotional support animal information to help you: