Service dogs perform a wide range of tasks for those who require extra help to manage a disability while still living an independent life. Sometimes people who receive the help of a service dog must travel via airplane. If you have a service animal and intend to fly, it is important to prepare yourself and your partner for the trip.

Understand the Laws

Service dogs can ride in the cabin free of charge according to the Air Carrier Access Act. Additionally, any equipment related to your dog’s job can be transported for free in the plane’s cargo hold. Should a security agent or flight attendant ask for identification, you can politely decline. You are not required to show it. If your dog is wearing his or her vest and harness that identifies a service animal, and if you can provide credible verbal confirmation, that is enough. Some people do prefer to carry documentation with them anyway, which is also okay. Of importance is the fact that U.S. law does not carry over borders. For example, Air Canada is governed by Canada, which does require formal certification be presented.

Ensure Your Dog Is Ready

Before you allow your dog to travel with you, he or she should be excellent at walking on a leash without giving in to distractions such as food smells, loud noises or other people. Airplane aisles are narrow and often require you to turn around, so your dog should understand how to “back up” on his or her own, something the average dog will not understand because dogs are not used to moving back feet independently of front feet. Your service animal will need to know how to stay under the seat in front of you, often with his or her front body between your legs and facing your knees.

Booking Your Flight

You do not need to do anything special when booking a flight with your service dog. You can book normally and are not required to notify the airline. However, you will not be able to sit in a row that contains an emergency exit due to safety regulations. Some people choose to notify airlines anyway because it allows for a smoother check-in process. This is especially important if you intend to request bulkhead seating.

Pre-Flight Information

In addition to everything you’d normally bring with you for a flight, you should also bring your dog’s rabies shot information. While it is not required for most places, it could be required when traveling to certain destinations, and it is better safe than sorry. You should have your dog fast the day before, especially if it has never been on a plane before because you won’t know how his or her stomach will react. Your dog can have a small drink in the morning and a healthy, calorie-dense treat to even blood sugar, but should not eat or drink to fill until you have reached your destination as most airports do not have a pet relief area once you have passed security.

Check-In and Security

Even though you do not need to present paperwork for your dog, you should expect to answer a question about what tasks your dog performs for you. Instead of entering a full-body scan, you will go through the metal detector. Your dog will probably set it off, so if you do not want extra physical security checks for yourself, he or she should go through first and alone. The security agent will then check the dog’s collar and harness for traces of explosives. The agent will not need to remove any harnesses or leashes. This process will repeat for any layovers.

USA Service Dog Registry provides service dog registration for an affordable price. Included are ID tags and certification documentation to ease the process of flying with your service companion.