Let's start by clarifying that service dogs are not required to be certified under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Air Carrier Access Act in the US (at the time of writing this article). References to the laws are provided on this ADA Disability Rights Guide. Please, keep in mind that many countries will require the visiting service dogs to be certified and if you are planning an international flight you should look into the certification requirements. Generally, US-based airlines are very likely to accept the transport of self-trained service dogs in and out of the US on flights that may connect to countries where self-trained service dogs are not recognized as legitimate.
Please, note that some countries may not accept self-trained service dogs on their territory even if the dogs feature a certificate for completed service dog training. In these cases, your dog may have to travel as a pet. Some countries accept only certification from Assistance Dogs International (ADI) and local service dog training establishments. We have cases where students of SDTSI were required to show additional verification from our school about the completed service dog training program to be accepted on flights to some countries. Please, talk to your airline about your options in case your self-trained service dog is not initially accepted for the flight. We have a segment titled "Denial of Boarding Troubleshooting" further down that we encourage you to check for more details.
If you want to be fully prepared for domestic and international flights keep reading below. Airlines require documentation that confirms your dog's status as a service animal. This includes a letter from a licensed healthcare provider, a veterinary health form, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Service Animal Air Transportation Form and in some cases the Service Animal Relief Attestation Form. We have a guide on how to fill out the US DOT Service Animal Form right here. Most airlines will require you to file all necessary documentation at their customer desks at least 48 hours before your flight. Fortunately, most of the documentation can be sent electronically. We advise you to do that at least a week in advance in case any complications arise. As long as you will travel domestically, you will not need a pet passport for your service dog, a microchip, a service dog ID card, or a health certificate from a veterinarian for your service animal.
Airlines will ask the service dog teams to present some form of identification and papers that attest to completed service dog training as part of the onboarding process. Our school is often requested to confirm completed service dog training via email, phone, and verification letters. Unlike fake service dog registration services, our platform requires video recordings as proof that the service dogs working with us are properly trained and have excellent public manners. We test the service dog handlers as well through written exams. We do not issue a certificate for completed service dog training unless we can confidently confirm to any housing agency, landlord, HOA, business owner, and airline that:
If you are looking to properly train your pet dog for service dog duty and have peace of mind, please check our service dog training courses here.
However, if you plan any international travel you might need a health certificate from a federally approved veterinarian. If your vet is not USDA accredited, they should be able to refer you to one that is. You can use the tool to find an accredited vet. Please, note that the veterinary health certificate is valid for about 10 days only.
Most European countries will require the visiting service dogs to have a microchip as well. There are a few microchip standards to consider, if you are looking for a short explanation and help on what microchip to use, please check our article - How to microchip your dog. Microchips can be excellent tools to locate missing and lost animals, prove ownership, and aid in international travel.
Many countries require proof of rabies vaccination and proof of treatment for internal and external parasites that have been conducted in the past 3 months. You might want to talk to your veterinarian about giving a rabies vaccine to your service dog and doing a parasite treatment within 3 months of leaving the country. Please, keep in mind that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) bans the import of any dogs from countries that are flagged as high risk for rabies. The list of dangerous countries is being updated regularly and you can find it on Bringing an animal into the United States.
The service animal policies of airlines closely adhere to the laws and regulations of the countries where they are based and operate. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), service dogs are allowed to accompany their owners in public places, including on airplanes. This includes the right to fly with your service dog in-cabin at no extra cost. Equivalent rights are granted to UK citizens under the Equality Act 2010 and you can fly with a certified self-trained service dog. This is confirmed in the the guidance paper by the UK Equality Commission. Canadian air passengers are subject to the Canada Transportation Act and are allowed to travel with their service dogs in the cabin free of charge. However, the Canada Transportation Act does not permit the boarding of self-trained service animals, we have explained why on Air Canada Service Dog Policy.
American Airlines has posted its service dog policy on this page. The definition adopted by the airline reads: “A service animal is defined as a dog that’s individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability...” The passengers will be expected to be able to explain what services and tasks their service dogs fulfill to the airline team members. Please note, service animals in training, emotional support animals, and comfort animals may travel as pets, not as service animals. Only service dogs with an approved CDC Dog Import Permit, or that meet CDC U.S. vaccination and microchip requirements may fly on American when entering the US. If you have a flight over 8 hours in your itinerary, the Department of Transportation Service Animal Relief Attestation Sanitation Form is also required stating your animal won’t need to relieve itself or can do so in a way that doesn’t create a health or sanitation issue.
The passengers flying domestically, to and from the US will have to submit a completed DOT form at least 48 hours before departure. Once you’ve submitted your form and it’s been approved, they will send you an email with your Service Animal ID (SVAN ID). Your SVAN ID will expire after 1 year from the date of signature or when the animal’s vaccination expires, whichever is first. Handlers with a Service Dog Pass ID (SDP ID) can enjoy a more seamless travel experience thanks to our partnership with K9s For Warriors and Service Dog Pass. You can add an SDP ID instead of an American-issued Service Animal ID (SVAN ID) when booking travel with them and be approved without submitting forms.
British Airways has posted its service dog policy on this page. Please, note that service dogs are called assistance dogs in most European countries. For your service dog to travel with you in the cabin on British Airways, your service dog must be individually trained in specific tasks to assist you with your disability or medical condition, have had behavioral training, and show appropriate behavior in public and onboard an aircraft, and wear an identifying jacket/vest/harness. Due to entry regulations into the UK, you will need to ensure that you have contacted and received approval from the UK animal reception center at least 72 hours before your flight.
You must have a pre-approval letter to arrive or transit through Heathrow airport. Passengers traveling with a service dog are advised to arrive on weekdays if possible, due to limited weekend capacity. Self-trained service dogs are accepted for flights from the US to the UK. For more details, please see this page. If you will be traveling to the London Gatwick Airport please contact the local animal care center, there are more details on this page this page.
JetBlue Airlines has posted its service dog policy on this page. JetBlue requires all service animals to be under the control of the handler at all times—in the airport and on the plane—and harnessed, leashed, or otherwise tethered. Service animals in training are not accepted for travel on JetBlue. All service animals must remain on the floor unless the animal is small enough to fit fully on the traveler's lap without touching any part of the seat, tray table, or nearby travelers. If you are traveling with a large service animal or two service animals, your animal(s) must fit within the footprint of the seat(s) you have purchased. You will need to file a DOT form for your service dog at least 72 hours before departure.
United Airlines has posted its service dog policy on this page. Service animals are accepted in the cabin free of charge for qualified individuals with a disability. A service animal is a dog, regardless of breed or type, that is over the age of 4 months and the animal has received individual training to work for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability. If you are flying domestically, in and out of the US you will need to file a DOT form for your service animal at least 24 hours before departure. Please, keep in mind that the service dogs in the passenger cabin have to stay on the floor underneath the seats. Service dogs training to assist disabled travelers can fly with their trainers for free.
SkyWest Airlines does not appear to have a page dedicated to service dogs. The airline is partnering with Delta, United, and American Airlines and generally adheres to the same rules as stated here. Service dog users and handlers are allowed to have only one service dog with them. The service animals have to fit within the foot space of the passenger and they should not interfere with the space of other passengers. Air travelers will need to show a USDA health certificate for their service dogs and present a complete US DOT form at the gate. Please note that ADA-accessible lavatories are not available on the aircraft operated by the airline.
Air Transat has posted its service dog policy on this page. Air Transat is another Canada-based airline that will, on the request of a person with a disability, accept a service dog for transport, and permit the animal to accompany the person on board. The service dog must have been individually trained by an organization or person specializing in service dog training, be at least 6 months old, and, performs a task to assist a person with a disability with a need related to their disability. The airline requires at least 48 hours notice to review documents and arrange seating and additional space. The airline accepts self-trained service dogs only for flights to and from the US as stated in their policy. You still need to file a U.S. DOT Service Animal Air Transportation Form. The airline may require a medical letter that attests to your need for a service animal and ask to see identification for your service dog like an ID card or a pet passport.
Volaris Airlines has posted its service dog policy on this page. This is a low-cost air carrier based in Mexico City (the capital of Mexico). The airline is known to accept self-trained service dogs from the US for flights to Mexico and back. The service animals on board travel for free and they have to fit under the seats of the passengers. Since the airline is very cost-effective the space available to service animals may be rather small so if you want to book a flight with them please check the size and weight restrictions in advance of purchasing a ticket. The airline staff is known to transfer service dog teams to the best seats when special needs passengers arrive so please notify the airline about your service animal at least 48 hours before your departure. The airline will require a vaccination record that shows the dog has received a rabies vaccination at least 30 days before the flight; you will need to show a health certificate (an original and a copy) that says your dog is healthy. If your return flight is more than 5 days later than the original flight you will need to obtain and present a new health certificate for your service dog, please keep that in mind. Passengers traveling from the US to Mexico and back are not required to show a health certificate for their service dogs. The dogs will be checked by the staff of SENAICA at the airport before boarding. The airline requires the passengers to sign the Volaris pet transportation form that is provided at the airport. In addition to that, you need to present a complete US DOT Service Animal Transportation Form.
Please note that self-training a pet dog to become a service dog is a relatively new concept and it is yet to be adopted widely by the international community. Hence, service dog handlers and users of self-trained service animals should be aware of certain limitations. Countries like the US, the UK, some provinces in Canada, the Netherlands, the Republic of Ireland, Brazil, and Mexico accept fully owner-trained service dogs and they have public access rights. France, Germany, Austria, and Spain permit the use of self-trained service dogs as long as the service animals have been trained with the aid of a local dog trainer, they have passed a government-approved test and they have papers issued by the local healthcare ministry. Countries like Portugal and Italy do not grant any public access rights and protections to self-trained service dogs. If you will be flying abroad, please make sure to check the service dog laws and animal import regulations in advance.
Generally, service dog teams are protected by the law when it comes to public transportation, housing, use of rented properties, air travel, and access to business venues that are open to the public. Business owners and staff are required to provide the same service and accommodation to service dog handlers, users, and their trained canines. Air passengers who use service dogs should know that their seats will not be upgraded if they bring large service dogs. Service dog teams have the same rights as any other flight passenger and your airline can not deny service to you without a very good explanation. If you are seated next to a person with a dog allergy you can be moved to another seat but not denied service.
If your disability rights are not respected on US territory you can file a complaint with the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division online here. If you are based in the UK and you feel that you are being discriminated against due to your disability you can file a complaint directly to the offending organization, use civil mediation or make a claim in a court or tribunal. UK citizens who are not sure how to proceed can use the Equality Advisory Support Service (EASS). Canadian citizens who have experienced discrimination or harassment due to disability can file a human rights complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission via this page.
According to an article at Simpleflying.com 21 types of passenger aircraft flew between North America and Europe in 2021. If you are looking to travel with a service dog in North America or leave for another destination please talk to your airline about the size limitations of the seats. Please keep in mind that the service dogs will have to fit under the seats in front of their users/handlers. As mentioned earlier there are many types of aircraft in operation and you should check the size limitations before booking a flight with your service dog. Otherwise, you may have to wait to be transferred to a flight where there is sufficient space for your service animal. You may be asked to pay a fee for the flight transfer so please check the size specifics for your flight well in advance.
Some countries like the United Kingdom have breeds that are banned for import. According to the official information at Gov.uk the breeds Pit Bull Terrier, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino, Fila Brasileiro are not permitted for use, breeding, sale, transfer of ownership, importing and exporting. If you have a service dog that is one of these breeds you may need to go through a behavior test with the UK government so they can determine if they should add your canine to the Index of Exempted Dogs and grant you public access rights. The test is done by the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA).
Please note that airlines have weight restrictions for the animal that will be accepted on board. Generally, most airlines will accept no more than 5 service dogs in the passenger cabins. There may be exceptions to this if the aircraft is sufficiently large. The majority of airlines mentioned in this article are not likely to accept service dogs that are over 26 lbs/12 kg in weight. If you have a big and heavy service dog which may be the case for people with mobility problems the dogs may have the only option of traveling in the climate-controlled cargo hold in a kennel. We understand that this is not ideal but airlines may be unable to accommodate most mobility aid service dogs so please keep this in mind. We encourage you to check the breed, size, and weight restrictions for service animals with airlines before booking a flight.
As mundane as it may sound, incorrectly filed papers will be a valid reason for any airline to deny boarding to any service dog. If you book a flight, please try to check the necessary travel forms and papers at least one or two weeks in advance of your departure. This way you should have plenty of time to obtain a health certificate from a veterinarian for your dog, make sure the rabies vaccination is recent enough, check your medical letter, make sure your dog is microchipped and you can file all necessary forms on time. Most airlines will require the necessary travel documents to be submitted at least 48 hours before departure and some may need them as early as 72 hours before the flight.
Please note that if you have trained your service dog yourself you should put your name and phone number on all forms requiring trainer organization information. The students who have finished an online service dog training course with our school should type in their name and their phone number on their travel forms as well. In addition, our graduate students can add the name of their assigned tutor, and our phone number. Our dog training school is happy to confirm any details about our programs and certified service dog teams. We provide verification letters free of charge to any graduate student and any team currently engaged in training. Our verification letters can assist with negotiating boarding with airlines, trains, and training in public locations.
Most airlines do not permit the boarding of animals that are younger than 6 months and some even refuse to board animals under 1 year of age due to safety concerns. Please make sure your service animal is old enough to fly and has a proper safety check and a health certificate from a government-approved veterinarian. Dogs that are missing rabies vaccination will not be permitted on any flights and dogs coming from countries with high rabies risk are not allowed on flights. Some countries will require the service dog teams to file animal import forms that are separate from your standard flight booking form.
As mentioned earlier, many airlines will accept up to 5 service dogs per flight and some may allow more if the aircraft allows for that. Please, keep in mind if the aircraft is already booked by other service dog teams there may not be enough room for you and you may have to wait for another flight. Try to send your service dog application as early as possible to have greater chances of having your service dog with you on board the flight you need.
Service dog handlers/users that utilize service animals and are denied boarding on a flight should look into any banned breeds in the country they will be visiting. As mentioned earlier, there are countries where certain dog breeds are banned because they are considered potentially dangerous to the safety of people and other animals. Please, make sure to check this in advance of booking a flight. Your airline will not be able to transport a dog of a banned breed to a country where the dog is not allowed.
Many airlines like Alaska Airlines rely on the services of third-party organizations like Open Doors to handle requests for travel by service dog teams. The same organization is employed by companies in the hospitality industry in North America and service dog teams are likely to be familiar with them. Open Doors is responsible for checking the service dog teams for completed training, and medical requirements and collecting passenger data that is part of the booking process for flights. The organization uses service dog forms that are very similar to the one posted by the US Department of Transportation on its website. Please, make sure you have your veterinarian records in order and you can explain what services your dog provides which are directly related to your disability. Once your application is approved you will be provided with a unique Service Animal ID that you need to send to your airline so they accept your team for the flight. The Service Animal ID by Open Doors is valid for 1 year and you can use it on other flights enabled by Open Doors. You will need to renew the ID at some point, please keep that in mind.
Most applications rejected by Open Doors tend to be incorrectly filled out. We have to mention that some people misrepresent their animals as service animals which causes airline staff to be doubtful and mistrusting at times and legitimate service dog teams need to be at their best when traveling. If you have invested time and work into shaping your canine into a reliable service animal please be open about the tasks your dog has mastered and make sure your dog is not afraid of loud noises, moving vehicles, or crowds. Service dogs must have excellent public manners, and be confident and calm.
The self-trained service dog teams should be keenly aware that some countries may either not permit the use of self-trained service dogs or they might not even have laws for service dogs. Self-trained service dogs who are leaving the US for another country may have to adhere to the pet import rules of the destination country. Self-trained service dogs may only be granted public access rights after they pass a public access test or a more in-depth government-issued certification test with the local authorities. This is the case with countries like Austria, France, and Germany. On the other hand, countries like the Netherlands, Brazil, and Mexico are very pet friendly, and visiting self-trained service dog teams have public access rights. Of course, we recommend your dog be fully vaccinated, microchipped, have an ID card that says it is a service dog and can demonstrate excellent public manners. Please, make sure to carry an original medical letter that prescribes the use of a service dog along with a few copies to spare. We recommend you have the medical letter translated into the official language of the country you will be vising along with any vaccination records. That way you can quickly reassure the local authorities you have a safe and trained service dog and you can prove your medical need for a service dog.
It is important to train your service dog to navigate the airport environment. This includes training your dog to walk calmly on a leash, remain focused in busy and noisy environments, and go through security screenings calmly. Contact your airline to find out if they offer any airport training programs for service dogs and if they have early boarding opportunities for people with special needs. Make sure your dog is comfortable with being handled by a stranger for a few minutes under your supervision. Service dogs should not be afraid of physical contact with strangers and noisy environments.
Your service dog should be trained to remain calm and well-behaved during the flight. This includes staying in the allotted space under the seat in front of you, remaining quiet, and not disturbing other passengers. No lunging, jumping, whining, and begging for food should be demonstrated by dogs presented as service animals.
It is important to prepare your dog for the experience of takeoff and landing, which can be stressful for some animals. You may want to play audio recordings from the Internet at home to accustom your dog to loud sounds associated with the airport. You can play these audio recordings while your dog is eating or playing but at a lower volume at first and then gradually increase the volume to more real-life levels as your dog shows he/she is comfortable.
In conclusion, flying with a service dog requires careful preparation and knowledge of airline regulations, documentation, and laws that protect people with disabilities. By following the guidelines outlined on this page, you can ensure a smooth and comfortable journey for both you and your service dog. Remember to always advocate for your rights as a service dog owner and don't hesitate to seek assistance if needed.