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Airlines: ESA Letters & Psychiatric Service Dogs

This collection of articles will teach you everything you need to know about airline policies regarding emotional support animals (ESAs) and psychiatric service dogs (PSDs).

Kristi Carignan
February 7, 2024
Updated By
February 7, 2024
Expert Reviewed By:


Emotional support animals (ESAs) were previously allowed to fly on domestic airlines in The United States free of charge. However, recent changes to the Air Carrier Access Act have revoked these privileges meaning airlines can now charge to carry ESAs and impose standard pet rules. Service dogs, including psychiatric service dogs, are still protected and may fly for free.

Can Emotional Support Animals Fly On Airplanes?

Emotional support animals (ESA) offer their owners significant therapeutic advantages by providing routine, comfort, and unconditional love. It’s no wonder that many people cannot imagine traveling without their beloved ESA. Unfortunately, navigating flying with your ESA can be tricky and confusing as legislation has recently changed. 

Under federal law in the US, service animals are permitted to travel on airplanes with their handlers. This includes psychiatric service dogs (PSD). ESAs, however, are only allowed in the cabin at the airline's discretion. In some instances, ESAs may still have to travel in the cargo hold and be subjected to the same policies and fees as pet animals. Most domestic airlines in the US no longer allow ESAs to travel free of charge. However, there are a few more options when it comes to international airlines, such as LATAM, Avianca, or Copa.

In our Airlines & ESAs articles, we will explore everything you need to know about traveling via plane with your ESA or service animal.

The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA)

The Air Carrier Access Act is a federal law instituted by the Department of Transportation (DOT). It “prohibits discrimination based on disability in air travel.” As such, airlines must accept service animals - provided they are well-behaved and do not pose a danger to other passengers or overall flight safety.

Under this act, service animals and psychiatric service animals are protected and handlers do not have to pay additional fees or have their animals travel in the hold when flying with them.

Changes Made to the ACAA in 2021 Regarding ESAs

DOT revoked previous rules that protected the rights of those flying with ESAs in 2021. In response, many airlines stopped allowing ESAs to travel in the cabin if they exceeded size restrictions or insisted that owners pay the standard pet fee.

Under this new law, airlines can choose whether or not to permit ESAs. Unfortunately, many domestic airlines in the US have opted not to allow them. ESAs are typically subjected to the same regulations and tariffs as conventional pets.

Which Airlines Still Allow Emotional Support Animals?

While many domestic airlines have stopped allowing ESAs to travel under the umbrella of assistance animals, certain airlines do allow ESAs if they meet weight and size guidelines. 

ESA-friendly airlines include: 

  • LATAM Airlines 
  • Volaris
  • Aeromexico
  • Copa Airlines

However, ESAs are generally only allowed on flights within South or Central America, meaning if you travel on these airlines from or to the United States your ESA will be subject to standard pet fees and rules.

How to Travel with an Emotional Support Animal

When traveling with your ESA, there are a few things to keep in mind. You will want to choose pet-friendly airlines and transportation services and stay in pet-friendly accommodation. It is also important that your animal is up to date with all its vaccinations and well-behaved in public spaces.

Book with a Pet-Friendly Airline

Always check with the airline what their specific policy is. ESA-friendly airlines should accept your emotional support animal as an assistance aid and won’t charge additional fees. Other airlines might allow your ESA, but you may need to pay a conventional pet fee. Ensure that you check the guidelines for your ESA and check if the specific species is allowed on the flight. You should also check whether they can fly in the cabin as a 'carry-on', or whether they will have to fly in the hold as 'cargo.' 

Take note of the following when looking to travel with an ESA. 

  • Many airlines will only accept dogs and not other ESAs.
  • Check the size and weight restrictions to see if your animal can fly in the cabin with you. Certain airlines have weight or size restrictions for pets. 
  • Ensure that your animal is properly harnessed or in a crate/animal carrier as per the airline’s guidelines. 
  • Check whether you need an ESA letter. As a general rule, it is always best to have one. 
  • Some airlines won’t allow dogs under 4 months of age. 
  • Ensure your ESA letter was written within a year of the flight. 
  • Fill in necessary airline request forms before travel. 
  • Have proof of vaccinations on hand. 
  • Ensure that your animal is well-behaved and doesn’t pose safety threats to other animals or passengers.

Stay in Pet-Friendly Accommodation

Choose accommodation options that are pet-friendly to avoid any disappointment and ensure a comfortable stay for you and your ESA. Many booking websites allow you to filter for pet-friendly options, making the process easier.

Bring Your ESA Letter

An ESA letter, written by a licensed mental health professional (LMHP) – such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, counselor, or psychiatric nurse – is a great way to showcase the legitimacy of your emotional support animal. When you work with Pettable, we will arrange a consultation between you and a licensed practitioner within your state.

While an ESA letter might not offer total protection, especially if an airline is not ESA-friendly, it can smooth over interactions and highlight the legitimacy of your claim.

GO Deeper

Which Airlines Allow Emotional Support Animals

Find out which airlines are still allowing emotional support animals and everything else you need to know about flying with your ESA. We also cover psychiatric service dogs as a great alternative to an ESA, which will let you travel anywhere with your pet.

Can Psychiatric Service Dogs Fly On Airplanes?

Yes. The Department of Transportation protects service animals. Service animals and psychiatric service dogs are still safeguarded under federal law and are allowed to travel free of charge and in the cabin with their handlers. Under the 2021 amendment, only ESAs were excluded from travel protections. DOT defines service animals as:

“A dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability”

Service animals differ from ESAs in that they are specifically trained to perform disability-related tasks.

Service Dogs Under the Air Carrier Access Act

Service dogs are allowed to travel with their owners for free on domestic airlines. While some airlines stipulate that pet animals should fit on the handler's lap or in the foot space below the seat, airlines cannot restrict service dogs based on breed or size. If a dog is too big for the handler’s lap or to be safely stowed at the feet, the airline must make reasonable accommodations. (For example, bulkhead seating or an open row).

According to DOT, handlers can travel with up to two service dogs who provide different disability-related functions.

Requirements for Flying with a Psychiatric Service Dog

When traveling with your PSD, it is important to follow these guidelines to ensure a safe and comfortable flight for all, including your service animal.

Fully Train Your Psychiatric Service Dog

Ensure that your service animal is fully trained and able to behave well in public. Make sure your dog is toilet trained and won’t get overstimulated in public spaces. Service dogs must be well disciplined and should not showcase anxiety or aggression to other people or animals. 

Using special service dog harnesses, leashes, and badges is a great way to alert the public that they are working dogs.

Notify Your Airline that You Are Flying with a Service Dog

Notify the airline that you will be traveling with a service animal when you book your flight and find out about any important paperwork you need to fill in. 

Fill out the DOT Service Animal Air Transportation Form

DOT requires handlers to fill out a special form known as the Service Animal Air Transportation Form. Generally, this must be completed 48 hours before the flight, however, some airlines may require earlier submission. The form includes important information about the animal’s behavior and specialized training, their health information (including vaccinations), and information about the handler.

If flights are longer than 8 hours, handlers will need to fill in an additional form, known as the Service Animal Relief Attestation Form. This form assures airlines of two things:

  • The animal will not need to relieve itself for the duration of the flight, or 
  • If it does need to relieve itself, it will not cause sanitization or health issues (for example, the dog has a special doggy diaper)
GO Deeper

8 Tips for Traveling With a Service Dog

If you have a service dog, you are able to fly on any airline in the United States free of charge. Make sure you are prepared for your trip with the proper documents, dog supplies, and an understanding of the rules of service dog travel.

Other Federal Pet Restrictions On Airlines

All animals on flights must be well-behaved and well-trained, whether they are service animals, ESAs, or conventional pets. They should not cause problems or display any disruptive behaviors like barking, lunging, growling, howling, or whining. If an animal causes any damage to the cabin, it is the responsibility of the owner to pay for damages. 

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) notes that airlines can choose whether pet animals are allowed in cabins or if they must go in the hold. Service animals, as discussed above, are always allowed in the cabin with their handler. 

Pets must ultimately follow similar rules to that of hand luggage. Below, we will highlight specific guidelines when traveling with a pet.

FAA Guidelines for Flying with a Pet

According to the FAA, pets are considered as a ‘carry-on’ and certain guidelines should be followed, including:

  • The pet carrier should be small enough to fit under the seat and not block other passengers. 
  • Pet carriers must be stowed correctly for the flight to take off. Consult a member of the flight team if you need help with this. 
  • The carrier must stay correctly stowed for the duration of the flight.

Unless the animal is a service animal, larger pets are usually regarded as cargo and must fly in the hold.

Airline-Specific Pet Policies & Restrictions

Different airlines have different policies regarding ESAs and pet animals. Generally, they will require the following:

  • They will limit what species of animal you can bring with you in the cabin
  • Have a limit on how many pets can travel in the cabin in one flight
  • Limit how many pets join you on the flight 
  • Require that pets traveling in the cabin are “harmless, inoffensive, and odorless” 
  • Require pets to stay in the pet carrier for the duration of the flight 
  • Require you to produce a health certificate for the animal

All the airlines below allow service animals as per DOT. However, pet policies and fees may differ when it comes to conventional pets & ESAs. Most airlines charge around $125 each way for pets on domestic flights, however, fees can change. 

Delta Airlines Pet Policy

Pets are allowed in the cabin on Delta Airlines if they fit into a ventilated pet carrier that fits under the seat. Pets must be over 10 weeks old and the dimensions of the carry-on should not exceed 18” x 11” x 11”.

United Airlines Pet Policy

United Airlines does not have any breed or weight restrictions, however, pets in the cabin must fit in a pet carrier that can be stowed beneath the seat. The carrier should not exceed 17.5 inches in length and only service animals are allowed to travel without a carrier. 

Southwest Airlines Pet Policy

Small pet cats and dogs are welcome if they are in a pet carrier that fits below the seat in front of their owner.  

American Airlines Pet Policy

Only cats and dogs can join owners in the cabin. They must be in an official pet carrier that can fit below the seat and soft-sided kennels with ventilation are recommended. 

JetBlue Pet Policy

An FAA-approved pet carrier must be used to transport pets on JetBlue flights and the carrier must fit below the seat in front of the passenger.

GO Deeper

The 5 Best Airlines to Fly with Dogs in 2024

Most airlines allow dogs in some capacity, although having a service dog ensures you can fly on all airlines free of charge. If your dog is a pet or emotional service animal, these 5 airlines are the best choice for flying with your canine companion.

Emotional Support Animal (ESA) and Psychiatric Service Dogs (PSD) Policies by Airlines

Our comprehensive guides for each airline below will help you prepare for your trip. You'll also learn what forms to fill out, plus how to access psychiatric service dog training from Pettable – allowing you to take your dog anywhere.

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