Flying With a Service Dog (Including Large Breeds)

If 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 Department of Transportation (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 regarding 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.

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 can 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.

Psychiatric Service Dogs

For those suffering from mental health disabilities, psychiatric service dogs can help provide comfort and a sense of normalcy. Psychiatric service dog tasks include things like grounding, deep pressure therapy, and disruption of repetitive or self-harming behaviors. People with PTSD, anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders often benefit from psychiatric service dog tasks.

Hearing Assistance Dogs

Hearing assistance dogs help those who are deaf or hearing impaired. They can notify their users of specific sounds, such as alarms going off or even the crying of a child. These dogs will usually notify and then lead their owners to the sounds.

Mobility Assistance Dogs

Mobility assistance dogs can do a lot for those who have trouble getting around on their own. They can pull wheelchairs, open doors, fetch objects, and use their bodies as crutches to help their owners stand up or sit down.

Other Service Dog Tasks

Service dogs are typically trained to meet the needs of a specific individual, so they won’t all be able to do the same things. However, there are many other tasks service dogs can do that don’t always fit under a specific umbrella. These tasks include the following:

  • Pressing buttons
  • Carrying bags or other objects
  • Body blocking
  • Medication reminders
  • Waking their users
  • Opening and closing drawers or doors
  • Retrieving items

Even if your dog is trained to do tasks and actively helps with your disability, one type of training is especially important—public access training. For your dog to be considered a service dog and be allowed in public areas, they must have undergone public access training to remain focused and well-behaved while in busy public settings.

Yellow lab opens a door for a man in a wheelchair

Does My Service Dog Need to Be Professionally Trained?

Though airlines can require that your dog be trained to perform tasks to assist with your disability, they cannot require that your dog be professionally trained. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), it is perfectly legal for people to train their service dogs.

After all, charitable organizations often have long wait lists, and even with financial assistance, these dogs can be cost-prohibitive. With fully-trained service dogs costing upwards of $10,000, many people cannot afford to get a service dog from a professional trainer or organization.

The ACAA has respected the current laws in place allowing people with disabilities to train their dogs. Therefore, your service dog does not have to be trained professionally to join you at the airport. As long as the dog is well-behaved in public and can perform tasks for you, that is all that matters.

How Do Airlines Identify Service Dogs?

Airline staff must rely on the honor system when verifying a service dog’s validity. However, there are some questions they can ask and observations they can make.

It’s good to know what these are so that you’ll know if any airline staff is overstepping their bounds or pressing you for information that you are not legally obligated to give. It’s also helpful to know how airline staff will identify service dogs as you can take measures to make their lives (and, in turn, your own) easier.

The DOT allows airlines to do the following to determine whether or not an animal is a service dog:

  1. Ask if the animal is required because of a disability.
  2. Ask what task or work the dog is trained to perform.
  3. Look for identification, such as labeled vests or harnesses.
  4. Look to see if the dog is harnessed, leashed, or otherwise tethered.
  5. Observe the dog’s behavior.

Note that airline staff members are not allowed to ask that you have your dog demonstrate tasks. Though they can ask if you have a disability, they cannot ask for details or specifics about your disability. You can, however, choose to provide information about your disability if it would help the airline accommodate you and your dog better.

For example, if you need a respirator hookup or need a wheelchair to be transported, then it is best to share this information ahead of time (give the airline 48 hours’ notice when possible). However, when it comes to asking about service dogs specifically, the nature of your disability is considered a private health matter.

Does My Service Dog Need to Wear Identification or Have an ID Card?

Some airlines will ask that your service dog wear a labeled vest or harness. However, the DOT does not list this as a requirement on any of its informative pages about service dogs.

Though you’re not legally required to have your dog labeled, it may be best to follow the airline’s policies if they ask that your service dog be wearing a service dog vest. Besides, this makes it easier for everyone to know that your dog is not a pet and should be left alone so that they can focus on working.

Airlines in the US cannot require you to have an ID card for your dog because the US does not have any official nationwide identification systems for service dogs. Airlines can, however, require that your service dog be leashed the entire time you are in the airport and on the plane, and they can also require you to fill out DOT forms before flying.

A woman with a harnessed golden retriever at an airport

Forms Required for Flying With a Service Dog

Airlines do require you to fill out and submit up to two DOT forms before flying with a service dog. In general, you will have to submit these forms 48 hours before your flight. If you do not, or if you book a last-minute flight, the airline may struggle to accommodate your service dog.

If they can accommodate you with enough space for your dog on a last-minute booking, then you’ll need to submit the DOT forms while you are at the airport before you board your plane.

DOT Forms

The DOT has provided two forms for airlines’ usage. The first is a form attesting to the dog’s health, behavior, and training. It asks you to confirm that your dog is up to date on rabies vaccinations, is well-trained and behaved, and will remain tethered for the duration of your time at the airport and on the plane.

The form also has you agree that your service dog can be removed or required to fly in a pet carrier if they are aggressive, unruly, or otherwise pose a danger to other passengers. In this scenario, you would also be charged a pet fee.

The other DOT form is a relief attestation form. This form is only for flights that are eight hours or longer. On this form, you acknowledge that your service dog will not relieve themself on the plane or will do so in a sanitary manner. You also have to explain how your dog is capable of doing either of those things.

International Travel

While those two DOT forms are the only forms that are required by airlines while you are still in the US, you may need other documentation for your service dog if you are traveling to a foreign country. Be sure to do your research about what documents the country requires.

Don’t be afraid to call the airline you’re traveling with; they can often help you figure out exactly what you need. They’re also able to connect you with the appropriate travel offices in other nations so that you can speak to them directly about what is required for you to bring your service dog into their countries.

It’s always a good idea to bring vaccination records and health certificates with you, even if you’re not sure you need them. As the saying goes, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Flying With a Large Service Dog

The ACAA allows airlines to require that a service dog be able to fit in the space at your feet or sit on your lap without touching the seat space around you. If you have a large breed of service dog, wondering if there will be enough space to accommodate them is a valid concern.

Though you are allowed to book a flight with a service dog online, if you have a large breed, it may be better to call and discuss the size of your dog. Many airlines will book you two seats for the price of one, thus increasing the amount of space your dog has on the floor.

If they don’t purposely leave an extra seat vacant for you, they may look for unbooked seats to place you next to. Unfortunately, some airlines are not as accommodating and will not offer a free extra seat. It may be worth paying for an extra seat so that your dog can fit comfortably at your feet.

Once again, make sure that you take care of this ahead of time. If you show up at the airport without addressing the potential issue of your dog’s size, you may find that your large service dog cannot safely fit in the space provided. If that happens, the airline may be unable to accommodate your service dog in the cabin. You’ll then be asked if you would like to send your dog to cargo or switch to a different flight.

A smiling blond woman and golden retriever sit next to bright yellow luggage

How Many Service Dogs Can I Fly With?

Some people have more than one service dog, and the ACAA allows people to fly with two service dogs in the cabin of an airplane.

If you are flying with two service dogs, then you will have to fill out the required DOT form(s) for each dog. Though you should be able to notify the airline during your booking that you’ll be traveling with two service dogs, it is again worth your time to call them directly and make sure that there is enough space for both dogs to be accommodated.

If both of the dogs are large and thus cannot fit in the space at your feet, you may have to purchase an extra seat. Some airlines will provide the extra space for free, especially if the flight has unbooked seats.

Again, it’s very important to call ahead of time. If one or both service dogs cannot be accommodated because the airline did not have enough notice, then they may have to fly as cargo. This will also be free of charge as they are service dogs, but it is obviously not preferable, especially if they perform life-saving tasks.

Rules for Service Dogs

To keep airports and airplanes safe for all passengers, airlines are allowed to have some rules for service dogs. First of all, service dogs must be under your control the entire time you are at the airport or on the plane.

The airline means two things by this: your dog obeys you, and your dog is tethered or leashed at all times. Unfortunately, airlines can require you to keep your service dog leashed even if a leash inhibits the tasks the dog is trained to do.

Airlines also expect your service dog to be well-behaved. Your service dog should not jump at, lunge at, bark at, or be aggressive toward other passengers or airline staff. If your service dog behaves in a disruptive or unruly manner, the airline has the right to relegate them to pet status and apply the same rules to your service dog as are applied to other pets.

Finally, your service dog has to be able to hold their bladder and bowels for the duration of the flight. For long flights, they either have to hold it or be able to relieve themself in a sanitary manner. Failure to do so can be seen as posing a health threat and, again, may cause your service dog to lose the privilege of staying in the cabin with you.

Many airports have designated areas for service dogs to relieve themselves before boarding a flight—you can typically find out where these areas are located ahead of time on the websites of each airport.

When Can Airlines Deny Service Dogs?

There are a few situations in which airlines can prohibit your service dog from traveling with you in the airplane’s cabin.

  1. You did not contact the airline within 48 hours of your flight, and they are unable to make space for your dog, or you did not submit DOT forms within 48 hours of departure.
  2. Your dog shows aggression or other unruly behavior while in the airport or before the plane takes off.
  3. The dog exceeds what is considered a safe size and weight to be transported in the cabin.
  4. The dog violates health requirements and is prohibited from entering a country.

Airlines are NOT allowed to deny your service dog because of the dog’s breed. For example, even if the airline has banned pit bulls from their flights, this does not apply to your service dog, even if your service dog is a pit bull. This is because the ACAA recognizes that any breed can be a service dog and has prohibited airlines from discriminating against specific breeds of service dogs directly.

Woman with a King Charles spaniel on her lap looks out an airplane window

Do Airlines Have Specific Service Dog Policies?

All airlines in the United States must follow the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) but airlines still have some autonomy. For example, some airlines may allow service dogs to sit on your lap as long as they fit, while others might only allow them to sit there if they’re a specific size. Every airline also has specific rules about pet carriers.

Learn more about some of the service dog policies of the most popular airlines below.

What Are Delta Airlines’ Policies on Service Dogs? 

Delta has similar policies as other airlines for service dogs, even some of the larger breeds. Therefore, it’s important to keep them in mind before purchasing a ticket for a Delta Airlines flight. Some of the important policies to note are listed below:

  • Service dogs must be seated on the owner’s lap or the floor space in front of the passenger
  • On Delta flights, service dogs can’t sit in seats or block any aisles
  • Trained service dogs fly for free on Delta Airlines flights
  • Service dogs are not allowed to eat food from trays
  • Any pet or service animal must be trained to behave in a public setting

These are some of the main factors to consider when flying with a service animal on Delta Airlines.

Delta also makes it easy to submit documents for your service dogs. You can submit them up to 48 hours early with Delta’s My Trips section of their website or app.

What Are Southwest’s Policies on Service Dogs?

Southwest’s policy on service dogs is simple compared to some other airlines but it’s in accordance with the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA). That said, Southwest no longer accepts emotional support animals (ESAs) unless they’re in a carrier, which costs $95. This applies to dogs, cats, and other non-harmful animals.

When it comes to service dogs, however, the policies of Southwest Airlines are as follows:

  • The service dog can’t block exit paths or any exits
  • No service dog can extend into the aisle
  • Service dogs can’t be on a tray table or take up the space of a tray table
  • A service dog can’t encroach on another passenger’s foot space
  • Service dogs can’t sit in a seat
  • Your service animal must have a leash, harness, or tether and remain with you at all times
  • You must check in with a ticket counter or gate agent
  • Only animals that are smaller than the size of a two-year-old child can sit on your lap 

Aside from these policies, Southwest also offers a relief area for your service dog. This is location-specific but it can help you find a place to let your service dog go to the bathroom before boarding.

What Are Spirit Airlines’ Policies on Service Dogs?

Spirit Airlines’ service dog policy is similar to other airlines but with a few key differences. This is because Spirit Airlines allows pets on planes as long as you have a carrier. For this reason, you might be able to bring an emotional support dog or therapy dog on a Spirit Airlines flight as long as you have a carrier.

That information aside, the important details of Spirit Airlines’ service dog policy are:

  • You must submit your DOT form 48 hours before your flight using the Spirit’s online portal
  • Service dogs can’t extend into another guest’s foot space
  • Your service dog can’t block emergency exits or the aisle
  • Service dogs must remain with you at all times and stay seated

Spirit Airlines also exempts service dogs from fees. Other policies are similar to what you find from most airlines, according to the ACAA.

What Are Alaskan Airline’s Service Dog Policies? 

Alaska Airlines has to allow service animals on board because of the Air Carrier Access Act. That said, there are some specific policies about this airline you should consider before flying. These include:

  • Handlers can only have two service dogs on a flight
  • Requesting travel with a service dog is done through the Open Doors Organization and their Service Animals Portal
  • Service animals must be seated in the handler’s foot space
  • If service dogs are smaller than an infant they can sit on your lap
  • Service dogs can’t sit in seats

It’s also recommended that you get a ticket for bulkhead seating if you need more room to go with your service dog on Alaska Airlines.

What Are JetBlue Airways’ Service Dog Policies? 

JetBlue has specific policies for service dogs that are important to know before you plan on flying. These are similar to other airlines, like Delta Airlines, but there are some key differences. Learn more about JetBlue’s service dog policies below:

  • Only service dogs that are fully trained are allowed to board planes with their handlers; service dogs in training are not permitted
  • Service dogs must be under the control of the handler at all times
  • JetBlue and airport staff assess the behavior of the dog before allowing them on the plane
  • You must submit documentation of your service dog 48 hours before your flight 
  • JetBlue can be notified on their website or by calling their number

These are the most important policies that JetBlue has for flying with a service dog.

What Are United Airlines’ Service Dog Policies

United Airlines, like other United States airlines, allows service dogs on planes with their handlers. That said, there aren’t many specific policies that make United Airlines different from other airlines. However, there are a few notable policies to keep an eye on based on seating. These include:

  • Service dogs are allowed in carriers if they’re the right size
  • Emotional support animals and therapy animals are allowed to travel but must follow pet rules, which require animals to be in carriers
  • You can’t sit in an exit row 

These are the most important policies you need to consider when using United Airlines to travel with a service dog.

What Are Hawaiian Airlines Service Dog Policies?

Hawaii has some specific policies for service dogs that you won’t find with other airlines. For example, service dogs and any other animals can only enter the state through Daniel K. Inouye International Airport. However, there are some exceptions, including a Neighboring Islands Inspection Permit.

Some other Hawaiian Airlines policies include:

  • Service animals need a valid animal health certificate that’s dated within 14 days of your flight
  • All service dogs must have a rabies vaccine and must pass OIE-FAVN rabies blood test before arrival
  • Service dogs must remain near the handler and can’t block exits or aisles
  • Checking your service dog in before flights is recommended

These are the most notable policies that Hawaiian Airlines has for service dogs.

What Are Frontier Airlines’ Policies for Service Dogs?

Frontier Airlines follows guidelines from the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) but does have some unique rules for traveling with service animals. Learn more about some of Frontier’s policies for flying with service dogs below:

  • Service dogs must be fully trained
  • A service dog must be at least 4 months old
  • Service dogs can’t be in aisles or take up the space of another passenger
  • Handlers must control their service dogs at all times
  • Service dogs can’t be in a carrier take-off or landing

As long as you follow these rules, you’ll have no problems flying with Frontier Airlines.

These are only a handful of airlines, so it’s important to look into specific requirements for each airline before traveling. Shiba inu dressed as a pilot lies in the grass in front of an airplane

Tips for Flying with a Service Dog

Flying with a service dog isn’t always easy, especially if it’s your first time. If you want to make the experience as seamless as possible, follow some of our tips below. 

Call or Visit Your Veterinarian

In the US, dogs are required to be up to date on their rabies vaccine before they are allowed on airplanes. However, if you’re traveling to another country, other vaccinations may be required.

Call your veterinarian to double-check which vaccines your dog has so you’ll know which are still needed. You may also need to get proof of vaccination or health certificates from your veterinarian to enter some foreign countries.

Feed Carefully

It’s not uncommon for dogs to get a little nauseous during a flight. Because of this, you should not feed your service dog right before boarding. Feed them no sooner than three hours before a flight to prevent accidents.

Encourage Pottying

Though airports do have relief areas, you may want to try and get your dog to go potty before you leave for the airport. Take your dog for a walk around the neighborhood or let them run in your yard or a dog park.

Hopefully, they’ll empty their bowels. Once at the airport, you’ll want to give your service dog several more chances to potty again before boarding the plane.

Arrive at the Airport Early

Feeling anxious about getting your dog on a plane? Arriving early can help you relieve some anxiety. We recommend arriving a few hours early so that you can familiarize yourself with airport staff. There are also areas for your service dog to use the bathroom before boarding, which can prevent you from getting into trouble on the plane.

Always Overpack

When boarding a plane with a service dog, preparedness is key. We recommend packing more than you’ll need just in case you run out of something. Make sure you bring the appropriate amount of grooming supplies, medications, or treats. Also, make sure you bring enough essentials for yourself, this way you don’t have to panic at the gates or scramble to get anything at the airport.

Following these tips will help you board planes faster and with less anxiety.


Questions about specific airlines or dog breeds? We have answers to any common questions you may have below.

Are Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) Allowed on Planes? 

Yes and no. Some airlines allow emotional support animals on planes, while others don’t. This is because the Air Carrier Access Act and Americans with Disabilities Act don’t include provisions for emotional support animals. Therefore, airlines can dictate their policy around emotional support animals. 

That said, some airlines will allow you to travel with an ESA if it follows the rules or other pets. This typically means they need to be in a carrier.

Are Therapy Dogs Allowed on Planes?

Typically, therapy dogs are allowed on planes. Therapy dogs provide comfort in places like nursing homes, schools, hospitals, and other group settings. When flying on planes, therapy dogs are usually treated like pets. This means that you need to have them in a carrier if they’re sitting with you in the cabin. Otherwise, they can fly with you but in the cargo hold of a plane.

Where do Service Dogs go to the Bathroom on Airplanes?

Service dogs don’t usually have to use the bathroom on flights shorter than eight hours but accidents do happen and they will typically have to use the bathroom on long flights. In either case, you should bring pee pads into the bathroom and allow the dog to use them there. Then, throw away the pee pad. If your dog has poop, put the poop in the toilet and flush it.

How to Fly With a Service Dog

Flying with your service dog doesn’t have to be a nightmare. Being prepared is the best way to prevent it from becoming one. Call your airline ahead of time to make sure there is enough space for your dog, especially if you have a large breed. Make sure to submit your DOT forms within 48 hours of your flight, and bring printed copies of them with you to the airport, just in case.

Make sure that your service dog is kept on a leash and has done their business before getting on the plane. Don’t feed them within three hours of the flight to prevent sickness while in the air. Make sure to bring extra food in case of a layover and a chew toy to help with the stress of turbulence.

If you’ve done your best to be prepared, but the airline still gives you trouble, know that it is within your right to submit a complaint to the DOT, especially if you believe you’ve been discriminated against because of your disability.