With the weather finally warming up, many of us begin to think about traveling. While traveling with your service dogs and other animals is your right there are some steps you need to take to make sure your trip goes as smoothly as possible. We are going to try and help you to have the best experience flying possible by guiding you through what your experience will be like.
Department of Homeland Security’s Transportation Security Administration, otherwise referred to as the TSA, has some specific guidelines about service dogs on planes. Each airline interprets the TSA’s guidelines differently, so the key to success is making sure that you call your airline first!
Your airline crew may need to make preparations for your boarding, so you must call them to make them aware of what type of animal you use. Service animals are not allowed to restrict aisles or block emergency exits, so the airline crew may need to adjust your seating arrangements to make sure of these things. The TSA recommends that passengers call, at the very least, 72 hours ahead of travel for information.
Your airline and the TSA may require you to bring specific documentation depending on what the service animal is used for. You are going to need your license and registration for the service animal no matter what kind of service animal it is. Some airlines do also require the presence of a harness or markings on the harness that shows the animal is a service animal. A doctor’s letter or other credible assurance from a medical provider may also be required. This information will be told to you when you contact the airline. Do also be aware that some airlines may ask you to fax your information to them at least 72 hours prior to the departure time of your airline to call and confirm the validity of the documents.
You will be in a small enclosed space for possibly hours depending on where you are flying so please do try to keep in mind that while it is your privilege under law to be accompanied by your service dog, you still need to be respectful of the others who will be traveling with you. Many airlines request that you keep your animal to your person as to not bother other travelers. Airlines either request that your service animal either be kept in front of you on the flight or in your lap depending on the size of the animal.
Please minimalize food and water with your service animal and try to exercise your animal before leaving for the airport. Small dry treats for your animal will help them feel more comfortable but avoid bringing water onto the plane for your dog. The TSA require a full screening if you exit the secure boarding area, so this will help minimize security check time as well. If you do end up having to take your service animal out, inform the Security Officer upon your return to the security checkpoint and she/he will move you to the front of the screening line to expedite the screening process.
TSA Security is trained to handle service dogs differently then pets. When you arrive at the airport inform a TSA officer near you that the animal with you is a service animal and not a personal pet. TSA Security may need to move you to a different area since the officer may need to spend more time with you. After all according to the TSA, “if a passenger has a service dog due to a disability or medical condition, both the passenger and the service dog will be screened.”
TSA officers have been specifically trained to not separate you from your service animal during the screening process. They also are trained not to communicate, distract, interact, play, feed, or pet the service animals. The TSA officer should ask permission before touching your service animal or its belongings. You will be required to ensure that your service animal will not and cannot harm the TSA officer. Service Animals will either be screened through a metal detector or through a pat down if the passenger does not want to be screened by the metal detector.
You are given the choice depending on the animal’s size of walking through the detector with or walking separately with the animal. Regardless if you manage to set off the metal detector or not, your service animal is going to receive additional screening. The TSA officer must ask for your permission before touching the service dog and its belongings. You won’t be allowed to touch the animal, other than holding the leash, until the dog has been cleared by the officer.
Remember that the TSA officer cannot request that you be removed and/or separated from your dog. Nor are you required to remove your dog’s harness, leash or collar. If you experience any problems at a security check point, you should request that a supervisor be contacted for assistance.
For more information about screening procedures by the TSA, you may contact TSA Cares. TSA Cares is helpline number specifically designed to assist travelers with disabilities. TSA Cares has a toll free number at 1-855-787-2227, where you can contact them at least 72 hours prior to traveling if you have questions about screening policies, procedures and what to expect at the security checkpoint. The hours of operation for the TSA Cares helpline are Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. – 11 p.m. Eastern Time; weekends and federal holidays, 9 a.m. – 8 p.m. Eastern Time.