American Airlines Emotional Support Animal (ESA) and Psychiatric Service Dog Policy

American Airlines Emotional Support Animal (ESA) and Psychiatric Service Dog Policy

The Bottom Line:

  • Does American Airlines Still Accept ESA Letters? - American Airlines changed its policy to no longer treat emotional support animals as the same as service dogs. As a result, ESA letters are not accepted.
  • What is a PSD Letter? - PSD letters are a method of documenting that a PSD is 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 Qualify for a PSD Letter? - Schedule an evaluation with a licensed mental health professional in your state. If your mental health professional determines you have a qualifying disability, you may be eligible for a PSD letter.
  • How to Get Started? - Take the Pettable 3-minute quiz. Pettable uses your responses to match you with a licensed mental health professional in your state.

Until recently, emotional support animals on American Airlines were treated the same as service dogs, meaning that 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 services animals. Among the changes was to allow airlines to choose whether to consider ESAs service animals or pets. The AA ESA policy was revised to consider them as pets.

Recent Changes to AA’s ESA Policy

Under the old rule, an AA emotional support animal was considered a service animal and treated according to the same standards. With the change, which American Airlines put into effect on Jan. 11th, 2021, ESAs on flights are now subject to the AA pet policy, meaning more restrictions and fees when traveling with them.

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 necessary requirements can fly as a PSD with the proper documentation. This includes 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 U.S. Department of Transportation Service Animal Air Transportation Form, which includes four sections:

Information: You must fill out your name and contact information as well as the dog's name and description. Because of the rule change, only dogs can be considered service animals.

Animal Health: You need to provide the dates of your dog's last rabies vaccination and attest that she is free of parasites. Your veterinarian does not have to sign the form, but you have to provide his or her name and phone number.

Animal Training and Behavior: Here you 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 teaching the dog.

Other Assurance: Here you 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 affirms that your dog either will not have to relieve himself during the flight or that he can do so in a sanitary manner.

You can submit your PSD letter that describes your qualification and need for the animal when you submit the DOT forms. You should do so no less than 48 hours before your scheduled departure.

How to Get Your Legitimate Psychiatric Service Dog Letter with Pettable

You should receive your letter within 24 hours of your final approval. We connect you with a licensed mental health professional in your state who can consult with you by phone and write your letter for you. You start the process by taking a simple assessment on our website in which you respond to questions about your mental health, your dog, and your travel plans. The assessment is straightforward and takes about three minutes to complete.

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 and prohibits airlines from discriminating against passengers on the basis of disability. Interestingly, the ACAA became law in 1986, four years before the broader-scope Americans With Disabilities Act.

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 allow any reasonable accommodations to 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 to be necessary for functional equivalence.

The Department of Transportation justified its decision to modify the service animal rule under the ACAA by arguing that it would cut down on animal misbehavior on airplanes. Once American decided to reclassify ESAs as pets its new policy went into effect on Jan. 11th, 2021. There was a brief window of opportunity during which it 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 Psychiatric Service Dog?

A psychiatric service dog is a dog that has undergone training to perform certain work or tasks for you to help you with a mental condition or psychological illness. This includes tasks that you instruct her to do as well as those she has been trained to do automatically when she sees that you need help. Service dogs are covered under both the ADA and the ACAA, meaning that they have to be allowed in all businesses, public places, and transportation, including airplanes.

If you have a psychological condition, such as PTSD, anxiety, or depression, and you find that spending time with a pet improves your symptoms, your pet can be considered an emotional support animal. ESAs do not have to undergo any special training to be so designated. They aren't expected to perform specific tasks, but the hope is that they are trained sufficiently to behave themselves in public. ESAs are not included in the ADA, meaning that businesses can deny them entrance.

AA’s Service Dog Policies

An AA service dog that meets all the necessary 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. The dog must be at your feet or under the seat during the flight 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, it also requires the Service Animal Relief Attestation Form. You are expected to complete and submit the necessary paperwork prior to your departure, but if you purchased the ticket within 48 hours of departure, you can fill it 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.

Advanced Notice

American Airlines provides a form on its website that you can use to submit your documentation prior to your flight. It provides instructions to upload the required documents and gives you the opportunity to add any further comments you may have. If you have questions, you can call AA customer service at 800-237-7976 for special assistance.

Service Animal ID

When your forms are approved, your dog receives a Service Animal ID number from American Airlines. This number remains valid until your dog's rabies vaccination expires or for up to a year from the date you signed the form. As long as the ID remains valid, you can fly on American with your dog without having to resubmit your documentation.

Other AA Pet Policies To Know

Emotional support animals are covered by the AA pet policy. Cats and small dogs can travel on American in a carrier as carry-on. Other pets that are eligible for travel but cannot travel as carry-on can be transported via AA Cargo. 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 with a pet as carry-on.

AA’s Pet Fees

American charges an extra $125 per kennel when your pet flies as carry-on. The fee to transport your pet via American Airlines Cargo varies.

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. 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 not only must your pet remain in his carrier during the entire flight but the carrier must remain under the seat. AA requires that a soft-sided kennel needs to fit under the seat, but there is some leniency as to 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 have to 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 will not allow animals to fly if the forecast includes temperatures over 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Pets are generally not allowed to fly if the forecast calls for temperatures before 45 degrees Fahrenheit, although exceptions can be made with a note from a vet. There are limitations on the number of carry-on pets allowed on any AA flight.

Domestic

Pets traveling within the continental United States must be at least eight weeks old and up to date on vaccinations. There are restrictions for flying to Hawaii.

International

Some international destinations have restrictions on traveling with pets. It is your responsibility to find out about them before booking the flight.

US Inbound

As of 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has prohibited pets from high-risk countries for 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

These tips can make your trip easier:

Keep your forms with you at all times.

Don't make any changes to your dog's diet in the days leading up to the trip, and don't feed him for four hours prior to the flight.

Exercise your dog before leaving for the airport and give her a chance to relieve herself.

FAQ

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.

Does AA Allow ESA Dogs?

AA considers emotional support animals to be pets rather than service animals.

Can AA Deny My ESA?

Because emotional support animals are considered pets under the current policy, AA can deny your ESA transportation if she does not meet its requirements.

Which Airlines Are Still Allowing ESA Dogs?

There are three airlines based in North America that still allow ESAs: Volaris, Latam Airlines, and Westjet. There are more international airlines that 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 under the seat.