United Airlines ESA Travel Policies
United Airlines is happy to accommodate travelers with Emotional Support Animals (ESA). Certain requirements must be met, and proper documentation must be supplied.
For the purposes of United Airlines, a person may only be permitted to travel with an ESA if they have a mental or emotional liability that substantially limits major life activities such as caring for oneself, performing tasks, or working. Although some ESAs may have specialized training regarding the handler's disability, ESAs are not required to have the specialized training. They should always be well-behaved in public and under their handler's control at all time. Basic training such as obedience training may be recommended before flying.
United Airlines requires that passengers who wish to board with an ESA provide 3 documents no less than 48 before they board. The passenger should submit the three forms together by email, but also keep the hard copies to have on hand while traveling. Passengers should keep them handy in case they need to be referred to! The first letter must be filled out by a mental health professional who is treating the passenger's qualifying condition. They will also confirm if the ESA will ride with the passenger and not in a carrier for the duration of the flight, in a carrier with the passenger for the duration of the flight, or if the ESA is only required to meet the passenger at the destination.
The second form is to be filled out by the ESA's handler and is an affirmation of the ESA's behavior being appropriate in public. It states that the handler is responsible for the ESA's behavior, and will be held accountable including paying for any damages that may result from the ESA. It also states that the handler takes all responsibility for the ESA's well-being as well as any documentation that must be provided at the destination.
The third and final form must be filled out by the ESA's veterinarian. It has a section for vaccination history and a statement by the vet that the ESA appeared healthy and had no sign of disease at the last exam, as well as a section where the veterinarian states if the animal has ever attacked or bitten anyone, and if so, the circumstances of the bite. The veterinarian must also provide their license number and business information.
If these forms are not properly filled out or submitted in time, the ESA may be allowed to board, but it will board as a pet and incur all pet-related fees as well as be subject to all pet-related rules and requirements. The forms provided to United Airlines will be the basis of their decision to allow an animal on the flight as an ESA, so filling them out properly and timely is of the utmost importance. The pet fee is $125.00.
ESA Stowage Policies
Once boarded, ESAs must remain in the floor space for the ESA handler's purchased seat. ESAs must not protrude into another passenger's space or into the aisle. ESA handlers are not permitted to sit in an emergency exit row.
United only permits certain species of animals to board the plane as an ESA. The animals allowed includes household birds, miniature pigs, rabbits, dogs, and cats. Handlers with more exotic ESAs may need to arrange alternate transportation for their ESA to arrive at the destination. Small ESAs, for example rabbits, cats, and some small dogs, may sit on the handler's lap during the flight. However, if safety is a concern due to the ESA's size, or if the ESA is simply too large to fit on the lap, it must remain at the feet of the handler. While ESAs do not need to remain crated for the duration of the flight, using an airline-approved carrier that fits under the seat in front of the passenger is always an option for the ESA.
ESA handlers should consider not only their safety when they board the plane, but also the safety of their fellow passengers. ESAs should know basic obedience commands and respond to commands given by their handler, such as "come" and "leave it". ESAs should be on a leash or in a carrier at all times. If an ESA is fearful of other people or situations, a carrier might be the best option for the ESA. If other passengers become curious of a handler's ESA, the handler should require them to ask permission if they want to pet the ESA. ESA handlers should not feel obligated to let anyone touch their ESA, and if the ESA is feeling shy or fearful, or the handler has additional concerns, permission to pet the ESA should not be given. The ESA's comfort is an important consideration for the flight.
It is important to note that laws regarding ESAs are specific to the United States of America. Other countries may or may not recognize ESAs as protected classes of animals and may not allow them on international legs of a flight, and they may not permit them special entrance to the country outside of normal laws regarding pets. ESA handlers should check ahead when flying internationally and be aware of all laws and requirements before booking flights.
There are a few domestic destinations that have specific rules and regulations for animals, including ESAs. Hawaii has the most detailed requirements, due to their location as an island and needing to protect their indigenous wildlife as well as their rabies-free status. ESAs traveling to or through Honolulu International Airport must meet the requirements and be approved by the 5-Day-Or-Less Quarantine program. This program includes proof of rabies vaccine, microchipping, and other requirements.
For travel to other Hawaiian Islands, your ESA must be approved by the Neighbor Island Program. Some mainland US-based airports have additional rules, such as John F. Kennedy (JFK) Airport, in New York City. All ESAs arriving from an international pre-cleared station are required to clear TSA, and in both Greenville Spartanburg Airport (GSP) and Palm Beach International Airport (PBI) all ESAs are required to be crated. Regardless of the destination, ESA handlers should be sure to check all requirements prior to purchasing a ticket.