Until recently, emotional support animals on American Airlines were treated the same as service dogs, meaning there was no extra charge to fly with them, and they did not have to ride in kennels. The Department of Transportation recently changed its rules regarding service animals. Among the changes was to allow airlines to choose whether to consider ESAs service animals or pets. American Airlines revised its ESA policy and now considers emotional support animals pets.
However, psychiatric service dogs (PSD) still qualify as service animals. American Airlines allows service dogs to fly in the cabin for free. Your ESA may qualify as a PSD with the proper training, allowing you to take them on board an AA flight free of charge. You may also want to get a PSD letter as extra evidence that your dog is a legitimate service dog.
The Bottom Line:
- Does American Airlines Still Accept ESA Letters? - American Airlines changed its policy to no longer treat emotional support animals like service animals. As a result, ESA letters are not accepted.
- What is a PSD Letter? - PSD letters are a method of documenting a psychiatric service dog as a service animal.
- How Do You Get a PSD Letter? - A licensed mental health professional in your state can provide you with a PSD letter if you qualify.
- How Do You Get a Psychiatric Service Dog? - Your dog needs to be trained to perform a task that assists you with your mental health disability. You can additionally acquire a PSD letter that states your need for a service dog, proving its legitimacy.
Recent Changes to AA’s ESA Policy
Before 2021, the US Department of Transportation required airlines to accommodate ESAs as service animals. This requirement was part of the Air Carrier Access Act, a federal law prohibiting airlines from discriminating against passengers with disabilities.
The law was updated in January 2021 to clarify the difference between ESAs and trained service animals. As of 2021, the government's airline regulations no longer protect emotional support animals as service animals. With the change, ESAs on American Airlines flights are now subject to the AA pet policy and its restrictions and fees. Only trained service animals can fly for free with AA.
In addition to putting ESA acceptance in the hands of the airlines, the DOT also clarified the definition of a psychiatric service dog and lifted some restrictions on traveling with a PSD. A dog that meets the requirements can fly as a PSD with the proper documentation. The requirements include DOT-approved forms attesting to the dog's ability to behave in the airport and on the flight. It may also help to get an official PSD letter from Pettable showing that you have a qualifying condition.
How To Fly with Your Psychiatric Service Dog on AA
The most important form to submit when you are planning to travel with a PSD is the US Department of Transportation Service Animal Air Transportation Form, which includes four sections:
- Personal Information: You must fill out your name, contact information, and the dog's name and description. Because of the rule change, only dogs can be considered service animals.
- Animal Health: You must provide the dates of your dog's last rabies vaccination and attest that your dog is free of parasites. Your veterinarian does not have to sign the form, but you have to provide their name and phone number.
- Animal Training and Behavior: You must affirm that your service dog has never displayed any aggressive behavior and has been trained to perform specific tasks for you. You must provide the name and phone number of the trainer or organization responsible for training your dog.
- Other Assurance: You must acknowledge that the answers you have provided are accurate, that you understand the need to keep your dog on a tether, harness, or leash when in the airport or on the aircraft, and that you accept responsibility for any damage that your dog causes.
If your flight is expected to last more than eight hours, you also need another DOT form, the Service Animal Relief Attestation Form. This form affirms that your dog either will not have to relieve themselves during the flight or can do so in a sanitary manner.
You can submit your PSD letter that describes your need for the animal when you submit the DOT forms. You should submit your form no less than 48 hours before your scheduled departure.
How to Get a Legitimate Psychiatric Service Dog — Pettable’s Process
If you’re ready to bring a PSD into your life, Pettable has you covered. All you need to do is take our service dog assessment to determine your eligibility and needs and meet with a licensed mental health professional for an official diagnosis. After that, we can issue your legitimate PSD letter; all you need after that is to train your service dog with our online PSD training program. The letter may be optional, but effective PSD training is a must.
Take Our Assessment
First, take our PSD assessment to determine whether you have a qualifying condition that could be aided by a service dog. We’ll match you with one of our trustworthy professionals who can guide you through the rest of the process.
Meet with a Licensed Mental Health Professional
Next, you’ll meet online with a licensed mental health professional who can officially diagnose your qualifying psychological or emotional disorder. If you don’t already have a canine companion, they can also help you determine the right type of dog to fit your challenges.
Receive a PSD Letter
If you want a bit of official reassurance, your LMPH can issue a legitimate PSD letter, which isn’t usually a requirement for your service dog. However, it can offer some reassurance in certain public, housing, or travel circumstances. A PSD letter can help if you want to bring your service dog to your workplace if it has a “no pet” policy, or when you apply for housing that also doesn’t typically allow pets.
But the most important step remains — training your PSD.
Train Your Psychiatric Service Dog
To be an official PSD, your dog needs to be trained to perform specific tasks related to your disorder. The dog can be trained to perform an array of tasks, including:
- Fetching medication
- Performing deep pressure therapy (DPT)
- Assisting during an epileptic seizure
- Contacting emergency services in an emergency
Beyond its trained tasks, a PSD can provide love and affection that can ease symptoms of depression, anxiety, PTSD, and more.
If you already have a beloved furry friend you want to make your service dog, Pettable can give you the skills to train your pup from the comfort of your home. Our online PSD training program is catered to any human and canine team, so you’re guaranteed the best results possible. The 15-part online video series, led by a certified professional trainer, helps you train your dog for specific tasks related to your mental disorder at a pace that fits your needs.
What Is the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA)?
The Air Carrier Access Act is a federal law that requires airlines to make travel accessible to people with disabilities. It prohibits airlines from discriminating against passengers based on disability. The ACAA became law in 1986, four years before the broader-scope Americans With Disabilities Act.
The ACAA requires airlines to make reasonable accommodations for passengers with disabilities, including allowing them to keep a service animal with them on the flight. In 2021, the Department of Transportation clarified that the definition of "service animal" includes psychiatric service dogs but does not cover emotional support animals.
Emotional Support Animals Under the ACAA
The goal of laws such as the ACAA and ADA is to provide functional equivalence. In other words, businesses, including airlines, must make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities to provide the same access to goods and services that non-disabled people have. Until recently, the ACAA considered emotional support animals necessary for functional equivalence. However, the ACAA was modified in 2021 and no longer considers ESAs to be service animals. Now, even if you can provide a valid ESA letter, most airlines only accept emotional support animals as pets. That said, there are still airlines that allow emotional support animals.
The Department of Transportation justified its decision to modify the service animal rule under the ACAA by arguing that it would reduce animal misbehavior on airplanes. Once American Airlines decided to reclassify assistance animals like ESAs as pets, its new policy went into effect on January 11, 2021. There was a brief window of opportunity during which the airline allowed passengers with prior ESA bookings to fly under the old policy, but that window has since closed.
What Is the Difference Between an Emotional Support Animal and a Psychiatric Service Dog?
A psychiatric service dog is a dog that has been individually trained to perform tasks or specific work to help with a mental condition or psychological illness. This work includes commands you instruct your dog to perform and tasks that your service animal performs automatically when they see you need help.
Trained service dogs are covered under the ADA and the ACAA, meaning service animals are allowed in all businesses, public places, and transportation, including airplanes. Generally, a business can only deny access to a service animal if accommodating them would threaten the health and safety of others. An airline can require a service dog to fly as a checked pet if they are too large or disruptive to fly in the cabin.
If you have a psychological condition, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, or depression, and you find that spending time with a pet improves your symptoms, your pet may be considered an emotional support animal. To get an emotional support animal, you will need an ESA letter written by a licensed mental health professional in your state, unlike psychiatric service dogs, which require no formal documentation. ESAs aren't expected to perform specific tasks but should be trained sufficiently to behave in public. ESAs are not included in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ACA), meaning businesses can deny them entrance.
AA's Service Dog Policies
A trained service animal that meets AA's requirements and has all the necessary documentation can fly in the cabin at no charge. You can travel with no more than two service animals. Any service dog you travel with must be well-behaved and clean. Service dogs are not allowed in the exit row and cannot block the aisles. Your service dog must be at your feet or under the seat unless small enough to fit in your lap.
AA's Required Documentations
AA requires the Service Animal Air Transportation Form for all service dogs. If the flight is over eight hours, AA also requires the Service Animal Relief Attestation Form. You are expected to complete and submit the necessary paperwork before departure, but if you purchased the ticket within 48 hours of your flight, you can fill the form out at the airport. An AA rep will still have to verify that your dog qualifies as a service animal, so be sure to arrive at the airport early to allow adequate time for this process.
American Airlines provides a form on its website that you can use to submit your documentation before your flight. AA provides instructions to upload the required documents and allows you to add any further comments you may have. If you have questions, contact AA customer service at 800-237-7976 for special assistance.
Service Animal ID
Your dog receives a Service Animal ID number from American Airlines when your forms are approved. This number remains valid until your dog's rabies vaccination expires or up to a year from the date you signed the document. As long as the ID remains valid, you can fly on AA with your dog without having to resubmit your documentation.
Other AA Pet Policies To Know
The AA pet policy covers emotional support animals. Cats and small dogs can travel on American in a carrier as carry-on pets. Other pets that are eligible for travel but cannot travel as carry-on pets can be transported via AA Cargo. Generally, pets are allowed on American Airlines flights that are less than 12 hours long and are to or from the following destinations:
- The US (including Alaska)
- Puerto Rico
- St. Croix
- St. Thomas
Additional country-related restrictions may exist on flights to and from Mexico and Canada. You cannot bring a pet in a carry-on carrier on a flight to Hawaii.
If you take your pet carrier in the cabin, American considers that to be your sole carry-on bag. You cannot take a carry-on suitcase with you in addition to a pet carrier, though you can still have one personal item.
Here are some other things you need to know about traveling on American Airlines with a pet.
AA's Pet Fees
American charges a pet travel fee of $125 per kennel when your pet flies in the cabin in a carry-on kennel. The cost to transport your pet via American Airlines Cargo varies.
AA's Checked Pet Policy
American Airlines doesn't accept checked pets from all passengers. AA will only allow you to check your pet for your flight if you are traveling on official orders as an active-duty member of the US military or the US State Department of Foreign Service. Even if you meet these conditions, checked pets are accepted on a first-come, first-served basis. The fee for a checked pet is $200 per kennel.
You must contact the Reservations department at least 48 hours before traveling and provide your official orders during check-in. You must also provide a health certificate for your pet that a licensed vet issued within ten days of travel and 60 days of your return trip (if on the same ticket). If you are returning on a different ticket, you'll need another health certificate issued within ten days of your return trip.
AA's Breed Restrictions
The AA pet policy prohibits the transportation of dog breeds that it describes as "historically aggressive." It also does not transport pets by cargo that have short noses because of associated respiratory issues. Some examples of prohibited snub-nosed dogs are Bulldogs and Pugs. Flat-faced cat breeds, such as Persians, are also ineligible for transport.
Dog breeds that cannot travel by cargo are listed on AA's website, but it does not specify which are prohibited for health reasons and which are considered aggressive breeds. If you are unsure whether your dog is eligible to travel on American, you should call customer service.
AA's Pet Carrier Size Requirements
American requires that your pet must remain in its carrier during the entire flight, and the carrier must remain under the seat. AA requires that the soft-sided kennel fit under the seat, but there is some leniency regarding its size. Hard-sided kennels are permitted but cannot exceed 19 inches long, 13 inches wide, and nine inches tall.
While remaining within those dimensions, the carrier must be large enough for the pet to move freely, e.g., sit down, stand, lie down, and turn around, without touching the sides. Carriers must have adequate ventilation and be made of a material that resists leaks.
AA's Travel Requirements
Because animals are sensitive to extreme heat and cold, American Airlines will not allow animals to fly if the forecast includes temperatures over 85°F. Pets are generally not allowed to fly if the forecast calls for temperatures below 45°F, although exceptions can be made with a note from a vet.
American Airlines will never transport warm-blooded pets when the ground temperature is less than 20°F or greater than 85°F. Cold-blooded animals are exempt from temperature restrictions but must be packaged with hot or cold packs under IATA Life Animal Regulations. There are limitations on the number of carry-on pets allowed on any AA flight. There are also aircraft restrictions that prohibit pets from flying on planes that don't have adequate heating and ventilation.
Pets traveling within the continental United States and Puerto Rico must be at least eight weeks old and up to date on vaccinations. Vaccination requirements apply to both carry-on and checked pets. Pregnant pets past 45 days gestation are prohibited from traveling to Hawaii.
There are restrictions for flying to Hawaii. Carry-on pets aren't allowed on flights to and from Hawaii. Additionally, checked pets are only allowed on flights that connect via Honolulu, although pets aren't allowed on early-morning flights (before 8:00 a.m.) departing Honolulu between March 5 and November 1.
Carry-on pets are prohibited on transatlantic and transpacific flights. Some international destinations have additional restrictions on traveling with pets. It is your responsibility to find out about them before booking the flight.
As of 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has prohibited pets from high-risk countries for dog rabies from traveling to the United States. Service dogs may be allowed with the proper permit.
Pettable's Tips on How to Fly with Your ESA and Psychiatric Service Dogs
Don't make any changes to your dog's or cat's diet in the days following the trip. Here are some more tips to make your journey easier:
If you are transporting your pet through AA Cargo, American Airlines requires you to provide several forms: a health certificate, rabies certification, breed verification, and a form acknowledging you have prepared your pet for travel. Keep your documents with you at all times.
If you are flying with your psychiatric service dog in the cabin, you must submit a US Department of Transportation Service Animal Air Transportation Form at least 48 hours before your flight. While AA doesn't require documentation of your dog's PSD status, providing a PSD letter may expedite the check-in process.
Offer Food and Water
It's important to make sure your pet has had enough water and food before traveling. Make sure to offer your dog adequate food and water 4 hours before your flight. To avoid possible stomach upset, don't feed your pet within 4 hours of the departure time.
AA recommends pet owners tape a small Ziplock bag of food to the top of the kennel. The ziplock bag allows airline staff to feed your pet in case there's a delay. You should also attach two dishes (for food and water) inside the kennel where they are accessible without opening the door.
It's also a good idea to give your pet a little exercise and a chance to use the bathroom before your flight. You should take these steps regardless of whether you are transporting your pet as cargo or bringing them as a carry-on.
Do Not Sedate
American Airlines does not accept dogs and cats that have been tranquilized or sedated. Natural stress relievers, such as lavender or chamomile, are acceptable to AA. Make sure to check with your vet before giving anything new to your pet.
Frequently Asked Questions
Knowing what's expected of you and your dog can make the trip go more smoothly.
Do service dogs fly for free on AA?
Yes. Service animals, including psychiatric service dogs, may accompany their owners on American Airlines flights at no extra charge.
Does AA allow ESA dogs?
AA considers emotional support animals to be pets rather than service animals. As such, you must follow the airline's pet policies if you want to bring your ESA with you.
Can AA deny my ESA?
Because emotional support animals are considered pets under the current policy, AA can deny your ESA transportation if they do not meet the pet requirements.
Which airlines are still allowing ESA dogs?
Three North American airlines still allow ESAs: Volaris, Latam Airlines, and Westjet. More international airlines allow ESAs, including Lufthansa, Singapore Air, KLM, and Air France.
Can my dog sit on my lap during an AA flight?
A service dog that weighs less than 30 pounds can sit on your lap during a flight. Pets must remain in carriers that fit under the seat.
Do I have to provide American Airlines with proof that my dog is a PSD?
American Airlines personnel are trained to ask specific questions to determine whether a dog qualifies as a service animal (i.e., trained to perform a specific task related to their owner's disability). A PSD letter isn't required, but providing one may expedite the process.
Can I bring more than one service dog on an AA flight?
American Airlines limit each passenger to 2 service animals, and each must meet the airline's requirements for service dogs.
Can American Airlines deny service dogs?
Yes. AA may require a large or heavy service animal for the cabin to travel in the cargo compartment. Additionally, AA reserves the right to apply pet fees and restrictions to a service animal that is disruptive or aggressive.
Will American Airlines accept an ESA letter?
No. American Airlines considers emotional support animals pets regardless of documentation. However, it's still important to have an ESA letter for housing purposes. Get one online with Pettable.