guy with esa cat in arms

How do I take my Emotional Support Animal on an Airplane?

There’s a lot of confusion surrounding Emotional Support Animals (ESA’s) and whether they’re allowed on airplanes. This blog will help clear up any misconceptions you may have and provide some clarity on the rules surrounding ESA’s and flight catching.

The good news is that as of January 2020, ESA’s are generally allowed on airplanes. However, it’s not as easy as stepping on the plane with your animal. There is a protocol you are expected to follow.

Where ESA’s provide emotional support for certain mental health issues such as PTSD or depression, service animals provide aid and assistance to people with physical disabilities. Because ESA’s are very different than service animals, the rules for allowing ESA’s on flights are a lot stricter.

When it comes to taking your ESA onto your flight, each airline has its rules. In most cases, as long as the proper paperwork is filled out, you’re good to go. Also, while many airlines draw the line at allowing any other animal other than cats and dogs on board, some airlines are a little more flexible. These include United, Delta, and Southwest to name a few. 

Furthermore, you’ll need to have official documentation on you at all times, proving your animal is an ESA and not simply a beloved pet. You can get this documentation from your doctor- but more on this below.

What is the procedure I need to go through?

First off, you’ll need to qualify for an ESA. This is a simple enough process, which involves filling out a questionnaire so a licensed mental health professional can get in touch with you. After the therapist assesses your need for an ESA and you establish an ongoing relationship, you’ll be assigned the necessary paperwork which you’ll need to carry with you to showcase that your animal is an ESA. The procedure varies according to which airline you’re traveling with. 

After that, each airline is different. Typically, you’ll need to ring in advance- each airline has its own policy for allowing an ESA onboard.

Is there any paper-work I need to bring for my ESA?

Aside from your ESA letter, to show that your animal is there to provide emotional support, you may need some other forms. These include a:

  • Veterinary Health Form: to prove that your pet is vaccinated and registered. If you tend to fly a lot and would prefer a non-branded Vet form, you can do so. Your form must include the following- information about the animal type, breed, weight, and vaccinations.
  • Copy of Shot Record: to show that your pet is up to date on shots- up-to-date rabies and distemper shots are the two main shots that airlines look out for.
  • A Testament to Behavior/Confirmation of Behavior Form: a signed letter to prove that your pet is well-behaved and will be on-board
    Animal Training Letter: usually you will need to write your confirmation, with your full name, signature, and address, that your animal has been trained and is safe onboard.
  • A Liability Letter: in some cases, you may need to affirm that you’re liable in case your animal does happen to cause any damage. In this case, airlines may hold you accountable.

You will also need your Emotional Support Psychiatric Form to prove that your animal is there to provide emotional support. 

Now, the paperwork required varies from airline to airline. So, for example:

  • Delta Airlines: encourages you to provide your Emotional Support Psychiatric Form, signed by a medical health professional, and a signed Confirmation of Animal Training Form provided by Delta. A Vaccination Form is also required.
  • United Airlines: requires your Emotional Support Psychiatric Form and a Veterinary Form. You must carry all your documentation on you at all times during the flight.
  • American Airlines: requires a Mental Health Professional Form, Behavior Guideline Form and Animal Sanitation Form (if the flight is over 8 hours).

Usually, these forms must be submitted 48 hours before travel. Check on the specific airline with which you’re traveling to confirm the time and format of submitting your forms.

Does my ESA need to travel in a crate?

No- if your animal is an ESA, it doesn’t need to be placed in a crate. As long as you have the correct documentation to prove that your animal is well-behaved and trained accordingly, you’re okay. 

Some airlines, such as American, Southwest and United Airlines, do require your dog to fit on your lap and not block the aisle. Airlines such as JetBlue don’t condone animals on seats, either.

An animal carrier is usually a comfortable option, especially during take-off and landing. Blankets and towels within the carrier also allow your ESA to travel in comfort and reassurance. Make sure the carrier is well-ventilated and spacious enough to ensure your animal can stretch without being too large that it cannot fit under the seat. 

Generally, one ESA per person is allowed.

Final Thoughts

  • Always make sure you read up on which airline allows what before traveling with your ESA. It is well worth doing some research on which airlines will suit your animal’s needs.
  • Many airlines have restrictions on animals over 20 lbs, snub-nosed animals and pets under the age of 8 weeks. 
    Know that your pet will be separated from you during security and boarding. But, during the flight, itself, your animal will be with you.
  • Overall, the most important thing to note is that your documentation must be up to date- don’t compromise on keeping your vaccinations up to date and always remember to carry your Psychiatric Form with you. Remember to alert your airline before you bring your ESA with you on the plane. 
  • Lastly, remember that you have rights. According to the Air Carrier Access Act, you shouldn’t have to pay extra to have your ESA onboard with you as long as all the paperwork is correct and up to date. Likewise, you should never be denied boarding access because of any disability and no one has the right to question or ask for proof of disability.