A Comprehensive Guide to Flying with Your Psychiatric Service Dog (PSA)
Written by: Lindsay Giguiere
Time to read 7 min
If you're considering flying with a Psychiatric Service Dog (PSA), the good news is that you are legally entitled to do so!
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as well as the Air Carrier Access Act provide protections for those with disabilities who rely on service animals, including those with psychiatric disabilities. These laws prohibit discrimination against service animals and their handlers in public accommodations, including airports and airlines.
In this article, we'll summarize all the relevant information and considerations you need to know before arriving at an airport with your PSA so you can enjoy happy and hassle-free travels with your loyal companion by your side!
Understanding Psychiatric Service Dogs
A Psychiatric Service Dog (PSA) is a specially trained animal that assists individuals with a recognized psychiatric disability, as defined by the American Psychiatric Association. These disabilities can include anxiety disorders, PTSD, bipolar disorder, and ADHD, among others. Unlike Emotional Support Animals (ESAs), PSAs have been trained to perform certain tasks that are directly related to their handler's disability.
Regulations Regarding Emotional Support Animals on Planes
It's important to differentiate between PSAs and Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) when it comes to air travel. ESAs are animals that provide emotional comfort and support to their handlers but are not trained to perform specific tasks related to their owner's disability.
In the past, ESAs were allowed to fly in the cabin with their handlers at no extra cost. However, as of December 2020, the US Department of Transportation (DOT) no longer considers ESAs to be service animals. Consequently, ESAs are now treated as pets and must travel in the cargo hold, subject to the airline's pet policies.
Options for Traveling with an Emotional Support Animal
If you wish to have your ESA accompany you in the cabin when flying, you have two options. First, you can pay the standard 'pet' fee and have the animal transported in the cargo hold according to the individual airline's policy. However, this separation can be distressing for both the dog and their owner
Alternatively, you can consider training your dog to become a PSA by teaching it specific tasks that assist you with your eligible disability. By doing so, your dog may qualify as a service animal, providing you with the legal protections afforded to service animal handlers. You will also require a therapist certified letter for travel, as part of a prescribed treatment plan. Typically, the therapist will request confirmation that your dog has been correctly trained as a Psychiatric Service Animal as part of the consultation process.
Documentation Required for Flying with a Psychiatric Service Dog
This form collects information about the handler's identity, as well as the health, training, and behavior of the animal. If you have self-trained your PSA, you can indicate your own name as the "Animal Trainer or Training Organization."
Once completed, you can either save the form as a PDF document with an e-signature or print it out, complete by hand, and then scan it. The submission process may vary depending on the airline, with most offering an online portal or an email address for their Special Assistance Desk. If you're unsure where to submit the form or haven't received confirmation, it's advisable to contact the airline directly. Online check-in is typically allowed when booking 48 hours or more in advance, eliminating the need to check in at the service desk.
When you're booking travel less than 48 hours in advance, you must complete the form in person at the airport check-in desk. Make sure to arrive early to allow sufficient time for this process. In either case, it's crucial to have a printed copy of the form, correctly completed, with you. Accuracy is paramount when filling out the form, as it serves as a Statutory Declaration. Providing untrue or incorrect information may result in severe penalties.
Additional Documentation for Flights Exceeding Eight Hours
If your total flight time exceeds eight hours, you'll need to complete and submit the DOT Service Animal Relief Attestation Form. This form certifies that your service animal will either refrain from relieving itself during the flight or do so in a manner that does not damage airline property or pose a hygiene risk to other passengers.
As the handler, you will be responsible for any damages caused by your service animal's urination or defecation during the flight.
Auto-Approval: Airline Service Animal Identification Number
Upon approval, most airlines will provide you with an identification number specific to that airline. This number, such as the SVAN ID used by American Airlines, may allow you to travel with that particular airline without having to redo the paperwork each time you fly.
However, be aware that the auto-approval, if offered, is typically valid for a limited timeframe, usually one year. It's advisable to keep this number readily accessible during each trip to ensure a smooth travel experience.
It’s also important to keep in mind that PSA certification is only valid for twelve months, so you’ll need to renew it every twelve months, via a consultation with a certified therapist. At Free My Paws, this process is smooth and seamless, and you’ll typically be assigned the licensed therapist who made your original diagnosis.
Navigating Airports with a Psychiatric Service Dog
When traveling with your PSA, it's important to understand your rights and the limitations placed on airport staff. According to the ADA, airport staff may only ask two questions:
Is the dog a trained service animal that assists with a disability?
What tasks has the animal been trained to do?
Staff members are not allowed to inquire about the specifics of your disability or demand demonstrations of your service dog's abilities.
While it's not legally required, using service dog apparel, such as a vest or ID card, can help identify your dog as a trained service animal and minimize questioning from staff and the public. This can save you time and reduce potential complications both at the airport and in other public accommodations.
Your PSA is permitted to accompany you to any area of the airport, including restaurants and bathrooms. However, it must be well-behaved, non-aggressive, and housebroken at all times. If your service animal creates a nuisance, mess, or safety concern, the airport has the legal right to ask for the animal to be removed.
Every airport in the United States is required by law to provide animal relief areas. It's recommended to take your PSA to one of these designated areas before boarding to give your dog an opportunity to relieve itself.
As the handler, you are liable for any damage caused by your PSA's urination or defecation onboard the aircraft. To locate the animal relief area, consult the airport map or ask ground staff for directions.
Onboard Considerations for Service Dogs
Once onboard the aircraft, it is crucial that your service animal remains calm, quiet, and well-behaved. Disruptive behavior can result in the loss of legal protections for your service dog. Examples of disruptive behavior include barking, biting or attempting to bite, lunging, or intruding on another passenger's space. If your PSA displays such behavior, you may have the opportunity to correct it promptly.
If you don't do this, it may result in your service animal being treated as a pet and transported in the cargo hold - for a standard fee. What's more, organizing these arrangements may cause you to miss your flight, so you'll need to make alternative travel arrangements - and at your expense.
In addition to behavioral expectations, there are several other conditions established by the DOT that you and your service dog must adhere to during the flight:
The dog must be harnessed or leashed at all times.
The dog must be able to fit under your seat, by your feet, or on your lap without intruding on another passenger's space.
The dog must be at least sixteen weeks old at the time of the flight.
The dog must not be larger than a two-year-old child if traveling on your lap.
A passenger may not bring more than two service animals onboard.
It's important to note that the DOT's protections apply specifically to service dogs. Other animals, including therapist-certified ESAs are no longer permitted in the aircraft cabin.
During the flight, your service dog must also refrain from:
exhibiting disruptive behavior
sitting in an exit row
blocking the aisle
eating off the tray table
Proper Training for Successful Air Travel
While airlines are legally obligated to allow service dogs in the aircraft cabin, it is crucial that your service animal behaves appropriately throughout the flight and complies with all DOT conditions.
Therefore, it is essential to provide your service animal with proper training before traveling.
Focus on public access training, and consider enrolling your dog in scientifically proven training programs that utilize reward-based training methods rather than negative reinforcement. Our Free My Paws Training Academy developed by our Master Trainer Toriano Sanzone, for instance, offers a comprehensive selection of such training programs - including cost-effective video training.
If you're considering flying with a Psychiatric Service Dog (PSA), rest assured that federal laws protect your rights to bring a trained PSA into airports and onto aircraft cabins without any additional charges.
Ensuring you have the correct ID, therapist certified letter for travel, and DOT/Airline documentation well in advance will help you prepare for stress-free travel with your trusted four-legged companion right by your side!
Whether you’re thinking about certifying your pet as a PSA, need to renew a certification, or are looking into effective ways to train your dog to carry out specific tasks, Felicitails is here to help is here to help! Click here to learn more.
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