Air Canada's Rules On Pets and Service Animals Who Fly

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Air Canada announced that as of July 15, 2007, pets must travel as air cargo, not as checked luggage. Service animals without proper documentation may be affected. Other airlines apply their own rules.

Air Canada announced that as of July 15, 2007, pets must travel as air cargo, not as checked luggage. Service animals without proper documentation may be affected. Other airlines apply their own rules.

In September 2006, Air Canada stopped allowing pets to be taken into the passenger cabin as carry-on baggage. Because of a second policy change, Air Canada has said that pets will have to travel as air cargo and not as checked baggage as of July 15, 2007. From an accessible transportation perspective, the concern is that service animals which are not fully documented to the airline's satisfaction could end up being classed as pets and having to travel separately from their owners. The cost of sending a pet as cargo is also an issue.

Service Animals
Service animals can still travel at the passenger's feet on Air Canada, but they must fit within the rules. Air Canada's rules are more or less a paraphrase of Transport Canada's Advisory Circular (1977) on this topic. According to Transport Canada, service animals must be

* required by a person with a disability for assistance
* certified, in writing, as having been trained to assist a person with a disability by a professional service animal institution.

These criteria raise some obvious questions, such as

* who is qualified to issue "certification"
* what qualifies as a "professional service animal institution".

Practically, it appears that widely-known training organizations (the example given is Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind) may issue certification. If the service animal has been trained by a lesser-known group, it would be wise to check that the certification will be acceptable.

A service animal which is not required by a person with a disability on the flight must travel the same way as any other animal.

There are some service animals which are borderline and not universally recognized as service animals. In the days when Air Canada would allow pets to travel in the passenger cabin, this was less of a concern. However, if a service animal without proper documentation is classed as a pet, it may result in the animal having to travel as cargo separately from its owner.

Travelling on Air Canada as of July 15, 2007

Air Canada has announced that as of July 15, 2007, animals will not be allowed in the baggage compartment. Instead they must travel as cargo.

This decision has caused concern among people who frequently travel with their pets, and a complaint has been made to the Canadian Transportation Agency.

The Canadian Transportation Agency issued a press release on July 11, 2007 saying that it has suspended Air Canada's proposed modification to its rules until the Agency has determined whether the new policy is "just, reasonable and not unduly discriminatory". However, for jurisdictional reasons, the Agency has only suspended the change on international flights. Flights entirely within Canada will be under the new policy (animals in cargo only) as of July 15, 2007 as matters now stand.

Air Canada has not changed its policy on service animals. However, for those service animals which do not have proper documentation, it is possible that they may be classified as pets, in which case Air Canada's new policy will apply to them. It will be important to carry acceptable documentation and to verify that the service animal will be allowed to travel as such.

Travellers with disabilities should request and carry written confirmation of special arrangements for their air travel.

The Canadian Transportation Agency has asked Air Canada and the complainant to make submissions about the new policy. In due course, the Agency will decide whether Air Canada's policy is acceptable.

As at July 11, 2007, there is a difference between taking a pet on an international flight (pets allowed in the baggage compartment) and a domestic flight (pets to travel as cargo only as of July 15, 2007).

Other Airlines

The comments above apply only to Air Canada. Other airlines have their own policies regarding travelling pets.