Flying With a Service Animal — Your Rights and Obligations Under the Air Carrier Access Act


I get a lot of questions about flying with service animals, so I thought I’d kick off International Assistance Dog Week with some useful information about the subject.

It’s important to note, that the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) covers air travel on US-based airlines, as well as on foreign carriers on flights to and from the US. There are many erroneous reports on the internet stating that accessible air travel is an American with Disabilities Act issue; when in truth that law has absolutely nothing to do with the subject.

With that in mind, here’s a quickie primer about your rights and obligations under the 2008 revision of the ACAA — as they pertain to flying with a service animal.

  • Under the ACAA, US airlines must allow service animals to accompany any qualified person with a disability on board the aircraft. This does not include service animals in training who are traveling with a non-disabled person; although some airlines may allow this exception.
  • No advance notice is needed to travel with a service animal, unless the flight is expected to be longer than eight hours.
  • People who travel with a service animal are entitled to bulkhead seating if they desire, however they are not required to sit in the bulkhead section.
  • The service animal must not obstruct the aisle or any other area that is required by FAA safety rules to remain unobstructed. If the service animal cannot be accommodated at the original seat, the airline must allow the passenger to move to another seat where the animal can be accommodated.
  • Airlines cannot charge damage fees, deposits or surcharges to people traveling with a service animal; unless those same fees apply to other passengers.
  • Under the ACAA, US carriers are responsible for working with local airports to provide relief areas for service animals. Foreign carriers are only required to provide relief areas in terminal facilities for flights to or from the US.
  • Airlines can require documentation that a service animal will not need to relieve itself on flights over eight hours, or that it can relieve itself in a way that will not create a health or sanitation issue.
  • US airlines are not required to accept unusual or exotic service animals such as miniature horses, pigs or monkeys, if they determine that they are too large or heavy to be safely carried in the cabin, or if they would pose a direct threat to the safety of the other passengers.
  • US airlines are never required to accept snakes, other reptiles, ferrets, rodents or spiders as service animals.
  • Foreign air carriers are only required to accept dogs as service animals, and that only applies to flights to and from the US.
  • US air carriers are required to carry an emotional support or psychiatric service animal if the passenger presents the required documentation. This includes a letter from a mental health professional stating that the passenger has a mental health-related disability. The letter must be less than one year old, and be from a mental health professional who is currently treating the passenger.
  • You must give US airlines, 48 hours advance notice if you intend to travel with an emotional support animal.
  • Foreign airlines are not required to carry emotional support animals.
  • Last but certainly not least, remember that some countries impose strict quarantines on incoming animals, and many of these quarantines do not exclude service animals. Be sure to inquire in advance about any restrictions, so you have the required paperwork for importing an animal at your destination.

Have a great flight!!




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *