Flying With a Service Dog (Including Large Breeds)

Jack Russell sitting in airport holding ticket and wearing sunglassesIf you’ve never flown with a service dog before, or it is your first time flying with one since the rules were changed in January of 2021, then you may be wondering what you need to do. Traveling with a service dog may feel a bit overwhelming at first, but the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) has set federal regulations that every airline flying to or from the USA must abide by.

Having a uniform set of regulations for all airlines makes traveling with a service dog just a little easier. We’ll also help you make the process as smooth as possible by providing you with all of the information you need to prepare for a flight with your service dog. So keep reading for up-to-date information on how to fly with a service dog (including those that are large breeds).

What Does the DOT Consider a Disability?

The Air Carrier Access Act is a law protecting disabled individuals from discrimination when traveling via air. The US Department of Transportation (DOT) works to regulate all types of travel, including air travel. As such, the DOT follows ACAA guidelines and rules in regard to disabilities.

Under these rules, only those with disabilities can fly with service dogs. “Disability” is defined as any physical or mental impairment that limits one or more major life activities. Major life activities include things like breathing, walking, hearing, seeing, working, sleeping, and other essential activities.

As you can see, the DOT recognizes both physical and mental disabilities. Physical disabilities include things like blindness, deafness, epilepsy, or even temporary disabilities such as a broken leg. Mental disabilities include (but are not limited to) PTSD, anxiety, autism, depression, and phobias.

A child in a wheelchair hugs a yellow labrador on her lap

What Is a Service Animal?

The ACAA also provides a specific definition of what a service animal is. First of all, service animals can only be dogs. Furthermore, they must be specifically trained to do work or perform tasks for someone with a disability.

The ACAA’s definition states very clearly that emotional support animals (ESAs) are not considered service animals. However, the ACAA does include mental health disorders or impairments under the umbrella of “disability.”

Therefore, those with mental disabilities are welcome to fly with service dogs. Because mental disabilities are recognized, psychiatric service dogs (PSDs) are also acknowledged as a type of service animal and are allowed to fly in airplane cabins with their users free of charge.

What Tasks Do Service Dogs Perform?

Dogs are so versatile that they can be trained to help with almost any disability. As such, there are many different types of service dogs and many different tasks that they can perform. Let’s take a quick look at some of the different kinds of service dogs and what they can do. Understand that this list is by no means exhaustive.

Guide Dogs

Guide dogs are one of the most well-known types of service dogs. They are used by those who are visually impaired and help them cross streets, avoid obstacles, and safely make it to their destinations. They quite literally act as their user’s eyes.

Medical Alert Dogs

Medical alert dogs are used by people with serious health conditions. They are able to alert their users to bodily changes that could become life-threatening if they are not addressed.

For example, a medical alert dog can be used by those with diabetes to alert them to a spike or drop in blood sugar. The user is then able to take the appropriate medication to prevent a medical emergency. Medical alert dogs are often used by people with epilepsy, diabetes, and cardiac or blood pressure issues.



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