If you are hoping to travel with your emotional support animal (ESA) or assistance dog, it’s likely that you have many questions about how to travel with your ESA and what the laws and airline regulations are relating to assistance animals.
Not all airlines have the same policies about emotional support animals, so it’s worth reading up on the specific policies of each carrier before you make travel. For example, some airlines may require your assistance dog to have an identification card or a pet passport. Some airlines may prohibit certain species or breeds from traveling, or have rules about the size of animals permitted in the cabin. Most importantly, you’ll want to brush up on the difference between emotional support animals and psychiatric service dogs (PSDs), as this will have a significant bearing on whether your assistance animal will be allowed onboard.
You may have heard about changes in the U.S. Department of Transportation's rules on traveling by air with emotional support animals. If you're scheduled for an upcoming Virgin Atlantic flight, you may be concerned about updates to Virgin Atlantic’s ESA policy. In this guide, you'll learn about these changes, plus what you need to know about traveling with a psychiatric service dog in an aircraft cabin. Whether you have questions regarding airport policies, direct bookings for a dog listed as an ESA or PSD, or a special assistance team to help you transport your animal companion, we’ll point you in the right direction to find the answers you need.
The Bottom Line:
- Does Virgin Atlantic Still Accept ESA Letters? Unless your emotional support animal is also a service dog, it cannot travel with you in the cabin as a service animal. An ESA letter will not change this.
- What Is a PSD Letter? Psychiatric service dogs can travel in the cabin as service animals with the proper documentation, which is typically provided by gate agents at the airport To become a psychiatric service dog, a dog must undergo specialized training related to its handler’s psychiatric need. This will allow your dog to remain well-behaved and ready to assist in public environments. A PSD letter is often provided to affirm one’s need for a PSD, however, this document does not mean a dog is now recognized as a PSD. Specialized training is still required.
- How Do You Get a PSD Letter? To get a PSD letter, you must schedule a consultation with a qualified professional. A licensed mental health professional certified to practice in your state must issue the letter on official letterhead. This will qualify you as legally protected to travel with a fully trained service dog.
- How Do You Qualify for a PSD Letter? The mental health professional will review your history and determine whether you have a qualifying disability and a legitimate need for a PSD.
- How Do You Get a PSD? One can purchase an already trained service dog or train their own pet to become a service dog. In-person psychiatric service dog training sessions are available in many cities. Pettable also offers an online guided psychiatric service dog training program that allows you to train your own psychiatric service dog at the pace that works best for you.
- How to Get Started? Take Pettable’s 3-minute quiz!
Pettable uses your responses to our quiz to find a compatible mental health professional who can help you with your PSD needs.
Recent Changes to Virgin Atlantic’s ESA Policy
The United States Department of Transportation (DOT) amended its rules on emotional support animals in December 2020. Effective January 2021, the DOT no longer classified ESAs as service animals. The new rules also define a service animal as a "dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability."
Similarly, Virgin Atlantic's emotional support animal policy has also changed for flights departing from or arriving in the United States. The airline permits assistance and guide dogs to travel in the cabin with their human guardians. The policy requires passengers with assistance dogs to complete the DOT Service Animal Air Transportation Form for US travel. Travelers on flights lasting eight hours or more must also fill out the DOT's Service Animal Relief Attestation Form.
The animal must be classified as a service dog to travel with you in an airplane cabin. For this reason, Pettable no longer offers ESA travel letters, as they will not be accepted by the airline. Instead, you will need an official psychiatric service dog letter documenting that you have a qualifying disability and need the animal to travel with you. If you meet the criteria, Pettable can help you get a PSD letter. From there, you can train your pet to meet the training standards of a service dog or purchase a trained service dog to accompany you when traveling. .As of October 2022, service dogs are the only animals allowed in the cabin with passengers. To bring your assistance animal on your flight with you, you must follow Virgin Atlantic's pet policy.
It is also important to note for those traveling to the UK that the Pet Travel Scheme (PETS) allows cats, dogs, and ferrets into the UK without quarantine. However, you will need the proper documentation, such as an EU official veterinary certificate signed by a veterinarian involved in the scheme.
How To Get Your Legitimate Psychiatric Service Dog Letter & Train Your Own PSD With Pettable
Pettable offers a fast and convenient method for obtaining a psychiatric service dog letter and training your own psychiatric service dog.
Typically, anyone in need of a PSD letter would have to contact a mental health professional to set up an in-person appointment to be evaluated. During this appointment, you would be asked about specific things related to your mental health and why you need a PSD. The LMHP would then decide whether or not you need a PSD based on this information.
Using an online platform like Pettable simplifies the process and removes any potential delays in getting your PSD letter Essentially, there are just three easy steps to get a PSD letter with Pettable. You'll first complete a short quiz asking for the necessary details: when and why you need your letter, what type of animal you have, and your state of residence. After we've recommended a Pettable therapist, you'll contact this professional for a short consultation. If you're determined eligible for a PSD letter, you'll receive it from your therapist in as little as 24 hours. It is important to note that a PSD Letter is not required for airline travel, however, you will typically be provided with a PSD Letter that affirms your need for a service dog due to psychiatric reasons. What is required is the completion of DOT forms confirming that your dog has completed a qualified psychiatric service dog training program, such as that offered by Pettable.
Complete Our Assessment
First, you will fill out a short assessment so that we will have a better idea of your situation and specific psychiatric needs. Then you will choose the package that best meets your psychiatric service dog need, such as travel, housing or mental health care.
Consult With a Therapist
You will be matched with a licensed mental health professional for a live consultation. During this meeting, you will complete a mental health evaluation to determine if you have a condition that qualifies for a PSD, such as PTSD, bipolar disorder, anxiety or depression.
Get a PSD Letter & Access to PSD Training
If the licensed mental health professional concludes that your psychiatric health would benefit from the presence of a psychiatric service dog, they will write a legally recognized PSD letter. If you need your letter urgently, you’ll have the option to receive your letter within 24 hours of your consultation, excluding California residents.
The next step in the process is to train your dog through a psychiatric service dog training program, such as the one offered through Pettable. Over the course of several video-based training modules guided by certified professional PSD trainer Lisa Gallegos, CPDT-KA, your dog will learn the responses necessary to react in the event of a mental health emergency, as well as the obedience needed to remain well-behaved in public settings.
We care deeply about making sure that our customers are completely satisfied with our services If Pettable’s PSD Training program does not work for you, we will refund the entirety of your purchase.
What Is the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA)?
Enacted in 1986, the Air Carrier Access Act made it illegal for air travel providers to discriminate against people with disabilities. Moreover, the ACAA required that air travel be made accessible. Airlines must provide accommodations such as accessible restrooms and movable armrests, plus assistance with boarding, disembarking, and making connecting flights. The law covers related topics such as mobility aids, assistive devices, and service animals. Airlines may not charge extra for these basic accommodations. A key change to the ACAA was enacted in January 2021, with emotional support animals no longer considered service animals. However, the ACAA clearly states that a psychiatric service dog is a service animal and may not be treated differently from other service animals. Passengers who want to bring a service animal onboard should be prepared to complete the DOT’s forms relating to its training and behavior.
In addition to the ACAA, disabled passengers should also know about the Bill of Rights for Disabled Passengers. This bill of rights includes ten legal protections that U.S. airline passengers enjoy. The bill of rights does not expand or restrict any disability rights but summarizes existing law.
Emotional Support Animals Under the ACAA
When the ACAA was passed in 1986, it permitted service animals specifically trained to assist people with disabilities. In 2003, the DOT began allowing emotional support animals to travel inside aircraft cabins. This was a positive development for people who need ESAs due to mental, emotional, and cognitive health challenges. An ESA's presence and companionship may alleviate distress for individuals dealing with ADHD, anxiety, autism, bipolar disorder, OCD, PTSD, schizophrenia, and similar conditions.
The DOT's 2003 policy change did not limit the types of animals that could serve as ESAs. Unique challenges arose as airlines tried to accommodate ESAs of all shapes, sizes, and species accompanying their passengers. While most airlines no longer accept ESAs in airline cabins, they permit psychiatric service dogs. Along with your completed Department of Transportation forms, a PSD letter from Pettable can supply valuable documentation as you travel with your assistance dog on Virgin Atlantic and other airlines.
What Is the Difference Between an Emotional Support Animal and a Psychiatric Service Dog?
ESAs and psychiatric service dogs can relieve emotional or psychological distress for people with disabilities. However, they serve somewhat different roles and often have significantly different training. ESAs help their owners through their calming and supportive presence. On the other hand, psychiatric service dogs have been trained in specific assistive tasks such as retrieving medication, spotting the signs of an impending panic attack, prompting others to give the person space, and applying comforting pressure to the body during a manic episode.
Besides assistive task training, psychiatric service dogs must also be calm and well-behaved. A PSD receives obedience and situational behavior training like any other service animal. With proper training and confident temperament, PSDs help their clients navigate public spaces and carry out activities of daily living. The Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 addresses other details concerning service animals.
Another significant difference between ESAs and psychiatric service dogs is their right to be in public and private spaces. Because ESAs are not service dogs, their handlers must follow the pet policies and rules of any private businesses or public spaces. Psychiatric service dogs are service animals, so they are allowed in "no pet" areas to remain with their handler.
Other Virgin Atlantic Animal Policies to Know
Virgin Atlantic’s pet policy applies if your ESA does not meet the criteria to be considered a psychiatric service dog. According to Virgin Airlines policies, you must get an agreement from the airline to travel with your pet. You must also make advance arrangements for your pet to be booked to travel in cargo.
There are some important details to note about how to transport pets traveling on Virgin Atlantic flights: fees, pet carrier size guidelines, prohibited breeds, and more.
Virgin Atlantic's Pet Fees
Virgin Atlantic does not post its pet fees on its website. These fees are based on the dimensions of your pet's carrier. You can contact Virgin Cargo for more information.
Virgin Atlantic's Breed Restrictions
Per Virgin Atlantic pet policy, pets cannot travel in the cabin. Instead, pets travel in the hold's secured, heated, and air-conditioned compartment. For this reason, the airlines do not permit brachycephalic breeds that have flatter faces with snub or pug noses, making breathing more difficult and increasing the risk of overheating. Specific species prohibited by Virgin Atlantic include Persian cats and English bulldogs. Additionally, per the UK's Dangerous Dogs Act, the airline does not accept bookings for Pit Bull Terriers.
Virgin Atlantic's Pet Carrier Size Requirements
Virgin Atlantic's minimum size for pet carriers is 71L x 52W x 54H centimeters. Your pet's transport must offer enough room for the animal to stand up, turn around, and lie down. There must be at least 5 centimeters of space between the top of your pet's head and the roof of the carrier. The airline specifies a few additional requirements for each pet carrier:
- Wood or hard plastic construction
- Secure locking mechanisms
- Rigid and non-collapsible
- No opening roofs or grills
- Ventilation on all four sides
- Leak-proof bases
- Hinged or sliding doors
Virgin Atlantic also requires a water dish attached to the inside of the pet carrier's door. Each carrier must have soft, absorbent material on the bottom.
Virgin Atlantic's Travel Requirements
Virgin Atlantic recommends booking pet travel at least seven days before your departure date. The airline offers pet travel to and from a limited set of destinations. There may be date and time restrictions on when your pet can travel on its aircraft. These can change without prior notice, so check with Virgin Atlantic Cargo's pet booking service for additional details.
If the necessary documentation is not filed before your flight, your pet will not be allowed to fly with you. It would be beneficial for you to sort it out as soon as possible in case any issues pop up. The aircraft will have limited space for pet cargo, and there may not be availability for your animal if you're too late.
Pets can travel in and out of three UK airports: Manchester, Heathrow, and Gatwick. Virgin Atlantic does not book flights for pets landing in or departing from these locations on Saturdays or Sundays.
Pets cannot fly from Hong Kong to the United Kingdom but can travel from the United Kingdom to Hong Kong. Pet air shipments to and from South Africa must be handled by a member agent of the International Pet and Animal Transport Association. Contact Virgin Cargo Caribbean for pet shipments to and from Antigua, Barbados, and St. Lucia.
Virgin Atlantic flies to and from a small group of US locations: Atlanta, Boston, Los Angeles, Miami, Newark, Orlando, San Francisco, and Seattle, plus John F. Kennedy International in New York and Dulles International Airport in Washington, DC. No weekend pet travel is available for these destinations. Additionally, pets cannot fly out of Miami or Orlando between June 1 and September 30.
Pettable's Tips on How to Fly with Your ESA and Psychiatric Service Dogs
Traveling with your ESA and psychiatric service dog can be stressful and frustrating. Here are some tips to ensure your travel is comfortable and safe for everyone involved – animal or human!
Limit Food and Water Intake Before the Flight
To avoid discomfort, time your dog's last pre-flight meal around four to six hours before your departure. You can continue giving your dog water, but offer one final potty break before leaving for the airport.
Exercise Your Dog Ahead of Time
Extended playtime with your dog can help with expelling excess energy. Your dog should be calmer than usual while you're together on the airplane.
Be Courteous and Respectful
When you arrive at the airport, remain courteous and cooperate with security personnel. Be ready to present documentation and keep your service dog under your control at all times.
Check with Your Vet
Even if you follow all of the rules set by Virgin Atlantic, your ESA or service dog may not be in good enough health to fly.
ESAs may experience anxiety or distress from being in cargo, so check with your veterinarian to see whether they’re robust enough to travel this way. Although there are fewer concerns about service animals, as they are permitted to travel in the cabin, your service dog should be trained to behave calmly in unfamiliar spaces and around unfamiliar people in close proximity.
Make Sure Your Dog Is Used to the Crate
If you are traveling with an emotional support animal who is not certified as a psychiatric service dog, they will most likely need to travel in cargo. Getting them used to their pet carrier or crate in advance will reduce the likelihood of your pet or ESA experiencing distress during the flight.
Frequently Asked Questions About Virgin Atlantic Airlines ESA Policy
Flying with your ESA can mean many airline regulations, whether or not you have to pay pet fees, and caring for your ESA during the flight. We’ve covered some frequently asked questions and answers for those looking to travel with their ESA.
Do service dogs fly for free on Virgin Atlantic?
The airline's website does not explicitly mention fees for flying with an assistance dog. You can confirm this by contacting its Special Assistance Team and asking about alternative arrangements, accepted breeds, required training and documentation, etc.
Does Virgin Atlantic allow ESA dogs?
Your ESA must be documented as a service animal to travel in the aircraft cabin with you. Psychiatric service dogs meet this requirement, but make sure to complete the required Department of Transportation forms and get a valid PSD letter
Can Virgin Atlantic deny my ESA?
Because the airline only allows service dogs in its aircraft cabins, ESAs without service animal documentation fall under its animal travel policies and are regarded as pets Thus, you will need to follow the same procedures as you would with any other pet, including having them travel in the aircraft hold.
Which airlines are still allowing ESA dogs?
While most international and US domestic airlines no longer grant special privileges to ESAs, you’ll find some airlines that allow ESAs. Domestic providers that allow emotional support animals include Latam Airlines, Volaris, and WestJet. International carriers include Air France, Asiana Air, China Airlines, KLM, Lufthansa, and Singapore Air. However, airline policies are constantly under review, so it’s best to check with each airline to find out the most up-to-date policies and restrictions.
Can my dog sit on my lap during a flight?
Your assistance dog cannot sit on your lap during your flight. Per the airline's rules, your dog must be equipped with a safety harness while on the plane. The Animal Reception Centre also recommends bringing your service dog an absorbent mat on your flight. Upon arrival at the airport, the Animal Reception Centre is your go-to for all questions regarding traveling with pets or service animals.
Can you buy your dog a seat on a plane?
Generally, most airlines will not allow you to buy another seat to have your animal fly in-cabin with you, especially with ESAs being considered pets. Regardless, purchasing another seat is more expensive than boarding your animal appropriately.
Can my ESA fly in-cabin with me if I have an ESA letter?
No. Even if you have an ESA letter signed by a mental health professional, the airline will not allow ESAs to travel in-cabin with their handlers. This is a major difference between ESAs and PSDs.
How stressful is it for dogs to fly?
This largely depends on the dog, its temperament, and what kind of training it has completed before flying. If you are concerned that your dog will not be able to handle flying, check with your vet to see if there is anything you can do to make the dog more comfortable.
How do dogs go to the bathroom on a plane?
You will be expected to provide absorbent pads in the carrier, both for animals in cargo and for service dogs in the cabin. It’s a good idea to make use of pet relief stations in the airport before boarding.