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.
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)
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.
The 5 Best Airlines to Fly with Dogs in 2023
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.