What could make a flight more pleasant than usual? Having a loving paw friend by your side will definitely contribute to making your flight a positive experience. Taking your beloved pet will bring you comfort and a feeling of safety. However, it is also associated with some unpleasant organizational processes, like preparing documentation, such as vaccination records, a health certificate, identification gear...etc.
Taking a pet onboard an aircraft requires following a certain procedure. When this animal is a service animal, then the procedure can become more complicated. It is the responsibility of all service dog handlers to check the policy of the airline they will be traveling, in advance and make sure that their service animals meet all the criteria to fly in the passenger cabin.
Today we will move our focus from the US to Europe and will take a closer look at one of the major European airlines, and a flag carrier of Sweden, Denmark, and Norway, namely the Scandinavian Airlines.
What Is a Service Animal?
A Service Animal is a dog, that has been individually trained to do specific tasks in order to help a person with a disability. The disability can be physical and/or mental and the performed tasks must be directly related to it. Service dogs do not provide comfort and companionship only, but do specific work. This is the main difference between them and companion animals, like Emotional Support Animals and Therapy Animals. You can read more about the difference between them here.
What Are the Regulations for Flying with a Service Animal?
Service animals are deemed medical equipment and are a subject of a policy that is different from the regular pet policy of airlines. These animals are allowed to fly in the passenger cabin free of charge, as their presence is essential for the health and safety of their owners/handlers.
During a flight, a service dog should be able to be positioned in the footprint under his/her handler’s seat. If the animal will be transported in a kennel, his/her handler will need to check the airline’s requirements for the kennels allowed onboard in advance.
All service dogs must be healthy, up-to-date with all vaccinations, and have valid health documentation.
In regard to the training-airlines run different policies regarding what type of certification a service animal may or may not be required to have in order to be allowed in the passenger cabin. These regulations are typically affected by local laws in regard to service dogs. Some countries require service animals to be trained and certified by internationally recognized organizations like Assistance Dog International (ADI), while others allow these animals to be trained by local schools/trainers or by their owners themselves.
The Scandinavian Airlines accept trained service dogs to fly in the passenger cabin free of charge. If you would like to take your service dog with you when traveling with this airline, you should keep in mind the following:
• Only dogs are recognized as service animals, so if you want to bring another specie, it will be treated as a pet;
• Request travel with a service animal at least 48 hours in advance; We would recommend that you do that even earlier to avoid possible delays and problems;
• Keep in mind that you will be able to bring 1 service dog with you unless you travel to the US. In this case, you may be able to bring up to two service dogs;
• Your dog will need to lie or sit on the floor in front of you without obstructing the access to the aisle;
• It is recommended for passengers traveling with animals to be at the airport at least 2 hours prior to departure. Extra time for security checks and check-in is recommended;
• Service animals must be easy to identify (by wearing a vest or other type of training/identification gear).
As you may know, service animals must be well-behaved in public and onboard of an aircraft. This means that your dog must not jump at people or animals, pull on a leash, growl, bark...etc. In some cases, barking is a part of the tasks a service animal performs, so it may be accepted in these situations only.
The airline specifically states that:
• Service dogs must remain under control at all times and be leashed or harnessed;
• Service dogs who misbehave will be considered pets and the pet policy, including all pet-related fees, of the airline, will apply to them.
Forms and Documentation You Will Have to Submit to Travel With a Service Dog
Make sure that you have prepared all the documentation required by the airline, to ensure that you and your service dog will travel without issues. The following documentation is listed on the airline’s website as a requirement for service animals to be accepted:
• Medical/mental health certificate issued by a licensed health provider to verify the need of a person for a service dog;
• Health declaration issued by a veterinarian, that features all the needed vaccination records;
• Identification document, e.g. an ID card, provided by a person or organization specialized in service dog training. The purpose of this document is to identify the individual with a disability and also verify that the service animal has been individually trained by a person/organization to do specific work for the benefit of that individual. The specific work/tasks the dog performs must be related to the individual’s disability.
What Aren't Service Dogs Allowed to Do?
There are certain restrictions in regard to service animals onboard, which should be taken into account. Please note, that service dogs are not allowed to:
• Sit in an exit row or obstruct the aisles;
• Utilize a seat. In case you book a seat for your service animal in advance, he/she will be able to remain on the floor below the seat;
• Eat from the tray tables.
What to Do If Your Service Animal Does Not Fit Within the Allowed Space?
Scandinavian airlines clearly explain on their website what service dog handlers can do in these cases.
The first option for handlers is to re-book a flight where there are more open seats.
The second option is to purchase an extra seat. That way handlers can make sure that their service dog will feel comfortable during the flight. However, as explained above, animals must not occupy seats. Even if you buy an extra seat, your service dog will still need to be seated on the floor.
How to Book a Service Dog?
Once you prepare all the needed documentation and make sure that your dog is properly trained and meets all the health requirements to fly, how exactly should you request to travel with him/her?
First, you should make sure to make a request as early as possible after booking. This means that you will need to book a ticket first and just after that request travel with a service dog. This request must be made no later than 48 hours prior to departure.
• Once you complete your booking, you need to add your request through the menu “My Bookings”;
• Once your request is confirmed, you must fill out the form “Certificate for transportation of Animals (DOC, 113KB)” (You will find a downloadable DOC file on the website of Scandinavian Airlines);
• You must bring this printed form to the check-in counter at the airport; However, this is not required for domestic flights in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark.
The airline also recommends that service dog handlers make their requests through their customer support (SAS Customer Service).
You can find the full-service dog policy of the airline here.
Traveling with an animal, especially when he/she is a service animal, can be a stressful experience. However, you should always keep in mind that your dog is likely to sense your emotions and behavioral changes, so the calmer you are, the calmer he/she will be as well.