Does my service dog need to have a harness, vest or ID card?
The DOT allows airline staff to look at paraphernalia such as harnesses, vests and tags to determine whether an animal is a service dog. These items are popular with service dog owners because they distinguish their working animals from normal pets. They may help with managing uncomfortable interactions with the public and staff members, and also can prevent pesky inquiries about why the dog is present. These accessories can be especially helpful for PSD owners whose disabilities are unseen.
As a reminder however, these items alone cannot qualify a service dog and are for fully trained service dogs. Airlines can weigh the presence of service dog paraphernalia along with other factors to determine whether a dog is indeed a service dog.
As a practical matter, service dog owners find these accessories especially helpful in areas that are crowded with unfamiliar people, such as airports and plane cabins.
How big can my service dog be in order to fly with me?
Many service dogs are larger breeds such as Golden Retrievers or German Shepherds. There is no categorical weight limit for service dogs, but airlines can require that a service animal fit within the handler’s foot space or on the passenger’s lap. The DOT’s new rules require airlines to accommodate larger animals by moving them to another seat location within the same service class where the animal can be accommodated, if possible (such as if there is a seat next to an empty seat).
If there is nowhere to place a larger service dog comfortably however, the airline is required to offer the handler the opportunity to transport the service dog in the cargo hold free of charge or travel on a later flight if there is space available in the cabin for that flight. Many service dog owners would be vehemently opposed to letting their dog fly in cargo however. Fortunately, many larger service dogs can still be trained to fit into the passenger’s foot space on an airplane.
Can an airline deny my service dog because it is a certain breed?
Under the DOT’s new rules, an airline cannot prohibit a service dog solely because it is a certain breed. The DOT recognizes that all types of dogs can serve as effective service dogs and disallows airlines from stereotyping certain breeds, such as Pitbulls. As we’ll discuss in a later section however, the airline can still prohibit boarding if the service dog is acting aggressively or being disruptive.
Can I bring aboard more than one service dog?
Some handlers have multiple service dogs, each of which fulfill a different but important job relating to their disability. Under the DOT’s new guidelines, airlines can limit the number of service dogs a handler can bring onboard to two. The handler will also need to be able to comfortably accommodate both of the service dogs in their foot space or lap.
For handlers with two large service dogs, they may want to consider taking additional steps to ensure their service dogs can be accommodated. For example, on a flight likely to be full without an empty seat, the handler may want to consider purchasing an additional seat or taking a less popular flight. Otherwise, they risk the chance they may have to relegate their service dog to cargo which is a non-starter for many service dog owners.