Airlines & Cruise Ships


Due to the efforts of The Seeing Eye’s cofounder Morris Frank and other dedicated advocates, guide dog handlers today enjoy the same modes of travel as people without service animals. Of course, with travel opportunities come a number of challenges. It is a good idea for guide dog handlers to have an understanding of their rights and responsibilities while traveling. Air carriers, public entities and government agencies also have a responsibility to be informed about which laws apply to them and how to appropriately engage with guide dog handlers. Here is some information about common issues and questions that come up when guide dog handlers travel.

Air Travel

General Information about the Air Carrier Access Act

Under the ACAA, a service animal is an animal that is individually trained or able to provide assistance to a person with a disability; or any animal that assists persons with disabilities by providing emotional support. This definition is broader than the ADA definition of service animal, which does not include emotional support animals and generally is limited to dogs. Because of the differences between these laws, there are situations when an animal that provides emotional support and/or is not a dog is allowed in a part of the airport controlled by an airline, but may not be allowed in shops or restaurants in the airport. More and more people are traveling with animals and there has been a significant increase in incidents where animals are badly behaved in airports, including repeated barking and growling, jumping on passengers, and running around uncontrolled. This has led to a growing concern about “fake service animals” in airports. Read A Seeing Eye Perspective for more information about our position on this issue.

What Guide Dog Handlers and Airlines Should Know About Working Together

When making reservations, passengers working with guide dogs are not required to notify the airline that they will be accompanied by their dog unless they request an accommodation or plan to travel to Hawaii or to other countries. Carriers may require documentation that the animal will not need to relieve itself on flight segments scheduled to take eight hours or more. No additional fees may be charged for a service animal or for airport assistance when making connections or visiting animal relief areas.

It can be helpful for passengers working with guide dogs to ask to preboard in order to have additional time to get situated at their seat with their dog. The handler must affirmatively let the airline know they are a person with a disability and that they need to preboard and the airline should make this accommodation. The ACAA requires service animals to be seated at the feet of a person with a disability in any bulkhead seat or in any other seat. When the dog is curled up or seated on the floor, no part of the dog should extend into the main aisle. A service animal team cannot be seated in an emergency exit row seat. If a service animal cannot be accommodated at the seat location of the passenger with a disability who is using the animal, the airline must offer the passenger the opportunity to move with the animal to another seat location where the animal can be accommodated. An airline is not required to upgrade the passenger to a different class of service to accommodate their service animal.

Passengers who feel that the airline has discriminated against them can file a complaint with the Department of Transportation’s Aviation Consumer Protection Division or request immediate on site assistance from a Complaint Resolution Officer (CRO).

For more information or questions about air travel, passengers may call the Aviation Consumer Disability Toll-Free Hotline at (800) 778-4838; check out the U.S. Department of Transportation’s link to information about air travel with service animals; and check out our tips for traveling by air with a guide dog.

Airport Security Checkpoints

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is responsible for screening air travelers with service animals. Passengers are expected to maintain control of their service dogs by holding onto the leash throughout the screening process. Passengers with animals may also be subject to explosives trace testing. At no time should TSA personnel require that the dog be separated from its handler or that the harness, collar or leash be removed from the dog. If a passenger exits past the checkpoint to relieve his or her dog, the passenger and dog will need to undergo the screening process again. When he or she returns to the security checkpoint, he or she can ask to move to the front of the screening line. However, some larger airports now have relieving areas inside security.

Travelers with complaints about the screening process may request immediate on site assistance from a TSA supervisor or Passenger Support Specialist. Prior to travel, passengers with questions about screening policies, procedures or what to expect when they arrive at the airport security checkpoint may call TSA Cares at 1-855-787-2227 or email A guide dog handler who needs to file a formal complaint against a Transportation Security Officer (TSO) can do so by calling the TSA Contact Center at 866-289-9673 or file a complaint online.

Cruising with a Guide Dog

Planning a cruise with your guide dog involves two parts. First, you will need to contact the cruise line to make arrangements for your dog. Many cruise lines require an international health certificate and current vaccination records. Generally a 4’ x 4’ wooden box filled with mulch or other type of absorbent material is provided for the relief area. Early boarding for orientation tours is often available upon request and can be a good idea if you need time to get your dog acclimated to their surroundings including relieving area. There is no limitation on the number of service animals that can be brought on a given voyage and passengers may bring a reasonable quantity of dog food aboard the vessel at no additional charge.

Second, passengers cruising with service animals must also obtain all customs and other governmental approvals so that the dog may disembark with the handler in the various ports of call. Many countries have strict entry requirements for service animals and some do not allow service animals at all. Be sure to check with the cruise line to see what options, if any, are available for leaving your dog on the ship. Some cruise lines do not allow you to leave your dog on the ship and ultimately you are responsible for your dog’s care and relieving needs.