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New Jersey lawyer focusing on special education law and employment law

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Service Animals in Training on Airplanes

Recently, someone who trains service dogs for the blind booked a plane flight to visit family. She wanted to take the dog with her on the plane. Doing so would be an excellent experience for any service dog in training. When she called the airport to see if she could change her seat to sit at the bulkhead so that she and the dog would have more room, she was informed that since the dog was not yet a service dog, the dog would not be allowed to board the plane unless the airline gave her permission.

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Is this a correct interpretation of the law?

It appears so. The law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability on aircrafts falls under the Airline Carrier Access Act. The Federal Register, Vol. 68, No. 90 (May 9, 2003), page 24876 (available here), provides, in part:

“Although ‘service animals in training’ are not pets, the ACAA [Airline Carrier Access Act] does not include them, because ‘in training’ status indicates that they do not yet meet the legal definition of service animal. . . . [However] some airlines permit qualified trainers to bring service animals in training aboard an aircraft for training purposes. ¬†Trainers of service animals should consult with airlines, and become familiar with their policies.”

The 2009 updated version of the Federal Register, page 103, provides identical language.

Based on these sources, it doesn’t appear that service-animals-in-training can accompany trainers on any airplane for training purposes unless airline grants permission to do so.

Bottom line: if you train service dogs and want to take them on a commercial aircraft, check with your service dog organization for recommended airline carriers and double-check with the airline to ensure that their policy hasn’t changed. The following blog post “How to travel with your Assistance or Service Dog, a step by step guide,” contains helpful tips to keep in mind when traveling. See also this post: “Flying with your Dog.”

Have a safe flight!

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