Can an Airline Deny My Service Dog to Fly?

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Airlines may deny a Service Dog to Fly if the Dog violates Safety Requirements: If the Dog is too big, too heavy, is ill-behaved (excessive barking, growling, jumping, lunging, nipping or biting) or appears unhealthy or unclean.

Flying with My Dog: Can the Airline Deny My Service Dog Boarding the Plane?

Most Service Dogs are well-trained, highly socialized to avoid external distractions and focus on their Companion.

If the Service Dog is too large it may not be allowed to fly In-Cabin.  If your Service Dog is too large to fit in the footprint of the aircraft seat, an otherwise qualified Service Dog may not be able to fly.

The airline is required to try to move you and your Dog to another seat that can accommodate your Service Dog.

CAVEAT:  the new seat assignment MUST be in the same class–the airline is not required to upgrade your flight.  But, the flight attendants do have discretion to move you to another class if they choose to and have room. 

Air Carrier Access Act

If the Service Dog is too heavy to be accommodated in the cabin, the airline may accommodate the traveler and Dog in another seat.  Usually, this accommodation must be in the same class of cabin; however, the airline staff has discretion.

Your Service Dog may be denied boarding an aircraft if it poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others.

The Service Dog or any Dog In-Cabin that causes a significant disruption in the cabin or at airport gate areas such as excessive barking, growling, jumping, lunging, nipping or biting.

If your Service Dog violates health requirements such as not having the proper vaccinations or Health Certificates.

Airlines may also deny transport to a Service Dog if the airline requires completed DOT service animal forms and the service animal user does not provide the airline these forms. This is a simple form and is usually available at the check-in counter.


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What Is a Service Dog for Flying?

A service Dog is defined as a Dog that’s individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability, including but not limited to:

  • Sight Impairments
  • Deafness
  • Seizures
  • Mobility impairments
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Psychiatric Conditions

Fully-trained Service Dogs usually fly In-Cabin for free if they meet the requirements.

Can an Airline Ask What Your Service Dog is For?


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Airlines can determine whether a Dog is a Service Dog vs a Pet by:

  • Asking an individual with a disability if the Dog is required to accompany the traveler because of a disability
  •  What work or task the Service Dog has been trained to perform;
  • The airline staff may not request that your Service Dog demonstrate the tasks
  • Looking for physical indicators such as the presence of a harness or vests.  These are not required but, can be helpful to distinguish you Service Dog from pets 
  • Looking to see if the animal is harnessed, leashed, or otherwise tethered; and
  • Observing your Service Dog’s general behavior

What Documents Does My Service Dog Need to Fly?

The Airline may Require the Following Documentation for Your Service Dog to Fly:

  • Health Certificate
  • Vaccination Record
  • A U.S. DOT form attesting to the animal’s health, behavior, and training; and
  • A U.S. DOT form attesting that the animal can either not relieve itself or can relieve itself in a sanitary manner, if the animal will be on a flight that is 8 or more hours.
  • Further, the DOT’s Rule state: “If a passenger’s reservation was made less than 48 hours in advance of the first originally scheduled departure time on the passenger’s itinerary, you may not require that passenger provide advance notice of his or her intent to travel with a service animal. You may require that the passenger complete the forms … and submit a copy of the form to you at the passenger’s departure gate on the date of travel.”

Flying with a Service Dog Restrictions:

  • Service Dogs in Airports and In-Cabin must be harnessed and leashed at all times.
  • Dogs under 4 months of age may not travel as a Service Dog
  • Service Dogs must be clean and well-behaved
  • Your Service Dog must be able to fit within the foot print of your airline seat, under the seat in front of you or in your lap.  Dogs that are the size of an average 2 year old child may sit on your lap during the flight
  • You are limited to 2 Service Dogs per flight
  • Service Dogs in training, emotional support animals, and comfort animals are not Service Dogs but may travel as pets for the regular fee for all pets flying.

Service Dogs are protected when Traveling on Planes; however, some airline staff are ill-trained and ask inappropriate and illegal questions when flying.


Most Recent Changes to Air Carrier Access Act for Service Dogs

In December 2020, the U.S. Department of Transportation revised the Air Carrier Access Act states how airlines must accommodate passengers traveling with service animals. The changes included:

  1. No longer allowing emotional support animals as service animals.
  2. Narrowing the definition of a service animal to only include dogs.
  3. Requiring airlines to treat psychiatric service animals the same as other service animals without additional documentation.
  4. Allowing airlines to require passengers to submit paperwork before boarding with their service dog.
  5. See the full text at the Department of Transportation Air Carrier Access Act

Rules for Airlines and Flying with Service Dogs

  1. Airlines can require a traveler with a service dog to complete a DOT Service Animal Air Transportation Form and a Service Animal Relief Attestation Form at least 48 hours prior to departure.
  2. Airlines are no longer required to recognize non-task-trained animals such as emotional support animals, comfort animals and service animals in training as service animals.
  3. Airlines can limit passengers to two task-trained service animals per person.
  4. Miniature horses, cats, rabbits and other animals are no longer considered service animals.
  5. Airlines cannot require passengers with psychiatric service animals to provide a letter from a licensed mental health professional.
  6. Passengers traveling with service animals cannot be required to physically check in at the airport.
  7. Service animals can be required to fit within the handler’s foot space on the plane.

Can I Be My Service Dog’s Trainer?

Yes. On the Service Animal Air Transportation Form, service dog users are asked to fill in the name of the animal trainer or training organization and the trainer’s phone number. If you task-trained your dog yourself, you are permitted to write your own name.

According to the final rule, “service animal users are free to train their own dogs to perform a task or function for them.”

“While DOT provides space on its form for a service animal handler to state the organization or individual that trained the service animal to do work or perform tasks to assist the handler, DOT does not require that individuals with disabilities have their animal trained or evaluated by an accredited organization as a condition of transport,” the final rule reads.


Does My Service Dog Need to Wear a Vest or ID?

Service dogs are not required to wear anything that identifies them as a working dog. However, service dogs must be harnessed, leashed or otherwise tethered at all times, whether in the airport or on an aircraft.

Airline employees are allowed to ask “whether the animal is required to accompany the passenger because of a disability and what work or task the animal has been trained to perform,” observe its behavior and look for physical indicators such as harnesses and vests in order to verify a dog is a service animal.

According to the final rule, air carriers “are free to view such paraphernalia as evidence that an animal is a service animal; conversely, they are also free to give the presence or lack of presence of such paraphernalia little weight.”


What do I Need To Fly with My Service Dog?

There are two forms that airlines can require of passengers with service animals. These are the DOT’s Service Animal Air Transportation Form and Service Animal Relief Attestation Form.

Carriers can choose to not require any forms from these travelers.

The Service Animal Air Transportation Form is intended to “allow airlines to receive direct assurances from service animal users of their animal’s good behavior and training,” according to the DOT’s final rule. It educates passengers on how their service dog is expected to behave and potentially deters “individuals who might otherwise seek to claim falsely that their pets are service animals.”

Flights that are eight hours or longer can require a Relief Attestation Form, which confirms that the service dog “can relieve itself on the aircraft without creating a health/sanitation issue.”

Airlines can require that these forms be submitted at least 48 hours in advance of  departure, and most have adopted this rule. If a last-minute flight is booked, the traveler can submit the forms at the airport. One form covers all segments of a round-trip flight.

The DOT’s final rule reads: “If a passenger’s reservation was made less than 48 hours in advance of the first originally scheduled departure time on the passenger’s itinerary, you may not require that passenger provide advance notice of his or her intent to travel with a service animal. You may require that the passenger complete the forms … and submit a copy of the form to you at the passenger’s departure gate on the date of travel.”

It is a federal crime to give false information on the forms. If an airline suspects fraud, it can notify the Office of Aviation Consumer Protection, which may refer reports to the Office of the Inspector General for investigation and prosecution.

The forms can be found at https://www.transportation.gov.


Why did the DOT change its service animal Dogs and Airlines?

The changes were prompted in part by inconsistent definitions among federal agencies on what constitutes a service animal and an increase of travelers fraudulently claiming their pets were service animals.

“It is reasonable to predict that the Department’s definition will result in an overall reduction in the number of uncrated animals onboard aircraft, thereby reducing the overall number of animal misbehavior incidents (and the overall number of potential allergic reactions) onboard aircraft,” the final rule reads.

The final rule more closely aligns the DOT’s definition of a service animal with the Department of Justice’s definition under the Americans With Disabilities Act.

According to the final rule, the Service Animal Air Transportation Form “would have the potential to serve as a deterrent for individuals who might otherwise seek to claim falsely that their pets are service animals, as those individuals may be less likely to falsify a federal form and thus risk the potential for criminal prosecution.”

The two DOT forms are also intended to help service animal handlers as they “will no longer have to navigate different forms propounded by different airlines.”

Airline Service Dog Policies


What To Do If the Airline Denies My Service Dog?

Travelers who experience disability-related problems can call the DOT’s toll-free hotline at 800-778-4838 or 800-455-9880 (TTY). The hotline can provide general information about your rights and assist with time-sensitive, disability-related issues from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern time on weekdays, with the exception of federal holidays.

“If you encounter a disability-related issue about an airline accommodation or service, ask to speak to the airline’s Complaint Resolution Official. A CRO is the airline’s expert in disability related issues in air travel and has the authority to resolve complaints on behalf of the airline,” the DOT’s page for air travel complaints reads.

A spokesperson for the DOT told The Republic, “If a consumer believes that an airline has discriminated against him or her on the basis of his or her disability, which includes not providing required accommodations, the consumer can quickly and easily file a complaint with the Department’s Office of Aviation Consumer Protection through its online complaint form.”

The complaint will be forwarded to the airline for response, at which point an analyst at the DOT will review both statements and determine whether the airline violated the traveler’s rights. A DOT attorney will then review the case, and an analysis of their findings will be mailed to the complainant.

For more information, go to https://www.transportation.gov.

If an airline denies transportation to a service animal, it is required to provide a written statement of the reason for refusal.

According to the final rule, “This statement must include the specific basis for the carrier’s opinion that the refusal meets the (DOT’s) standards.” The airline should provide this written explanation either at the airport or within 10 days of refusal.

According to the DOT’s website, “You may be able to seek recourse through small claims court.” A separate page explains that “You may file a complaint in small claims court when you can show that a person or a business owes you money or has harmed you financially and will not pay.”

Corey Lovato, a staff attorney at the Arizona Center for Disability Law, told The Arizona Republic that options for recovery are limited because the ACAA “does not allow for, essentially, a person to file a lawsuit against the airline.”

“All they can do is file a complaint with the Department Transportation that they may or may not investigate, and if they don’t (investigate), (the person’s) only remedy is to file a lawsuit against the Department of Transportation,” he said.

See Also, Flying with a Service Dog


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