Pet Travel

Tips For Flying with a Psychiatric Service Dog

What you need to know to fly confidently with your PSD.

If you are new to flying with your psychiatric service dog, you’re likely wondering what you need to know to ensure you have a hassle-free travel experience.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), psychiatric service dogs are recognized as service animals, and therefore safeguarded by federal law. In line with the ADA, the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) ensures that individuals with disabilities can fly with their service animals.

However, the specific policies and procedures among different airlines can vary.

So to help answer your questions about traveling with your psychiatric service dog, here we will explore the ACAA in relation to service animals, and provide a quick comparative list of various airline policies.

We’ll also list the documentation you’ll need for flying with service animals, and what you can expect at the airport as well as on board the plane.

By understanding this essential travel information, you can feel confident about the journey ahead with your PSD.

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Traveling with a psychiatric service dog

Psychiatric Service Dogs for Air Travel

For many of us, air travel can be an exciting experience – but it can also be stressful. So it’s certainly understandable that if you live with an emotional disability or mental health condition, traveling can pose additional challenges and anxiety.

It’s for this reason, psychiatric service dogs are invaluable travel companions.

Psychiatric service dogs are trained specifically to provide assistance with mental health conditions such as anxiety disorders, PTSD, bipolar disorder, and depression.

Because PSDs can provide a sense of calm – and even anticipate anxiety attacks – this level of support and comfort is crucial, particularly when traveling and being in unfamiliar situations.

Before setting off however, obtaining a PSD travel letter can help provide peace of mind for the journey ahead. PSD travel letters are issued by a licensed mental health professional, and serve as official documentation confirming your need for a psychiatric service dog due to a formally diagnosed mental health disorder.

It’s important to note that a PSD letter is not a requirement, but it can play a useful role in ensuring you have the comforting presence of your PSD during your travels.

The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) for Psychiatric Service Dogs

The ACAA is a U.S. federal law that prohibits discrimination against passengers with disabilities and ensures they have equal access to air travel. This includes the right to travel with psychiatric service dogs animals without additional fees.

The DOT has reaffirmed that airlines are obligated to honor the rights of psychiatric service dog owners and make efforts to provide in-cabin accommodation.

To qualify as a legitimate psychiatric service dog under the ACAA, certain criteria must be met:

  1. The psychiatric service animal must be a dog, as no other animals are permitted under the DOT’s regulations.
  2. A psychiatric service dog must undergo individual training to perform tasks related to the disability. A dog in training is not considered a service dog until it is fully trained.
  3. Psychiatric service dogs must exhibit good behavior and the ability to perform their designated tasks in various public settings.

According to recent regulations issued by the Department of Transportation (DOT) in 2021, individuals with psychiatric service dogs can still bring their canine companions on flights without incurring additional charges.

However, if you are an emotional support animal (ESA) owner, your companion will be treated like a regular pet. This means that your ESA will be subject to the airline’s standard pet fees and restrictions related to size and breed.

Golden retriever is a service dog

Comparing Airline Policies for Service Dogs

While the ACAA provides a legal framework, individual airlines have their own policies regarding service animals. These policies can vary in terms of documentation requirements, breed restrictions, and more.

The important point to note here is that for all airlines, psychiatric service dogs are exempt from any such restriction.

All U.S. airlines, as well as flights to and from the U.S., are required to accommodate psychiatric service dogs without imposing size limitations or additional fees.

Here’s a quick comparative list of some major airlines and their general service animal policies:

  • American Airlines: American Airlines accepts service animals, emotional support animals, and psychiatric service animals. Passengers must submit specific documentation at least 48 hours before their flight.
  • Delta Air Lines: Delta permits service animals and emotional support animals. Documentation must be submitted at least 48 hours in advance. Breed restrictions are in place for certain animal types.
  • United Airlines: United Airlines welcomes service animals but has specific documentation and notification requirements. Additionally, there are breed restrictions.
  • Southwest Airlines: Southwest allows service dogs but requires passengers to provide credible verbal assurance that the dog is a service animal.
  • JetBlue: JetBlue accepts service animals, emotional support animals, and psychiatric service animals. Documentation and notification are necessary.

Documents for Flying with Service Animals

For a stress-free travel experience with your psychiatric service dog, you will need to complete certain documentation.

The most important form to complete and accepted by all airlines is the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Service Animal Air Transportation Form.

The DOT form requires you to confirm that your PSD:

  • is properly trained, well-behaved and not aggressive
  • will be effectively under your control at all times
  • is vaccinated and in good health

Below is list of other service animal documentation you may need, depending on your circumstances:

  • DOT Service Animal Relief Attestation Form: This is required by some airlines for flights over 8 hours
  • Service Animal Identification: Most airlines require passengers to provide documentation confirming that the animal is a trained service dog
  • Vaccination Records: Ensure that your service animal’s vaccinations are up to date, as some airlines may request this information
  • Health Certificate: This may be required by the airline to show proof of your service animal’s health

Dog providing emotional support

What to Expect at the Airport With a PSD

Firstly, it’s a good idea to arrive early to allow extra time for check-in and security. You’ll need to provide the required documentation and notify airline personnel about your PSD, which will be required to be harnessed or leashed at all times.

Once you’re at the airport, you may find yourself apprehensive about the attention your psychiatric service dog brings, particularly if you have social anxieties or prefer not to attract additional scrutiny from unfamiliar faces. Thankfully, disability laws are in place to safeguard your privacy and dignity.

In the event that an airline representative or flight crew member seeks to confirm your psychiatric service dog’s status, they are legally limited to posing two specific questions:

1. Is your service dog required due to a disability?

You are only required to respond with a simple yes or no; there’s no obligation to divulge any information about your mental health condition, as privacy laws protect that information.

2. What work or tasks has your dog been trained to perform?

In response, you would provide a concise description of the tasks your service dog is trained to do. No one is authorized to request a demonstration of these tasks.

Most owners of psychiatric service dogs rely on their dogs to perform crucial tasks during their most vulnerable moments or in response to traumatic or triggering events.

It would be inappropriate for anyone to demand that a psychiatric service dog owner replicate these conditions, especially in front of strangers. Air travel disability laws fully acknowledge this, and no one has the authority to insist that your dog demonstrate its tasks as proof of its training.

person holding the paws of a dog for emotional support

What to Expect On Board

On the aircraft, your PSD should remain at your feet or on your lap. During the flight, you will need to make sure they are well-behaved and not causing any disturbances.

A great way to help with this is by bringing plenty of dog treats. This way your PSD will be rewarded for good behavior on their first plane ride, setting you up for positive experiences in future.

Final Words

If you plan to fly with your psychiatric dog for the first time, it’s important to be prepared.

By understanding the necessary documentation you’ll need, along with what to expect at the airport and on board, you can feel feel safe, secure, and more confident exploring new places with your PSD by your side.

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