Service Animal Relief Areas at Airports

July 26, 2010 · Posted in Public Interaction, Service Dogs 
Relief area, please!

Have you traveled through an airport since the U.S. Department of Transportation required airports to install service animal relief areas? Whistle and I flew to Washington, D.C. last week. We traveled through the Chicago Midway Airport and Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C.

We had a three hour layover on the way to Washington, D.C. in Chicago. I was so disappointed to see that the relief area was outside the secured perimeter at baggage claim. My caregiver took Whistle out and they had to go through security. We asked security if they could come back through the line any faster and were told they would have to go through the normal line. This was awfully time consuming and even though we had a three hour layover, we barely made our next flight. The security line was extremely long.

On the way back, Dulles did have a fenced in dog relief area. However, it too was outside of the secured perimeter and requires handlers to return through security. Once we landed at Chicago Midway, the security line was so long that we felt my caregiver would not have enough time to take Whistle out to the relief area and return through the enormous security line.

We asked a TSA official and a Chicago police officer and they both informed us that she would have to return through the security line with Whistle. They made no attempt to assist us and they didn’t really seem to know what I was talking about when I asked about a service dog relief area.

What we needed was a TSA security escort as a reasonable accommodation to get Whistle to the relief area and back through security so we could access our gate in a reasonable amount of time. That’s not what we received.

Poor Whistle did not have the opportunity to relieve himself and he was desperate to go out once we landed in Albuquerque. The Albuquerque airport does not have a specific dog relief area either. There is a grassy area that is unfenced and located outside the security perimeter where he relieves himself. And of course, there are no baggies or readily available trash bins.

I am contemplating filing a complaint with all three airports regarding their lack of compliance with the Department of Transportation requirement. I do not like to file complaints but I fear if we don’t self-advocate, this lack of responsiveness will continue indefinitely. Have you had any airport experiences with service dog relief areas? Did you file a complaint?


10 Responses to “Service Animal Relief Areas at Airports”

  1. Tonja on July 26th, 2010 9:45 pm

    File a complaint. You are lucky to have a caregiver to do this.. I hesitate to travel, because I would be the one doing this if I were to fly. As everyone’s issues are different, with no accommodation accidents are bound to happen whether it be the Assistance Dog handler not being able to walk that far, or that fast or to stand in a line under time constraints and stressful conditions.

    I wouldn’t even know how to handle this if I were to also become ill while at the airport, and then have to manage to get out to the relief area and then stand in line again to get back through.. some of us only have so many “spoons” a day.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Just my two cents.

  2. Marcie on July 27th, 2010 5:14 am

    Thanks for your comment Tonja. I used to travel alone but as I am getting older, I realized that it’s just not safe for me to travel alone anymore. And, yes, I was extremely lucky to be able to travel with a caregiver on this trip. However, this was our first time to travel together and this was all new to her. Every time I travel I feel like I am taking a huge risk. But for some reason, I love to travel and I keep on taking that risk! I am hoping we can educate the airport personnel and TSA and make the road to travel a little easier for those who come after us.

  3. Susan Whitman on July 27th, 2010 6:34 am

    Seattle’s airport has a relieving area in concourse C across from Boarders Bookstore. It is just a small tiled room with a drain in one corner for them to hose the room down. They have also supplied baggies (which I believe is my responsibility) and a garbage can. It is a strange consept for the dogs since most have been trained not to pee inside……but it works! Thank you Sea-Tac!!

  4. Marcie on July 27th, 2010 6:42 am

    Interesting concept! My husband and I actually trained my second service dog, Morgan, to relieve himself on a disposal pad. We did that when we traveled internationally and didn’t have enough time to get him outside and back through security. We are planning another international trip this Fall and are going to try and train Whistle, my current service dog, to relieve himself on a disposal pad. Wish us luck! Thanks so much for your comment.

  5. Team Logan on July 27th, 2010 8:21 pm

    We travelled through Newark and arranged an escort to the relief area through the airline. In our instance it was the same folks who usually push the wheelchairs. Unfortunately it was outside the secured area but our escort facilitated getting us to the beginning of the line on our return. We did this twice, on the way over and the way back and had no problems.

    “If you need to leave the secure boarding area to relieve your animal, you must undergo the full screening process again. Inform the Security Officer upon your return to the security checkpoint and she/him will move you to the front of the screening line to expedite the screening process.”

    Carry a copy of this webpage with you. Security officials will sometimes argue about the policy so you’ll want to be able to show it to them in writing. Print the actual webpage so they can see it’s from their own site. Also make sure you have this phone number for TSA if you have any other problems related to your disability or service animal at security checkpoints: 1-877-336-4872
    “§382.51(5) In cooperation with the airport operator and in consultation with local service animal training organization(s), you must provide animal relief areas for service animals that accompany passengers departing, connecting, or arriving at an airport on your flights.” page 142

    “§382.91(c) As a carrier at a U.S. airport, you must, on request, in cooperation with the airport operator, provide for escorting a passenger with a service animal to an animal relief area provided under §382.51(a)(5) of this Part.” page 153

  6. Team Logan on July 27th, 2010 8:28 pm

    Marcie, I’d love to learn more about how you trained your service dog to go on the potty pad! How long did it take and did you start outside? It’s definitely a good thing for a service dog to know.

  7. Brett on July 29th, 2010 7:20 am

    I absolutely would file a complaint, you and your service dog are entitled to be together, this isn’t just a request it is the law

  8. Marcie on July 29th, 2010 1:16 pm

    It really wasn’t that difficult to train him to go on the disposable pad. Yes, we did start working with him outside. I usually take my service dog out for bathroom breaks on a routine schedule. So, during one of his regularly scheduled bathroom breaks, I would simply put the pad down outside beforehand. Then, I would take him to the pad (while on leash) and give Morgan his bathroom command. I did this for a while and then, I moved the pad into the garage and followed the same process. I then moved the pad onto the floor in my bathroom inside our house and took him to that spot on a regularly scheduled bathroom break. It worked like a charm! I am going to try the same approach with Whistle and I’ll let you know if it works again. I’ll never forget the smile on Morgan and my husband’s face the first time he relieved himself in the universal bathroom at the airport! We were all so excited. Thanks for your comment.

  9. Kyle W. on November 22nd, 2011 9:59 am

    I’m contacting you because the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) seeks public comments on the new requirements it is considering related to Service Animal Relief Areas at Airports in a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM).

    The most important issue for assistance dog teams to comment on, in my opinion, is the location of Service Animal Relief Areas at airports. This is your opportunity to let the DOT and airport operators and the airlines know that our community cares about this issue!

    The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) issued new guidelines in May 2011 that clarify the TSA has no objection to airports installing a service animal relief area outdoors, in the sterile area, for the benefit of passengers with disabilities who travel with assistance dogs.

    The “sterile area” is the official term for the secure zone between the TSA screening checkpoint and your gate area.

    Please join IAADP in submitting a public comment urging the DOT to require airports to locate a minimum of one Service Animal Relief Area per terminal inside the “sterile area” between the TSA security checkpoint and the gate area.

    The NPRM raises the DOT’s concern a number of disabled passengers could miss connecting flights due to the time and distance involved if a service animal relief area is located outside the sterile area of the terminal. After a long trip to a relief area, the disabled passenger would have to go through a screening at the TSA security checkpoint before he or she is allowed to return to the gate area with a guide, hearing or service dog.

    The DOT specifically seeks comments on whether the service animal relief area should be located inside the sterile area or outside the sterile area, to ensure time and distance are not barriers for disabled passengers?

    IAADP shares the concern that time and distance to a relief area located outside the sterile area could result in assistance dog teams missing their flight. Any of us could experience this problem, as any assistance dog can suddenly have a digestive upset. Many like my own service dog may become stressed by severe air turbulence or a thunderstorm during the flight and upon landing, urgently need a trip to a relief area so as to prevent “an accident” and to alleviate cramps. We also noted in our public comment that young dogs, elderly assistance dogs and those on their first flight will need to eliminate more often than assistance dogs in their prime who are seasoned travelers.

    IAADP’s position is the vast majority of assistance dog teams who are on the way to the gate or connecting with another plane or after landing at their destination before they get their luggage would be best served by a service animal relief area that can be accessed from inside the sterile area of each terminal.

    We ask airports that only have one service animal relief area for two or more terminals, believing there is no need for more since that one is rarely used, to take a second look at this problematic situation for disabled passengers.

    For IAADP’s comments on several other related issues raised in the NPRM, with photos of a deplorable service animal relief area and two well designed relief areas sent to us by IAADP members, here is a link to IAADP’s public comment.

    For additional information and other subjects to comment on, you can also read the “Excerpts from the NPRM on Service Animal Relief Areas and the DOT’s comment requests” that follow this letter.

    You can make a short comment online by going to the DOT’s Comment Site right now, using the direct link we provide here. It is easy!!submitComment;D=DOT-OST-2011-0182-0001

    You can also use this link to upload a longer comment you save as a Word.doc or PDF file on your computer. The uploaded comment must have the Docket Number of this NPRM at the top, which is: DOT OST 2011 0182.

    For instructions on how to mail or fax a comment, see the information at the end of this email.

    Please submit a public comment before the Nov. 28, 2011 deadline. If you can get a friend or family member to submit one too, on whether the DOT should require airports to install a minimum of one service animal relief area per terminal and where it should be located, inside or outside the sterile area, that would be awesome. The more comments, the better, to send a message to airport operators, the airlines and the DOT that disabled passengers and other members of the public consider this to be an important matter, worth their time and trouble.


    Joan Froling

    IAADP Chairperson

    *** Excerpts from the NPRM on Service Animal Relief Areas at Airports and

    DOT Comment requests.


    Office of the Secretary

    49 CFR Part 27

    RIN 2105-AD91

    [Docket No. DOT-OST-2011-0182]

    Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability in Programs or

    Activities Receiving Federal Financial Assistance (U.S. Airports)

    AGENCY: Office of the Secretary, Department of Transportation (DOT).

    ACTION: Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM).


    SUMMARY: The Department is proposing to amend its rules implementing

    section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which requires

    accessibility in airport terminal facilities that receive Federal

    financial assistance. The proposed rule includes new provisions related

    to service animal relief areas and captioning of televisions and audio-

    visual displays that are similar to new requirements applicable to U.S.

    and foreign air carriers under the Department’s Air Carrier Access

    (ACAA) regulations, 14 CFR part 382. The NPRM also proposes to

    reorganize the provision in 49

  10. Marguerite Maddox & Jello on November 27th, 2011 5:23 pm




    Service Animal Relief Areas

    Service Animal Relief Areas are available at each passenger terminal. The McNamara Terminal location is outside the International Arrivals area (Lower Level), around the corner of the building at the south end of the curb front. At the North Terminal, there are Relief Areas at each end of the Departures Level curb (Upper Level). All locations provide plastic bags and a container for disposal of solid waste. Contact your airline to arrange for escort services, if required. .


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