These rights include travel privileges unique to service animals, such as the ability to board a flight (inside the cabin) with their handler at no additional charge.
If you’re traveling with your Psychiatric Service Dog for the first time, you may be wondering what to expect and what you need to know for a smooth traveling experience.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll answer all the questions you may have about traveling with your PSD.
Psychiatric Service Dogs and the Air Carrier Access Act
The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) of 1986 prohibits discrimination towards individuals based on their disability and their need for a service animal.
Because Psychiatric Service Dogs are considered service animals, this Act, which was passed by the U.S. Congress, also applies to them.
Thanks to the ACAA, your PSD is able to ride in the cabin with you whenever you need to travel via airplane. As a result, you don’t have to worry about your animal facing any dangers related to traveling via airline cargo.
However, there are a few things to know when traveling with your psychiatric service dog that will make the experience easier for both you and your assistance animal.
Pre-Flight Preparations with a Psychiatric Service Dog
When booking travel in advance (typically 48 hours or more), you’ll need to submit a U.S. Department of Transportation Service Animal Air Transportation Form. Here’s a sample of what that form looks like from the Delta Airlines website.
The form asks for basic information such as your name, your assistance animal’s name, and a description of the animal. The form also asks you to attest to the animal’s health as well as their training and behavior.
The ADA allows owners to self-train their PSDs, so if this describes your situation, you can simply enter your own name into the Trainer section.
Once you sign and date this document, you’ll then need to submit it to the airline for validation. Usually, the airline will have a special portal on their website dedicated for this purpose. If you have any trouble locating the portal, be sure to contact the airline’s customer service team for assistance or for more information on ways to submit your document.
If you’re boarding a flight that’s 8 hours or more in duration, you’ll also need to complete and submit a U.S. Department of Transportation Relief Attestation Form. Here’s a sample of what that form looks like from the Delta Airlines website.
This form asks for information about your flight (estimated duration, departure airport, arrival airport) and additionally asks for information on how your animal will relieve itself (either the service dog won’t have to relieve itself during the flight, or the animal has been trained to relieve itself in a sanitary manner, e.g. through the use of a dog diaper).
If you’re booking your travel less than 48 hours before departure, you can present both of the above forms at your airline’s check-in counter.
For those who prefer booking travel over the phone through an airline representative, be sure to inform the staff member that you’ll be traveling with a PSD and ask for instructions on how to submit your required forms.
What to Expect During Airport Check-In
When you check-in for your flight, you’ll either have already submitted the required travel forms for your PSD online (the Service Animal Air Transportation Form and the Relief Attestation Form), or, if you’re booking travel less than 48 hours in advance, you’ll be able to present them to an airline representative at the check-in counter.
During your check-in process, and potentially at other times during your progression through the airport, staff members may ask for more information about your assistance animal.
Under ADA guidelines, staff members of a public accommodation (including airline staff) can legally ask PSD owners the following questions:
- Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
- What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?
No one has the right to ask you to identify your specific disability or ask that your pet demonstrate their skill.
However, all PSDs must still be trained to take a specific action as needed (a task or type of work), and this action must be related to their handler’s disability.
If you’re unable to answer the above questions, you may be turned away.
Adequate answers for these questions include:
Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?
- He provides medical alert.
- She provides deep pressure therapy
- He provides balance support.
You can learn more about the different types of tasks a psychiatric service dog can provide here. Remember, your PSD must be suitably trained in order to be considered a service animal. We strongly recommend partnering with a professional dog trainer who can ensure your assistance dog is able to perform an appropriate action unique to their role as a PSD.
Here at CertaPet, we are currently coordinating with dog trainers who specialize in the service animal space and who will soon work in tandem with our network of licensed mental health professionals to make the process of getting and training a psychiatric service dog affordable, convenient, and hassle-free. We’ll have more information available soon about our Psychiatric Service Dog options. In the mean time, you can take our FREE pre-screening below to see if you qualify for a PSD!
Does My PSD Need a Service Vest or Service ID Card?
The ADA does not require service animals to wear a special vest, ID tag, or harness. However, we strongly encourage individuals to outfit their dog with these items, as it can make airline travel more convenient and stress-free. Service apparel helps distinguish your animal from normal pets and allows airline staff to clearly see that the dog’s presence is required because of a special need.
Having a Service ID Card for your PSD can also be beneficial, as it clearly explains what airline staff are allowed to ask you under ADA guidelines, and more importantly, what they’re not allowed to do (e.g. ask about the person’s disability, ask the dog to perform their tasks, or refuse admittance, isolate, segregate, or treat you less favorably than other patrons). Click here to learn more about other benefits of an ID card, as well as what an appropriate ID card should include and how you can purchase one.
Where in the airport is my PSD allowed to accompany me?
Because your psychiatric service dog is considered a service animal, they have federally protected rights that permit them access to public places. As a result, your PSD will be able to accompany you wherever you go in the airport, including food courts and restaurants. No one has the right to separate you from your PSD. There are some exceptions, such as in the case of an uncontrollable dog or a dog that isn’t housebroken. However, these issues shouldn’t be a problem if you’ve suitably trained your psychiatric service dog. (Again, we strongly recommend working one-on-one with a professional dog trainer).
How can I best prepare my PSD for travel?
It’s a good idea to be aware of the nearest ‘Relief Areas’ at your airport. All airports in the United States are required to provide a designated relief area for animals. Usually, airports will have more information on their websites about these areas, sometimes with airport maps that clearly mark off where you can find each relief area. An airline staff member can help you with identifying and locating a relief area once you’re at the airport as well.
Be sure to bring your service dog to this area shortly before boarding your flight to allow them one last chance to relieve themselves. Ideally, you should feed your PSD no less than 4-6 hours before your takeoff time, as a full stomach could make them feel nauseous during flight. Keeping your assistance animal hydrated with water, however, is advisable. You may also want to consider options for keeping your PSD calm during the flight if you feel they may be nervous. Calming dog treats can be incredibly helpful in these situations.
Flying with your Psychiatric Service Dog
You’ve finally cleared check-in and security and have waited at the departure gate for your flight.
Now it’s time to board!
Rules may vary from airline to airline when it comes to where your PSD is allowed to sit once you’re both onboard the aircraft, but you’ll generally find similar guidelines such as the below:
- Your psychiatric service dog is allowed to sit at your feet at a bulkhead seat or at any other seat, as long as no part of the animal extends into the aisle.
- The animal may not extend into the foot space of another customer who does not wish to share foot space with a service animal.
- A psychiatric service dog may ride in your lap for all phases of the flight, provided they’re no larger than a lap-held child (under 2 years of age).
How can I keep my PSD calm during travel?
During flight, some dogs may become nervous, especially if it’s their first time flying. You can speak with your veterinarian about potential options for calming your service animal. These options may include calming dog treats like CBD, an anxiety wrap like a Thundershirt, or a pheromone calming collar.
What should I do once my flight lands?
Once you’ve deboarded the plane, make sure to take your PSD to the nearest relief area. You’ll also want to give them a fresh bowl of water so that they can adequately hydrate themselves.
Psychiatric Service Dog: Best Practices for Good Behavior
Psychiatric service dogs and other types of service animals enjoy federally protected rights because it’s trusted that their training regimen included a focus on good behavior and manners while in public (usually achieved through something called the General Public Access Test).
An airline has the right to refuse transportation of a service animal if they display inappropriate behavior such as:
- Aggression (growling, biting)
- Excessive barking (when not in response to a handler’s distress or need)
- Jumping on passengers and airline staff
- Relieving themselves on flights shorter than 8 hours (for longer flights, PSDs are allowed to relieve themselves, as long as they do so in a sanitary manner)
- Eating off seatback tray tables
When it comes to traveling with your PSD, one of the greatest investments you can make to ensure stress-free travel is in high-quality, adequate training for your assistance animal. Such training can ensure that your PSD is always on their best behavior in any public setting and will allow you to travel with ease and confidence, knowing your service animal won’t have any problems when it comes to flying.
If you’re interested in partnering with a professional dog trainer to train your PSD, we can help. Here at CertaPet, we are currently coordinating with dog trainers who specialize in the service animal space and who will soon work in tandem with our network of licensed mental health professionals to make the process of getting and training a psychiatric service dog affordable, convenient, and hassle-free. We’ll have more information available soon about our Psychiatric Service Dog Training options. In the mean time, you can take our FREE pre-screening below to see if you qualify for a PSD!