You may have heard that new laws now prevent emotional support animals from flying with their owners. In fact, new regulations passed by the Department of Transportation are not so definite, and some airlines continue to allow emotional support animals on board alongside service dogs. Some are more sympathetic than others, and this will vary based on the airline you fly with and your specific circumstances.
If you are an ESA owner and would like to travel by air with your ESA in tow, you need to do your research. Read on to discover the DOT’s new rules on flying with ESAs, which airlines allow animals on board, and how to get the proper travel documentation.
The DOT’s Rules on Flying With Emotional Support Animals
In 2020, the Department of Transportation announced that they would revise parts of the Air Carrier Access Act to include specific language about emotional support animals.
The Air Carrier Access Act was first passed in 1986. It ratified protections put in place by the Federal Aviation Act of 1958 that first enshrined the rights of passengers with disabilities while flying. As service dogs and emotional support animals have become widely accepted as vital companions to disabled people, new amendments to the act have been made to include them.
Airlines Can Choose Whether They Accept ESAs
Unfortunately for ESA owners, the new revision to the ACAA in 2020 took away protections rather than granted them. The DOT first defined the distinction between service dogs and ESAs, ruling that ESAs are no longer considered medically necessary for travel.
Domestic Carriers Still Accept Pets
While ESAs are no longer granted the same right to fly as service dogs, as long as they are adequately trained and have accompanying paperwork, the ACAA does not outright ban them from air travel.
The wording in the full text of the amendment states that airlines have now been given the power to recognize emotional support animals as pets rather than service animals. That doesn’t explicitly take away ESAs’ right to fly but merely gives airlines discretion regarding whether they will allow ESAs on their planes.
Service Animals Remain Protected
The amendment maintained the unequivocal right of service dogs to fly, given they are in good health, on their best behavior, and have their paperwork.
Airlines Accepting Emotional Support Animals
It’s always good to check with an airline well in advance of even booking your ticket if you want to bring an animal of any kind on board. Since the new DOT rule is so new, and since it gives airlines the power to decide for themselves whether ESAs fly or not, rules are continuously being revised.
At least three airlines had to be removed from the following list that would have been there six months ago. KLM, Singapore Air, and Air France all reversed their stance on ESAs within the last six months, ruling that they were no longer accepted on board. Always check before you book.
The Chilean airline, the largest airline company in Latin America, allows emotional support animals on board their aircraft. Latam specifies that ESAs must be at least four months old, final boarding approval must be made at the airport counter, and only on flights to or from Mexico or Colombia or on domestic flights within Colombia.
The ultra-low-cost Mexican airline allows ESA travel free of charge on routes within Mexico, Central America, and South America and on any planes to or from any of these destinations. They ask for recent mental health documentation and that the animal be either leashed or crated.
This German airline is one of the biggest aviation companies in the world. Lufthansa’s policy on emotional support animals is complicated, even convoluted. While they don’t allow ESAs on all flights, they do enable ESAs on flights to and from the United States.
You must submit documentation well in advance of your flight, and the animal must be able to fit in the foot space in front of your seat. Additionally, the animal must be fitted with a harness, not a mere collar.
The intrepid resource for ESA and service dog owners, Dogs on Planes, reports that China Airlines still allows ESAs on board. They require that owners get in touch with the flight carrier at least 48 hours before they contact the flight. You must submit an application that can be downloaded from their website.
Asiana Air accepts dogs, cats, and birds as emotional support animals on board. Each passenger can only bring one ESA on board, with two additional pets as checked baggage. The animal cannot weigh more than 7 kg and must be kept inside its cage throughout the flight.
Airlines No Longer Accepting Emotional Support Animals
The list of airlines that no longer accept ESAs on board is growing. All of the major US-headquartered airlines have taken the ACAA up on its provision to disallow ESAs from flying with their owners.
Here are the airlines where ESAs are not allowed on board:
- Southwest Airlines
- American Airlines
- United Airlines
- Singapore Air
- Air France
The four international airlines at the end of this list represent a cross-section of international airlines from different regions and continents that have decided to no longer support ESAs on board. If you want to book with an international airline that isn’t listed, check with them directly before making your plans.
What About Psychiatric Service Dogs?
Psychiatric service dogs are allowed on some flights and not on others. Some airlines consider them a kind of service animal. Others have strict rules that service animals must be kept to assist physically handicapped individuals with travel.
How Do I Get an ESA for Travel?
If you feel you’d benefit from an emotional support animal, that feeling shouldn’t be based on the hope that you’ll be able to travel by air with them. ESAs help out tremendously with inter-city and even interstate travel. They are allowed on public transportation, and Amtrak allows small cats and dogs with the proper paperwork.
1. Determine if You’d Benefit from ESA Ownership
The first step in becoming an ESA owner is considering whether you’d benefit from ESA ownership. The primary distinction between service dogs and emotional support animals is that service dogs help with physical and severe psychological handicaps. In contrast, emotional support animals help with psychological and emotional distress.
If you are disabled or have a debilitating psychological/nervous condition like PTSD or epilepsy, look into service dog ownership. But if you think you’d emotionally benefit from a constant companion or have a condition like depression or anxiety, ESA ownership may be right for you.
2. Set up an Appointment with a Licensed Mental Health Professional
The next step is to visit a licensed mental health professional (LMHP) and have them assess you. If you see a general practitioner or family doctor regularly, you can also visit them. Have them evaluate you for your potential need for ESA ownership and ask them to write you a letter.
3. Provide Information About Your Pet or Plan to Adopt
If the LMHP agrees to write you an ESA letter, you must provide information about your pet. If you don’t have one yet, make plans to adopt one. Note: dogs and cats travel much more accessible than any other kind of animal.
4. Ensure Your ESA is Properly Trained
ESAs don’t have a training requirement to get certified like service dogs. But when you are out with your ESA, people will expect them to behave like a service dog. For everyone’s ease of mind, make sure your ESA is trained to remain calm and in its place.
5. Recieve Your ESA Letter
The final step is to receive your ESA letter on official LMHP letterhead. You can contact ESA Registration of America if you have any questions about how to get an ESA letter and how to use one.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can You Still Bring an Emotional Support Animal on a Plane?
In most cases, ESAs are no longer allowed on planes. The ACAA does not forbid ESAs on planes but leaves it up to airlines to decide for themselves, and most major airlines decided not to allow them on board.
Why Did Airlines Stop Allowing ESAs?
Airlines stopped allowing ESAs on board because the ACAA was amended to allow them to make that decision. That amendment was reportedly made because too many people were faking ESA ownership and bringing noisy, insubordinate animals on board.
Register Your ESA Today!
Any and all questions about ESA ownership, traveling with your ESA, and how to get an ESA letter can be directed to the ESA Registration of America. We help ESA owners navigate the ins and outs of ESA ownership, get their letters, and more. Together, we’re stronger.