Assistance dogs - general information for travellers
Assistance dogs are trained and accredited by an approved organisation to assist a person to alleviate the effects of a disability (including that the dog has passed the public access test (PAT)). Assistance dogs fall into three categories:
- guide dogs - dogs that assist a person to alleviate the effects of a vision impairment
- hearing dogs - dogs that assist a person to alleviate the effects of a hearing impairment
- other assistance dogs - dogs that assist a person to overcome the effects of a diagnosed disability (including physical, sensory or psychological disabilities), other than a vision or hearing impairment.
Regulations and obtaining approval from an airline
The carriage of animals on aircraft is covered under regulation 256A of the Civil Aviation Regulations 1988 (CAR). Only assistance dogs that are accompanying a visually impaired or hearing impaired person as a guide or an assistant are covered under CAR 256A. Carriage of assistance dogs other than guide dogs and hearing dogs are not specifically mentioned in CAR 256A. The carriage is regulated through permissions issued to some airlines enabling them to accept assistance dogs in the cabin of an aircraft. Please see carriage of assistance dogs in the cabin of an aircraft for information CASA provides to the operators (airlines).
Passengers must notify the airline as soon as possible of their intentions to travel with an assistance dog, with each airline requiring different notice periods (please check with the airline for specific requirements). CASA does not issue permissions to individual passengers, therefore passengers seeking approval must contact the airline directly, as they make an assessment based on the identified risks in their operation. If the airline you are travelling with does not have permission to accept assistance dogs, they can apply directly to CASA for approval.
Approval will vary from airline to airline. Approval from one airline does not guarantee approval from other airlines, as each airline is required to develop procedures in relation to assistance dogs that address risks specific to their operations. If you are travelling internationally on an overseas based airline, you will need to contact that carrier directly to establish what their regulations and procedures require. The Australian Department of Agriculture and Water Resources provides information on quarantine regulations.
Once you have received approval from the airline, generally, your assistance dog will be accepted for travel. However, travel in the aircraft cabin is always subject to final approval of the operating captain of your flight, regardless of approval from the airline.
If an airline will not grant approval for the travel of your assistance dog, CASA will not intervene. Under the Civil Aviation Act 1988, CASA’s functions relate to the safety of air navigation within Australian and on Australian registered aircraft travelling outside of Australia. CASA’s role in relation to assistance dogs relates to the safety of aircraft, crew and passengers.
If you believe you have not been dealt with fairly in relation to the carriage of your assistance animal you may seek further advice from the Australian Human Rights Commission.
Training requirements for assistance dogs
It is a requirement to be able to demonstrate that your assistance dog has been trained or is being trained as an assistance dog by an approved organisation. An approved organisation is an assistance dog training organisation which is accepted by the airline and:
- Is accredited by an animal training organisation prescribed by the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 – Section 9, or
- meets or exceeds the minimum standards set by:
Please note there are currently no organisation’s prescribed under the DDA.
In addition to being trained by an approved organisation, you need to provide evidence that your assistance dog has completed a public access test (PAT) showing it is suitable for travel on public transport or for an assistance dog being trained. Documentary evidence must be provided from an approved organisation showing that your assistance dog is suitable for travel on public transport. If your dog has been trained overseas, provided that you can demonstrate that your assistance dog has been trained and accredited by a foreign assistance dog training organisation which meets or exceeds the minimum standards as set out by Assistance Dogs International for full membership of that organisation, your assistance dog will generally be accepted for travel.
If you have trained your assistance dog (owner trained), you will still need to comply with the conditions outlined above, as well as an independent assessment of the suitability of the training. It is recommended that you speak with the airline you are travelling with to discuss what options are available.
At the airport and travelling in the cabin
If the assistance dog is trained and accompanying its handler, the person accompanying the assistance dog must produce to the airline a proof of identity document issued by an approved organisation, showing that the dog has passed the PAT. If the assistance dog is accompanying its trainer, the operator must be provided with a proof of identity document issued by an approved organisation, identifying the person as an approved trainer. The assistance dog must be accompanying its handler or its trainer from an approved organisation throughout the airport terminal and in the cabin.
While travelling in the cabin, the airline will determine the most appropriate seat for you and your assistance dog based on a number of factors including the particular aircraft and configuration you will be flying on. Your assistance dog will be placed as close to you as practicably possible, on a moisture absorbent mat on the floor of the aircraft, which will be supplied by the airline. Your assistance dog must be restrained in a way that will prevent the dog from moving from the mat.