How does travel work with a service dog?

A:

Service dog traveling on an airplaneService Dogs can help people with disabilities become more mobile. It may seem intimidating to travel on an airplane with your service dog, but it can help to realize that to the people who work on the airline see passengers with disabilities traveling with their service dogs all the time.

Most people call the airline ahead of time and let the airline know they'll be traveling with a service dog (they may put a note on your ticket), but you go through security just like everyone else. Security will inspect the dog's vest and such, just like they would do with people. The procedure varies, but often the handler walks through the security booth, leaving the dog, then calls the dog through, and then the dog is directly inspected by security. Sometimes the TSA does a hand swab on the handler, too.
When you arrive at at the gate, you'll board with the dog, and then go to your bulkhead seat, which gives you a little more room at your feet. Some handlers with a service dog prefer to buy "stretch seating" or "economy comfort" so they get the extra room a bulkhead seat would provide, but also get the under-seat baggage room (this option costs money, but some handlers find the extra cost worth the expense). The dog then lies at your feet during the trip. The goal is to make everything as easy as possible - many passengers and flight attendants often don't even realize there was a dog on board!
On board the airplane with service dog

You will probably feel more secure bringing paperwork (doctor's notes, the dog's service dog graduation certificate, immunization records), but the airline often doesn't ask for any of this paperwork. Optional: Many passengers find it helpful to have medical documentation as a way to discreetly communicate information about their needs to security, and so the TSA has created a Notification Card that passengers can use for discreet communication. Use of this Notification Card, or of medical documentation, does not exempt a passenger from screening, but the card can be a nice reassuring way of smoothing out situations.
We've always recommend that you do not get a connecting flight because would add too many hours, and you would need to bring the dog outside to pee (and find a spot for them to pee outside), and then go back through security. Instead, we've advised that a direct flight is the way to go. At one point, a Pawsitivity family told us that they prefer a connecting flight, because when traveling with a child with a disability, two 2-hour flights are more manageable that one 4-hour flight...however, they have since changed their mind and now agree that a direct flight is their choice, too.

Airport securityInside the airplaneService dog on the airplane

These photos show three different elements (the first two show Xander and his man going through security then finding their seat, and the third photo shows Homer as he is flying).


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