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While most airlines are no longer required to allow emotional support animals to fly free in the cabin, due to Department of Transportation rollbacks from 2021, each has its own set of policies regarding how they treat pets and ESAs. We go in-depth to explain the animal policies of the top airlines in the US.
DOT rule change for emotional support animals — Before 2021 ESAs were legally protected on flights and airlines were required to accept them free of charge. In March 2021 the Department of Transportation changed their rules on ESAs and airlines are no longer required to accept them.
Which airlines still accept emotional support animals — Most airlines have chosen not to accept emotional support animals. Only a few private airlines and some South American airlines still allow ESAs free of charge but only on specific flights.
Psychiatric service dogs still fly for free — Service dogs are still protected, and are eligible to fly for free.
Airlines are required to permit trained service dogs to fly unless the pets create a dangerous or disruptive environment. Unlike service dogs, airlines are not required to permit emotional support dogs, or any type of emotional support animal, to fly. Even though airlines are not required to permit emotional assistance animals, some airlines may.
Although airline staff often try to accommodate passengers with exceptional circumstances, such as the need for an assistance animal, each airline has its own rules about whether ESAs are allowed onboard. Federal law mandates that airlines accept service animals, including psychiatric service dogs, but allowing ESAs in the cabin is at the airline’s discretion. If your ESA has not been individually trained as a psychiatric service dog, or if they are an unusual species, they are likely to be viewed as a pet. They may have to travel in the hold, subject to the airline’s usual pet fees and policies.
Although it won’t guarantee that your emotional support animal will be allowed to accompany you in the cabin, having an official ESA letter from a licensed mental health professional may help you explain your situation to the airline staff.
Which Airlines Allow Emotional Support Animals?
After the Department of Transportation changed its rules regarding emotional support animals, many airlines chose to remove exceptions for ESAs and opt to treat them as normal pets. Airlines that still allow ESAs on their flights include LATAM, JSX, Lufthansa, and Volaris.
Department of Transportation Rules on Flying with Emotional Support Animals
In March 2021 the Department of Transportation rolled back protections that emotional support animals had for quite some time. This new ruling basically says that airlines can decide whether or not they allow emotional support animals on their flights.
Unfortunately, since emotional support animals (ESAs) are not considered ‘service animals,’ they are not protected by the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) when it comes to air travel. This means that all ESA rules are set by individual air carrier companies — and most of them don’t let ESAs travel in-cabin with their owners. But other airlines have more animal-friendly ESA rules that might make you want to think twice before you book your next flight. While not many airlines accept emotional support animals, all airlines are required to accept psychiatric service dogs.
Most Airlines Have Chosen Not To Accept Emotional Support Animals
Since ESAs are not protected by the ACAA, most airlines don’t accept ESAs as service animals, so they are instead subject to the same rules as common pets. However, physical or psychiatric service dogs (PSDs) are allowed to travel in-cabin with their owners, free of charge, as long as they follow airline-specific guidelines. If your ESA is of a different species, you’ll have to follow pet protocol for most airlines, including American, Delta, United, Southwest, and Frontier.
Domestic Carriers Still Accept Some Pets (With Strict Requirements)
While emotional support animals are no longer accepted, if your dog or cat is under 20 LB and can fit in a pet carrier under the seat in front of you, airlines still allow and you are permitted to bring them on an airline for a modest fee (even if they are not an ESA).
Unfortunately, this does not help the vast majority of dog owners who can't fly with their pet that is over 20 LBS. This can throw a wrench in travel plans and cause unnecessary stress in a person’s life.
Service Animals Are Still Protected
Service Animals are protected at the federal level and any airline will still allow service dogs and animals to fly in the cabin. The reason is service animals are a federally protected class of pets and have been individually trained to a higher standard. If a fully trained service dog meets the requirements, they may fly free by sitting at its owner's feet.
They are extremely well behaved as well as individually trained to perform a task that can help someone with a specific disability. We talk more at length about psychiatric service dogs and psychiatric service animals, what kind of disability a PSD helps with, and what the standard "well-behaved" means.
Airlines that Allow Emotional Support Animals:
Although most airlines follow standard pet policies, there are a few air carriers in Central and South America that accommodate ESAs with in-cabin travel.
Based in Santiago, Chile, LATAM Airlines is the largest air carrier in Latin America, traveling across the globe. The airline group is pet-friendly and welcoming of both service dogs and emotional support dogs or cats, at least on flights to or from Colombia and Mexico, and domestic flights within Colombia. The best part? ESAs travel free! This is generally limited to dogs and cats that can fit in a carrier placed in the seat in front of yours. Potentially dangerous breeds or aggressive dogs are prohibited in the cabin, and there is a limit of six support dogs per flight.
Based in Mexico City, Volaris is a leading low-cost airline in Mexico, traveling across the Americas and with hubs across the country. Assistance animals, limited to cats and dogs, travel with Volaris fly for free on flights within Mexico, Central America, and South America. To travel with your support animal, you’ll need an official ESA letter signed by a licensed mental health professional (LMHP) within the last year. The animal must be no more than 26 pounds, but your ESA isn’t required to ride in a carrier; in some cases, a leash or harness will do just fine as your furry friend rides on your lap.
Headquartered in Mexico City, Aeroméxico is the flag carrier of Mexico, with destinations across the Americas, Caribbean, Europe, and Asia. The airline welcomes both dogs and cats as ESAs, as long as they are smaller, weighing no more than 26 pounds. However, they are permitted to ride either on your lap or in an approved carrier that fits under the seat in front of yours. Of course, these accommodations are subject to the needs of other travelers, as well, so you may need to change seats in cases of allergic guests. Also, the animal must be on its best behavior throughout the flight, as well as boarding and de-boarding.
Major Airlines that Will Accept Emotional Support Animals & Pets for a Fee
Despite all this, some major airlines will let your pet dog or cat fly in the cabin with you for a fee, whether they’re an ESA or not, including:
Can I Make My Emotional Support Dog a Psychiatric Service Dog?
The only true difference between an emotional support dog and a psychiatric service dog is the right training. If you want to upgrade your emotional support dog into a psychiatric service dog, the experts at Pettable have you covered. We can introduce you to an LMHP who can evaluate you and diagnose your mental health disability, enroll you in an easy online training program, and give you a PSD letter that states your need for a psychiatric service dog.
What You Should Do To Make Sure You Have No Problems Flying
There are a couple of things we recommend you take care of before boarding any flight with your ESA dogs, cats, or other pets.
Get A Comfy And Spacious Spot on the Airlines
First and foremost, the seat in front is usually more spacious if you can get it. When flying, the more room you can get for your pet, the more comfortable they will be, and the fewer signs of stress they will show while flying. Don't forget to take advantage of opportunities for individuals with disabilities, families, or active duty military to board the flight first. This early boarding can help with making sure you are comfortable in your seat.
Make Sure Your Pet Is In Good Health Before You Travel
Second, it's helpful to check a few things:
Has your pet been sick the last few days?
How well do they fly typically? Do they need to be calmed or prepared in any way?
If they have never flown, how do they do in the car or new environments?
Generally, you want to make sure that your dog is prepared to fly and can handle any stress that might come. Traveling with a nervous pet, even if they serve as emotional support for you, can be stressful for them. Seeing your pet in distress can also raise your stress levels, increase your anxiety, and hurt your mental health.
Make Sure Your Pet Is Well Behaved
Generally, you will have less of a headache needing to explain how your dogs and cats provide emotional support if your dog or cat is well-behaved. This does not mean your ESA needs to be trained to do work that helps your disability. For an air service that accepts traveling with a pet, they do not need to know how to work or perform tasks.
However, the better trained your pet, the less people will be inclined to ask you questions and make your life more challenging as you board your flight. It's best if your pet is well-behaved. Oftentimes, an animal with disruptive behavior will not be allowed to stay with its owner and instead may have to be a checked pet.
Call Your Airlines
Lastly, we recommend calling your airline and asking them if there is anything, in particular, they require when you're traveling with an ESA. Since flying with ESA dogs or cats is at their discretion, it's usually helpful to figure out if there are any specifics to traveling with an ESA that they require. Most airlines will appreciate a call in advance, at least 48 hours before the flight, and sometimes they may want to know about your ESA at the time you book your flight.
Make Sure You Have All Of Your ESA Documentation
When bringing emotional support dogs or cats onto U.S. or international airlines that accept emotional support animals you should always make sure you have the proper documentation.
All you need to bring with you is your ESA letter. We typically recommend keeping a copy on your phone and if you want to go above and beyond print your ESA letter forms and carry it with you.
Psychiatric Service Dogs Can Fly On All Airlines
Thankfully many travelers with a mental disability are turning to service animals, specifically psychiatric service dogs. The Air Carrier Access Act prohibits discrimination based on disability in air travel, according to the Department of Transportation. If you are traveling internationally, make sure to check the regulations in your destination regarding service dogs. While service dogs are protected on flights in the United States other countries may have different rules and it is important to be prepared ahead of time.
What Is A Psychiatric Service Dog?
A psychiatric service dog is very similar to an ESA in that it helps alleviate symptoms of a person's disability. Psychiatric service dogs and service animals have emerged as the new standard for flying for a qualified individual.
What Disabilities Qualify for a Psychiatric Service Dog or Service Animal?
Any mental or emotional disability that qualifies for an ESA can qualify for a psychiatric service animal. This includes:
A psychiatric service dog or service animal provides the same mental health support as an emotional support animal.
What Standard Of Training Do Psychiatric Service Dogs Need To Meet?
Psychiatric service animals need to meet two different standards of training to be classified as service animals.
Behave Well In Public
First, and foremost psychiatric service dogs need to behave well in public. The standard here is pretty subjective but generally, service animals must not show signs of stress, climb on other people, chase other animals, use the restroom indoors, and keep their composure for the duration of the flight and in other public settings.
If a dog does not meet that standard its classification as a service animal may be called into question and they won't be permitted on the flight or in the flight cabin.
Trained In Tasks For The Benefit Of The Mental Health Disability
Service animals must also be trained in tasks for the benefit of the owner's mental health disability or they will not be considered service animals, and be unable to board the flight.
A service animal can be trained in a variety of different tasks that support your mental health and will qualify them to board the cabin. This includes:
Help Ease Anxiety or Depression
A service animal can be trained in a variety of different tasks that will help alleviate anxiety or depression symptoms. This can include laying down on your lap, putting their paw on your chest, or just nudging you with their faces to get you to stop ruminating and break negative thought patterns. Sometimes simply petting your pet can release feel-good hormones. These hormones make a person feel calm and can even slow a person’s racing heart rate.
For people who experience claustrophobia (flying is a big problem for many people with claustrophobia), a service dog can serve as a much-needed buffer for people between them and others. Especially when flying and moving towards your seat the separation they create between you and others in the air can be a huge relief.
Medical Support or Medical Reminders
A service dog can be trained to remind you to take medication for your mental or emotional disability. This can be particularly important on flights when you're in the air and the added stress can cause you to forget.
Relief From Stimuli or Heightened Stress
A service animal can be extremely helpful when you're experiencing more stress or sensory overload from increased stimuli on flights. A lot of people, especially those that don't take flights very often can have their mental health suffer as a result of the stress.
A service animal can help protect your mental health on these flights by providing a much-needed distraction, tactile pressure, or performing other tasks that help alleviate some of the stress from flights.
Help You Stay Balanced
A service animal can also help people stay balanced, especially those who experience dizziness or fatigue as a result of their medication or mental health challenges.
Travelers benefit hugely from a service animal in these situations.
Wake You Up From Night Terrors
Travelers may also experience night terrors and a service animal in the cabin with them can help wake those travelers up from their night terrors.
Push You Towards Selective Solitude
Travelers may also get uncomfortable around people and in situations where they feel drained. A service animal can push the traveler to remove themselves from situations and take a much-needed break in solitude.
What Documentation Do I Need For A PSD?
Psychiatric service dogs have the proper training. No other document is technically required but many people get a PSD Letter to attest to their need for mental and emotional support.
Remember before boarding a flight that service dogs must meet the standard of training laid out by the ADA and DOT before you travel. If your dog needs PSD training, we offer an online PSD training program to that will enable you to self-train your dog. The course is presented in a series of informational videos and all training can be done at your own pace.
You also need a form that the DOT requires you to fill out before boarding your flight. You can find the online DOT form here.
How To Train A Psychiatric Service Dog
To train a psychiatric service dog you must teach it to perform tasks that help you with your mental disability and train the dog to be obedient in public. No professional trainer is needed and the training can be done yourself. Our psychiatric service dog training program will walk you through the process of training a psychiatric service dog through videos led by a certified PSD trainer designed to be taken at your own pace. To get started with the training program first take our online assessment to determine your eligibility for a PSD.
Schedule A Consult With Our World-Class Mental Health Professionals
You can fill out our quiz which will collect information to make sure we can get you connected with. a mental health professional that can help with your specific situation. Once you have filled out the quiz we'll connect you with a world-class mental health professional with significant PSD experience who is licensed in your state.
We Can Meet Any Timeline
Given our deep network of clinicians across every state, we can meet almost any timeline and offer express service (e.g. guarantee you a consultation within twenty-four hours).
We’re The Only ESA/PSD Company We Know Offering A Satisfaction Guarantee
We believe in the quality of our mental health professionals and our service. That's why we will offer 100% of your money back if your ESA letter or psychiatric service dog training program doesn't work for you.
What Is an Emotional Support Animal?
An emotional support animal is any animal that helps relieve symptoms of a mental or emotional disability. Unlike service animals, emotional support animals do not need extensive training, nor are they specifically trained to aid their owner with any particular tasks. The key to their role is that their owner finds their presence comforting and helpful in dealing with mental health issues. Emotional support animals typically alleviate symptoms directly related to a mental illness or an emotional disability, such as anxiety, depression, phobias, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Dogs and cats are the most emotional support animals, but any animal can be an ESA if its owner derives support from its presence, including rabbits, birds, fish, and even exotic animals.
How Are Emotional Support Animals Different Than Service Animals?
One of the key differences between service animals and emotional support animals is that service animals are almost always dogs (or occasionally miniature horses). According to the Americans With Disabilities Act, they can accompany their owners into nearly all public places.
These animals are specially trained to perform tasks relating to a person’s disability. This can include anything from a guide dog assisting a visually impaired person to a hearing dog assisting a deaf person. Service dogs can be trained to help their owners in the event of an epileptic event, a sudden drop in blood sugar, or a panic attack. Service dogs often aid qualified individuals with physical disabilities but may also help individuals with mental and emotional disabilities.
The critical difference between a psychiatric service dog and an ESA is the amount of training they have completed. Although there is no expectation of training or behavior for an ESA, a service dog must be trained to a high standard to carry out practical tasks and have impeccable behavior in public.
Whether you are getting an ESA or a psychiatric service dog letter, you will need to complete a similar process. This consists of an in-person or virtual consultation with a licensed mental health professional who will evaluate your mental health symptoms and assess your need for an assistance animal.
How Do Emotional Support Animals Help Their Owners?
Each animal has a unique way of supporting its owner. Although they are frequently compared to each other, emotional support animals are not the same as service animals. Thus, there is no expectation that an ESA should be able to carry out specific tasks for its owner, such as retrieving medication, opening doors, or ensuring that an area is safe. Essentially, all that an emotional support animal has to do is provide its owner with therapeutic companionship. Many emotional support animals, especially ESA dogs and cats, have completed some training, but this is not a requirement.
Crucially, emotional support animals do not have the same rights as service animals, which is relevant when considering bringing an ESA or pet on a plane, especially if it is a unique breed or species.
What Are the Most Common Types of Emotional Support Animals?
Emotional support animals come in all shapes and sizes. Dogs are the most common choice, but any animal can be an ESA if it provides support and is not a danger to its owner, other people, or animals. Rabbits, snakes, birds, monkeys, and animals of almost any species imaginable have become ESAs.
Here are some of the most common emotional support animals and their benefits:
Known as man’s best friend and a common pet, it’s no surprise that dogs are the most common ESAs. Although there is no training requirement for ESAs, dogs are receptive to training and can learn to perform tasks relating to an emotional or mental disability. An emotional support dog can usually become a psychiatric service dog with additional training, allowing them to fly in the airline cabin even when ESAs are not permitted.
After dogs, cats are the next most common ESAs. Research has shown that stroking and caring for a cat can relieve tension and anxiety and lower your blood pressure and cholesterol. Cats are usually quiet and easygoing and rarely have disruptive behavior, even during air travel. Although cats can’t become service animals, they frequently excel as emotional support animals.
Birds can provide a spark of serotonin for anyone who owns one. Parrots, cockatoos, parakeets, cockatiels, budgies, canaries, and finches are just some of the birds that can become ESAs.
Birds are often colorful and can bring laughter and brightness to someone struggling with depression or anxiety. Certain bird species are relatively easy to train, and if your bird can speak, you can teach them phrases that relieve your tension in difficult situations. Some birds can also sense feelings and emotions, such as fear or uncertainty, making them excellent options for ESAs.
Miniature horses are very receptive to training and can sometimes become service animals. In some instances, you may be able to take your miniature horse on an airplane, as long as they are a trained service animal. Miniature horses are known for their emotional intelligence and make great ESAs – if you have the space.
Rabbits are social creatures that love to bond with their owner. They can be incredibly comforting and affectionate as pets and emotional support animals. They are also surprisingly intelligent and can learn to follow various commands and even perform tricks.
Snakes and Lizards
Snakes and lizards can make excellent emotional support animals for individuals allergic to fur yet not afraid of reptiles. Snakes and other reptilians are quiet, relatively low maintenance, and can even be affectionate and playful in the right circumstances.
Pigs are surprisingly popular choices as ESAs. They are well known for their friendliness and intelligence, such as the ability to understand and follow instructions. If kept clean and tidy, pigs are easy to travel with, though you are unlikely to be permitted to bring one into the airline cabin.
If you understand how to care for hedgehogs, they can make great emotional support animals. They are clumsy yet lovable and enjoy attention from their owners. However, they can be a little tricky to care for, and in some states, it is illegal to own a hedgehog. Make sure to follow federal, state, and local laws before taking your hedgehog out of state.
Can a Unique Species Become an Emotional Support Animal?
If you are not planning on getting a service animal, which must be a dog in nearly all cases, then there is no restriction on which species can become ESAs. The animal can be an ESA if it helps with a mental health condition and offers a therapeutic benefit to its owner, including during psychiatric episodes.
Kangaroos, bearded dragons, turkeys, marmosets, peacocks, ducks, and chickens are just some of the unusual animals that have become emotional support animals – though if you don’t already own one of these, you’re probably better off sticking with a dog or a cat!
Do Airlines Allow Unique Emotional Support Animals?
Due to changes that have come into force with the Air Carrier Access Act, only a few airlines now accept emotional support animals in the cabin as they are now considered pets by most airlines. If the airline still takes ESAs, they may ask you to present documentation showing a legitimate need for an emotional support animal before allowing your ESA onboard. This documentation is usually in the form of an ESA letter written and signed by a mental health professional stating that your emotional support animal offers relief from symptoms during times of emotional distress, such as a panic attack.
On most airlines, if your ESA or pet is small enough, you may still be able to bring it in the cabin with you, provided you pay a pet fee. However, this generally only applies to dogs, cats, and potentially small animals such as rabbits or ferrets. If you have a unique emotional support animal, such as a large bird or a pig, you will most likely be prohibited from bringing your ESA into the cabin.
In all cases, it’s essential to check with the airline to find out the current policies and regulations on traveling with animals, whether pets or ESAs. If you want to travel with an unusual emotional support animal, air travel will require significant planning and may not be your best option.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you take an emotional support animal on a plane in 2024?
With the recent changes to the Air Carrier Access Act, it is now up to individual airlines to decide whether to accept ESAs in the cabin. Most domestic airlines no longer take ESAs. Always check with the airline for their most recent policies.
What animal is best for anxiety and depression on a flight?
Dogs and cats are the most popular choices for ESA animals to alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression. However, as most airlines no longer accept ESAs, your animal will be considered a pet and need to be in an approved carrier that fits under the seat in front of you to travel in the cabin.
Can you take an ESA on an international flight?
A handful of airlines permit ESAs on international flights, such as Air France, KLM, Lufthansa, Asiana, and Singapore Air. However, this is generally restricted to emotional support dogs, and you may be asked to show proper documentation, such as an ESA letter from a licensed mental health professional. Be sure to check with the airline before booking.
Pettable is the legitimate option for authentic ESA Letters prescribed by real Licensed Mental Health Professionals. In addition to helping people acquire a diagnosis for an emotional support animals, Pettable also provides psychiatric service dog training programs, as well as training programs for puppies and adult dogs.