The Bottom Line:
- Does United Airlines Still Accept ESA Letters? United Airlines' service dog policy does not recognize emotional support animals. If your ESA qualifies as a psychiatric service dog, you can travel with the animal inside United's aircraft cabins.
- What Is a PSD Letter? A PSD letter explains that you have a qualifying disability that allows you to travel with a psychiatric service dog.
- How Do You Get a PSD Letter? You can request a PSD letter through Pettable. You complete a short assessment, then consult with a therapist partnered with Pettable. If you're eligible, you can obtain your letter as soon as 24 hours.
- How Do You Qualify for a PSD Letter? You must complete an evaluation with a licensed mental health professional. The LMHP must certify that you have a qualifying mental or emotional health disability such as depression, PTSD, bipolar disorder, or ADHD.
- How To Get Started? Complete our 3-minute quiz to see if you qualify.
In recent years there has been an upsurge in the use of emotional support animals across the nation and the world. Because air travel with ESAs has not been very regulated, airlines have been in the difficult position of simply eating the cost of allowing them on their flights without extra charge, as they have essentially had the same status as psychiatric service dogs.
The issue of how ESAs should fit into airline travel is multifaceted and still debated, but there is now more definitive regulation from the Department of Transportation (DOT) regarding how airlines like United Airlines can handle it. Because of this, while the general United pet policy hasn't been greatly affected, it's important for those with ESAs and psychiatric service animals to review the policy and understand how it applies to them now.
Recent Changes to United’s ESA Policy
In light of the most recent rules from the Department of Transportation, the United emotional support animal policy has been updated. The United ESA policy no longer allows emotional support animals.
This decision was based on many factors, including the past cost of accepting so many emotional support animals on United Airlines flights, the comfort of their other passengers on their flights, and the number of people who have used the ESA classification as a loophole to cheaply fly their pets from place to place.
Psychiatric service dogs are still allowed, however, as long as the proper paperwork is in place, including having a legitimate PSD letter. To obtain a PSD letter, take advantage of Pettable's quick and simple process.
How to Fly on United Airlines with Your Service Dog
For many individuals living with physical disabilities or mental health struggles, a service dog can make travel a little easier — even if the process can be a bit daunting. So, if you want to know all the United Airlines service dog rules and requirements.
To fly on United Airlines flights with your service dog, you must first complete the U.S. DOT Service Animal Air Transportation form. If your flight is eight hours or longer, you’ll also need to complete the Service Animal Relief Attestation form, as well. You can fill out these forms at the time you book or before your flight, but without them, your service dog will not be permitted.
Also, your service dog should be fully trained to assist your needs, and it always helps to have a legitimate psychiatric service dog letter, as well. While it isn’t necessarily required, it can make the entire process easier.
How to Get a Psychiatric Service Dog - Pettable’s Process
If you want to bring a psychiatric service dog (PSD) into your life, you can trust Pettable to guide your way. You can get started by taking our quick online PSD assessment to determine your eligibility, followed by meeting with one of our licensed mental health professionals (LMPH) for an official diagnosis. From here, you can enroll in our online PSD training program, which will prepare your dog for its future as a service animal. Once completed, we can issue your optional PSD letter.
Take Our Assessment
First, take our assessment so our team can make sure you need a PSD in your life. Just answer a series of questions about your current mental health state, whether you’re experiencing signs of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or any other condition.
Meet with a Licensed Mental Health Professional
After the assessment, our team will match you with the right LMHP to suit your needs. You will meet with them online for a short evaluation, during which they will assess your mental health, further determine your eligibility, and give you an official diagnosis. If you don’t already have a canine companion, the LMHP can help determine what type of dog will best serve your needs.
Receive a PSD Letter
Although you don’t need a PSD letter to live your life with a service dog, it can give you some welcome reassurance and come in handy in certain situations. Like a prescription, your LMHP can issue this letter as official recognition of your condition and need for your PSD. The letter could be useful during the airline check-in process, while acquiring housing, or to bring your service dog into your workplace.
Train Your Psychiatric Service Dog
The most important component of getting a PSD is training, and Pettable’s online program is built to cater to every individual and their dog. To be an official service dog, your canine companion must be trained to perform specific tasks related to your disorder, such as:
- Fetching medication
- Performing deep pressure therapy (DPT)
- Assisting during an epileptic seizure
- Contacting emergency services in an emergency
Additionally, your PSD can provide love and affection that only a dog can, helping ease the symptoms of depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other disorders.
If you already have a dog you want to make your PSD, Pettable’s training program can provide the tools to train them in the comfort of your home. Our 15-part online video series is adaptable to fit your dog’s needs and attention capacity, so you can take it at a pace that works for you. With the help of a certified professional trainer, you can train your dog to perform specific tasks related to your mental disorder in a manner that guarantees the best results — or your money back.
What Is the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA)?
The ACAA is a regulatory act that was first adopted in 1986 by the DOT. It essentially protects passengers with disabilities from discrimination by airlines, and it has helped to regulate and improve the services that airlines offer to make the traveling process more accessible for everyone.
Most recently, the DOT revised the ACAA with a rule in late 2020 titled "Traveling by Air with Service Animals." The rule, which went into effect in January 2021, officially laid out (among other things) that emotional support animals are not considered service animals and therefore that airlines do not have to treat them as such. It also protects the right for psychiatric service animal users to bring their service animals (which differ from ESAs) on board.
Emotional Support Animals Under the ACAA
Until the most recent DOT update to the ACAA, emotional support animals enjoyed essentially the same treatment from airlines as PSDs and other service animals. For many people, this allowed them to keep their pet with them in the cabin instead of sending it to the cargo area of the plane (which is known to be dangerous) by claiming the pet to be an emotional support animal, even if the pet had no specific service training. However, since the most recent DOT rule, airlines are no longer required to recognize or accept emotional support animals on board, and therefore most no longer do (including United Airlines).
What Is the Difference Between an Emotional Support Animal and Psychiatric Service Dog?
These two classifications of pets are officially different and are not treated the same way by DOT rules and regulations. ESAs are pets or therapy animals that the owner brings along for the primary purposes of companionship and relief from emotional difficulties, while psychiatric service dogs have been individually trained to work or perform specific tasks for those with a mental disability or illness. This training (and its documentation) is therefore the key difference between PSDs and ESAs or typical pets.
United's Service Dog Policies
United Airlines allows service animals on their flights free of charge provided they are accompanying a person with a disability and have had the correct forms filled out ahead of time.
Remember that only fully trained PSDs can accompany you on your flight. Your service dog will need to fit right in front of your seat (without spilling over into anyone else's space or any aisles). If you have a more petite service dog, an in-cabin kennel may be allowed as long as it meets United's storage requirements.
United’s Required Documentations
To bring your service dog on your flight, you must fill out the two following DOT forms: the Service Animal Training and Behavior Attestation Form and the Service Animal Relief Attestation Form. For domestic mainland flights, these forms are to be turned in online (using the "Special accommodations" section of your "Trip details page").
If you're flying internationally or back or forth from either Guam or Hawaii, however, you'll need to bring a physical copy of both completed forms with you in person. For these flights, call the United Accessibility Desk at 1 (800) 228-2744 to add your service dog to your itinerary.
United requires that you turn in your forms online or call the United Accessibility Desk at 1 (800) 228-2744 at least 24 hours prior to your flight's departure time. It's a good idea to get started filling out the forms well ahead of time, as they require a lot of information that may take you some time to round up (such as vaccination dates, breed, and veterinarian information).
Note that any single person with a disability may take up to two service dogs with them on a United flight. The dogs must be fully trained and at least four months old. For service dog owners and their service dogs, exit rows will be off-limits.
Other United Pet Policies To Know
While service animals have their own set of rules and freedoms to consider, there are other United Airlines policies to be aware of if you're bringing an ESA or typical pet with you on your flight.
United’s Pet Fees
There is a pet fee of $125 each way per pet. There is also an additional charge of $125 if there is a domestic stopover involved for more than four hours or an international stopover for more than 24 hours.
United’s Breed Restrictions
Along with other airlines, United has adopted a list of embargoed breeds due to certain health issues common to those breeds and the potentially harmful effects of flying on them. The list includes bulldogs, affenpinschers, boxers, Boston terriers, mastiffs, and Tibetan spaniels. For a full list, check the United Airlines website.
United’s Pet Carrier Size Requirements
To bring your pet with you on your flight, you'll need to have them in a carrier or kennel that can fit at your feet in front of your seat. Hard-sided kennels shouldn't exceed 17.5 inches long x 12 inches wide x 7.5 inches high. Soft-sided kennels have slightly more flexible maximum dimensions and can be no longer than 18 inches, no wider than 11 inches, and no higher than 11 inches. If you are uncertain of your carrier or kennel, it's a good idea to measure it, and you can always contact United with questions.
United’s Travel Requirements
United Airlines has various travel requirements for in-cabin pets depending upon whether the flight is domestic, international, or U.S. inbound.
On domestic flights, your service animal must be at least two months old and has to be with a legal adult. Keep in mind that, in the event of an emergency, no oxygen service will be available for pets.
For flights to, from, or through Hawaii, Australia, South Africa, the UK, and Guam (among several other locations), United Airlines does not allow any in-cabin pets. See United's website for a complete list of these countries.
If you're flying into the US from another country, your puppy or kitten will need to be at least four months old, and regardless of the age of your pet, you will need to have a certification that your pet has a rabies vaccination.
Pettable’s Tips on How To Fly With Your ESA and Psychiatric Service Dogs
Flying with animals (whether service animals or pets) can be taxing at times. Here are a few tips for maximizing your overall experience and avoiding extra stress.
Make Sure Your Breed Is Allowed
While any breed of service dog is allowed, if you're bringing an ESA or just a pet with you, you need to be sure that its breed is allowed on the flight. There are long lists of breeds that various airlines won't allow due to common health or behavioral issues.
Use the Kennel Regularly
As you get closer to the day of the flight, let your pet get used to being in the kennel you'll be bringing on the flight. Feed your pet in the kennel and make it as cozy as you can so your pet can be as comfortable as possible when the time comes for it to spend several hours in there.
While it may seem like a sedative will help your pet handle the big experience of flying, it's better not to use one. At high altitudes, sedatives can make body heat control more difficult for an animal. There are other alternatives that can help calm your pet, such as special coats and lavender essential oil.
Request an Accessible Seat
Depending on the size of your dog, you might want to request accessible seating that fits both of you comfortably without intruding on any other passenger’s flight. You can make this request ahead of time on United’s online seating accommodation page, up to a week beforehand. If your flight is within seven days, you’ll need to make these arrangements over the phone by calling United's Accessibility Desk at 1-800-228-2744.
Another way to make your trip easier is to preboard for your flight ahead of time. For individuals with disabilities, including anyone with a PSD, United offers the opportunity to board before even their Platinum or Gold members. This gives you and your dog the chance to get settled in before the plane is full of passengers trying to get situated.
Service Dogs in Training
Service dogs that have yet to complete their training are allowed on United flights in a limited capacity. A trainer may bring one service dog in training aboard as long as it assists a disabled person. If the dog doesn’t qualify or documentation requirements are not met, the animal can travel as a pet in the designated cargo area.
Do service dogs fly for free on United Airlines?
Yes, service dogs fly for free on United Airlines. You must simply provide United with the required forms more than 24 hours in advance of your flight to add your service dog to your itinerary.
Does United Airlines allow ESA dogs?
United Airlines has opted not to allow ESA dogs anymore since the DOT gave its most recent rule allowing airlines to make their own decision on the issue. If a pet is not officially a PSD, the only way to bring it with you on your flight with United is to pay for it to be an in-cabin pet.
Can United Airlines deny my ESA?
Yes; because of the DOT's most recent rule regarding ESAs, United Airlines (and any other airline) has the right to refuse you bringing your ESA on board without paying for it to be an in-cabin pet.
Which airlines are still allowing ESA dogs?
While most airlines no longer permit emotional support animals on board, there are still a few airlines that allow ESAs, including Latam Airlines, Westjet, Lufthansa, China Airlines, Singapore Air, and Air France.
Can my dog sit on my lap during a United Airlines flight?
No; United requires that your service animal sits on the ground at your feet. Hard-sided carriers or other such carriers are allowed for smaller dogs, assuming the kennel can fit in the floor space in front of your seat.
Does United Transport Pets in the Cargo Hold?
Unlike some other airlines, United’s official pet policy doesn’t permit pets to travel in the airplane’s cargo hold. The pet must be small enough to travel with the owner in the cabin, space permitting.
Does United Charge a Fee for Travelling with a Pet?
To travel with a standard small cat or dog, you’ll have to pay United a pet fee of $125; longer layovers may require you to pay that fee twice.