Flying with your ESA2017-02-20
If your companion is registered as an emotional support animal (ESA), he/she can legally accompany you onto the cabin of an airplane during flights. Your rights are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act, but before flying with your ESA, it's important to know every airlines policy prior to booking travel.
While they are required to accommodate you, each airline may have slightly different rules when it comes to arranging travel for you and your companion. When it comes to living with an ESA, it's important to always stay as up to date as possible on the rules and regulations. Here is an overview of the policy on flying with your ESA for the major American airlines.
Remember, if you are traveling abroad or to Hawaii, you should look into whether your destination requires animals be quarantined upon arrival. ESAs must follow the laws of foreign governments at all times.
While not all airlines have the same rules, there are certain rules that apply across the board. For ESAs that are traveling free in the cabin, they must be small enough to sit in their handler’s lap, or on the floor below the seat in front of them. On all airlines, animals cannot obstruct the aisle. Most airlines also make it clear that travellers with an animal cannot sit in an emergency exit row.
For ESAs, while each airlines specifics may vary, they all require a piece of documentation, usually provided to them at least 48 hours before the flight. This is a document that clearly states the address and jurisdiction of the health professional (the license number is also recommended) who approved of the patients use of an ESA. It must clearly state that the traveler has a mental health related disability, is under the care of the health professional, and that an ESA is required to accommodate these needs.
Finally it is important to note that the information below is not necessarily complete. Just because an airline doesn’t state a particular rule on their website does not mean the rule does not apply. For example, several airlines make it clear that some species of animal are not allowed on flights, while others make no mention one way or the other. You should not assume that the airline’s website is providing the whole pictures.
We ALWAYS encourage our travelers to check with the airline in person or over the phone prior to booking passage to make sure you understand all the details of their policies. This is especially true when booking international travel, as other nations do not always abide by the same laws when it comes to ESAs.
Delta: View policy
ESAs can travel free of charge with their handler in the cabin of a Delta flight. ESAs need to be in a kennel, they can sit freely on the cabin floor. When it comes to ESAs, Delta does require a little more information from the handler. Documentation no more than 1 year old on official letterhead from a licensed health professional is required to book passage for an ESA.
This document must clearly state the address and jurisdiction of the health professional (the license number is also recommended). It must clearly state that the traveler has a mental health related disability and that the ESA is required to accommodate these needs.
Delta does not allow certain species of animal to accompany handlers on a plane, regardless of their legal status. Those are: hedgehogs, ferrets, insects, rodents, snakes, spiders, sugar gliders, reptiles, non-household birds, any animal with tusks or hooves, and any animal, regardless of species, that is not clean or has a foul odor.
United: View Policy
ESAs can also travel in the cabin free of charge at United. The same rules on seating apply to ESAs. It is important to note that anyone traveling with an ESA MUST notify United’s Accessibility Desk (1-800-228-2744) at least 48 hours prior to traveling. At this time, they must also submit the required documentation to the airline. This is a form, to be filled out by a licensed mental health professional, stating that the traveler has a mental health condition and is under the care of the health professional.
The document also requires the health professional’s license information and the state or jurisdiction where it was issued.
Be sure to give yourself enough time to get all of this information together when arranging for travel with your ESA.
Southwest: View Policy
Emotional support animals are allowed to travel in the cabin of the airline with Southwest. The same rules apply when it comes to where the animal may and may not sit.
Handlers of ESAs must provide additional documentation prior to arriving for their scheduled flight. Specifically, they must provide current documentation no more than one year old, from a licensed mental health professional. This document must clearly state that the passenger suffers from a recognized emotional disability. The health professional must state, in this document, that the Passenger requires the use of an ESA for travel, AND that the passenger is under the care of the health professional who signs the paper. Additionally, this document must clearly state the date and type of license the health professional holds and the state or jurisdiction in which it was issues.
Southwest also makes it clear that when it comes to ESAs certain species will not be allowed on the plane. Those include, but are not limited to rodents, reptiles, insects, hedgehogs, rabbits, and sugar gliders.
American Airlines: View Policy
American Airlines' policy on emotional support animals closely reflects that of the other major airlines. While ESAs are allowed to ride in the cabin, free of charge, more documentation is required.
Specifically, American asks for a supporting document dated within 1 year of the scheduled flight from a licensed mental health professional or medical doctor. The letter must clearly state that the passenger has a recognized emotional or mental disability and that the ESA is needed by the passenger for air travel. Furthermore, it must clearly state that the passenger is under the care of the health professional. The date and type of license held by the professional must be included, along with the state or jurisdiction where it was issued must also be clearly included.
American Airlines also clearly states that this documentation must be provided to them at least 48 hours before the flight. If they are unable to validate the information or receive this documentation late, the animal my need to travel in a kennel as checked luggage.
Alaska Airlines: View Policy
ESAs can travel freely in the cabin of a plane. However, Alaska Airlines requires the same documentation of all other airlines to approve of an ESA in the cabin.
The traveller must provide a letter from a licensed medical professional, that is no more than 1 year old at the date of the flight. The documentation must state clearly that the traveller suffers from a recognized mental or emotional disorder and that the ESA is a required companion for air travel. Furthermore, the document must state that the passenger under the care of the professional who signs the paper. Finally, the health professional’s type of license and date must be clearly included, along with the state or jurisdiction it was issued in.
Alaska Airlines does not allow some species of ESAs in the cabins. These include, but are not necessarily limited to: hedgehogs, ferrets, insects, rodents, snakes, spiders, sugar gliders, reptiles, non-household birds, exotic animals, or animals of ANY kind that are dirty or have a bad odor.
JetBlue: View Policy
ESAs at JetBlue must sit on the lap of their handler, or on the floor below the seat in front of them. However, like every other airline, JetBlue requires the handler of an ESA to also provide documentation, in advance, from a licensed health professional. This documentation must ensure that the traveller has a recognized mental or emotional disorder, and is under the care of the signing physician. It must also state that the traveller requires an ESA for travel, and it must clearly show the date and type of license the professional holds, along with the state or jurisdiction it was issued in.
Virgin America: View Policy
Virgin America’s ESA policy is similar to all the other major airlines. That is, they require the same documentation, from a licensed health professional, provided to them in advance of travel. The document must be no more than 1 year old and clearly state that the traveller suffers from a recognized emotional or mental disorder. It must further state that the traveller is under the care of the professional signing the letter, and also state clearly that the traveller needs an ESA for air travel. Finally, the document should include the type of license the health professional holds, and the state or jurisdiction where it was issued.
Spirit Airlines: View Policy
Spirits Airlines' ESA guidelines are similar to the other major airlines as well. The same document, given at least 48 hours in advance must be given to the airline. It must be written by a licensed health professional and state clearly that the traveller suffers from a recognized mental or emotional disorder. The health professional must ensure that the traveller is under their care, and validate that they need an ESA for air travel. Finally, it must include the professional’s type of license, and the state or jurisdiction in which it was issued.
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