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Airlines Allowing an Emotional Support Animal on International Flight [2021]

Unfortunately, in 2021, taking an emotional support animal on an international flight is not as easy as it used to be. As of January 2021, the rules and regulations for taking emotional support animals on planes has gotten stricter. Many airlines, that previous permitted flying with ESAs, no longer recognise ESAs as service dogs. This means that in many cases, ESAs will no longer have the same rights and will often be treated as standard pets. Furthermore, many airlines will only permit flying with ESAs on domestic flights, however there are some which permit taking an emotional support animal on an international flight. 

The following airlines allow taking an emotional support animal on an international flight, in 2021:

  1. China air
  2. Norwegian Air
  3. Singapore Air
  4. Virgin Australia

In this article, we will discuss the rules and regulations for taking an emotional support animal on international flights, in 2021. We will also outline some tips for taking ESAs on international flights, and answer some frequently asked questions. 

What are Emotional Support Animals (ESAs)?

Emotional support animals (ESAs) are pets that are required for a person’s ongoing mental health treatment by a licensed therapist, psychologist, doctor (GP) or any licensed mental health professional. The ESA is there to bring comfort and minimise the negative symptoms the person’s emotional or psychological ‘disability’.

Unlike service animals, Emotional Support Animals do not need any specific task-training because their simple companionship alleviates the symptoms associated with a psychological or emotional disability. The only requirement is that the animal is well behaved and in control in public, thus they must not create a nuisance in or around the domestic environment. 

It’s important to note that there is no official registry for ESAs, and no official certificate. Rather, in order to prove your animal is your ESA, you will need an official letter signed by a credited medical health practitioner. 


What’s the difference between an Emotional Support Animal and a Service Animal?

When considering to have your pet assigned as your emotional support animal, it helps to understand what makes ESAs different from other types of “specialty” animals, most notably service, therapy and psychiatry animals.

In their most basic definition, ESAs are simply animals who provide their owners with therapeutic benefits. An ESA provides emotional support to their human through love and companionship. As anyone who has ever had a pet knows, animals have an incredible ability to connect with humans on a deep level. For many people, a beloved animal friend may be the first one a person goes to when they need someone to comfort them and talk to without judgement. This comes without the training that a service animal or therapy animal must go through.

Though they provide incredibly important services, emotional support animals are considered to be somewhere in between the realms of service or psychiatry animals and standard pets. So, while they don’t generally get the same legal rights as service animals, they do get some. This includes being able to fly with their owners, and being allowed to live in some ‘no-pet’ housing. 

emotional support animal international flight

Airlines that allow Emotional Support Animal on international flights (in cabin)

Unfortunately, many airlines will only permit an emotional support animal on domestic flights, however there are still some airlines which will permit them on international flights. 

The following airlines allow taking an emotional support animal on an international flight, in 2021:

  1. China air
  2. Norwegian Air
  3. Singapore Air
  4. Virgin Australia

However, the rules and regulations for flying with an emotional support animal on international flights differ. In many cases, emotional support animals on international flights are only permitted to and from the US. We will outline the different policies in detail below. 

China Air

China Air’s emotional support animal on international flights policies are as follows:

  • Only dogs are accepted as emotional support animals when flying with china air.
  • You must provide the following documents:
  • Emotional support animals are only accepted free of charge in the cabin on the direct flights to/from the U.S.A. (including Guam). For other routes, emotional support animals are recognized as pets and need to be transported as checked baggage. You will have to pay for this.
  • You must inform China Air at least 48 hours prior to departure, and passengers are obliged to meet the relevant animal transit and entry requirements with all the necessary documents.
  • Your ESA must be vaccinated from rabies and must be free of pests and diseases that would endanger people or public health.
  • Emotional support animals must be harnessed, leashed, or tethered or stayed in their travel carrier at all times.
  • Passengers travelling with emotional support animal’s are not permitted to seat in the exit row, for safety reasons.
  • The ESA dog should be able to fit on the lap or within the foot space of passengers on the aircraft.
  • ESA dogs must be well behaved and obey commands. If disruptive behavior is observed at any point during the journey and isn’t corrected or controlled, in the reasonable exercise of our discretion, China Air reserve the right to refuse carriage or to claim for any loss and damage caused by the service dogs.

Norwegian Air

Norwegian Air’s emotional support animal on international flights policies are as follows:

  • Only dogs are accepted as emotional support animals on international flights. 
  • You will be required to present documentation from a licensed mental health doctor (e.g. psychiatrist, psychologist, licensed clinical social worker, including a medical doctor specifically treating the passenger’s mental or emotional disability). The document must state the following:
    • That you have a mental or emotional disability recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders—Fourth Edition (DSM IV).
    • That you need the emotional support or psychiatric service animal as an accommodation for air travel and/or for activity at the passenger’s destination.
    • The individual providing the assessment is a licensed mental health professional, and the passenger is under his or her professional care.
    • The date and type of the mental health professional’s license and the state or other jurisdiction in which it was issued.
  • Documentation must not be older than one year from the date of your flight. 
  • Emotional support dogs are only allowed in the cabin on direct flights to and from the U.S (excl. flights to the UK). 
  • You must notify Norwegian Air that you’re flying with an emotional support animal at least 48 hours prior to departure.
  • All emotional support dogs are expected to be sufficiently trained to behave in public.
  • Norwegian air do not accept emotional support dogs under 4 months.
  • Only one emotional support dog per passenger is permitted.
  • You are only permitted to fly with your emotional support dog, mentioned in your ESA letter. 
  • On flights lasting over 8 hours, Norwegian Air require documentation stating that your ESA will not need to relieve itself on the flight or that they can relieve itself in a way that does not create a health or sanitation issue on the flight.

Singapore Air

Singapore Air’s emotional support animal on international flights policies are as follows:

  • Only dogs are permitted to fly as emotional support animals on international flights.
  • Dogs must be at least 4 months of age.
  • ESA Dogs must be trained to obey commands, behave appropriately, and must not pose a direct threat to the health and safety of other customers.
  • Smaller dogs (no larger than the size of a 2-year old child) are allowed sit on the your lap, while larger dogs must sit on the cabin floor in front of the passenger seat.
  • A moisture absorbent material must also be placed on the cabin floor underneath your ESA dog at all times during the flight.
  • ESA dogs must not occupy a seat.
  • ESA dogs must be harnessed and leashed, or remain in a pet carrier at all times.
  • Your ESA dog is not allowed to obstruct the legroom of other customers, and must not block the aircraft aisle or emergency exit. 
  • If your dog is one of the following breeds (including mixes), you must muzzle them and must provide additional documents regarding your dog’s behaviour:
    • Akita
    • Boerboel
    • Bull Terrier
    • Doberman Pinscher
    • Dogo Argentino
    • Fila Brasileiro
    • German Shepherd Dog, Belgian Shepherd Dog, East European Shepherd Dog
    • Mastiffs, including Bull Mastiff, Neapolitan Mastiff, Cane Corso and Dogue De Bordeaux
    • Perro De Presa Canario
    • Pit Bull, including American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, American Bulldog
    • Rottweiler
    • Tosa
  • You are required to have the following documentation:
    • Import/transshipment/export permits (subject to country-specific regulations)
    • Veterinary health certificate
    • Rabies vaccination letter
    • A completed acknowledgement form
    • Signed statement from a licensed mental health professional no older than one year prior to your flight date stating:
      • you have a mental or emotional disability recognised in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), and is under his or her professional care
      • you need the emotional support dog for air travel and/or for activities at your destination
      • licence information of the mental health professional (issue date, licence type, and jurisdiction and state where it was issued)
  • If your flight duration is over 8 hours, you will have to provide an additional document (sanitary form) to certify that your ESA will not need to relieve itself on the flight, or that it can do so in a way that does not create a health or sanitation issue on the flight.

Virgin Australia

Virgin Australia’s emotional support animal on international flights policies are as follows:

  • Only dogs are recognised as Emotional Support Animals.
  • Emotional Support Animals are only permitted on board flights to and from the United States.
  • You must request to travel with an emotional support animal on an international flight, prior to your flight. You will need to call their Guest Contact Centre.
  • Your ESA dog must be harnessed at all times. It must also wear an identifying coat. Handlers must supply a suitable restraint or an approved in-cabin kennel for smaller Service Dogs in-flight.
  • You must accompany your emotional support animal at all times at the airport and during the flight. 
  • Emotional support animals must sit at your feet, without obstructing aisles and other passengers seats.
  • Your dog must sit on an absorbant mat for the whole duration of the flight. 
  • If you are travelling on our international long haul services with a group of 10 or more Service Dogs, you must contact Virgin Australia at least 10 days before departure so that they can ensure your needs are met on board.

Airlines Accepting Psychiatric Service Dogs

Psychiatric support dogs (PSDs) are not the same as emotional support animals (ESAs), in fact psychiatric animals have more legal rights than ESAs. However, it is possible in the right circumstances and with some effort to train an emotional support animal to become a PSD. 

The main difference between an ESA and a PSD is that a PSD must be trained to perform tasks related to the handler’s disability. These tasks include providing pressure therapy during moments of crisis, retrieving medication, helping the handler maintain daily routines, among many more. On the other hand, ESAs have no specific training requirements and alleviate symptoms of mental illness simply through their companionship. Furthermore, unlike ESAs, only dogs can serve as psychiatric service animals. 


All airlines flying to and from the United States allow psychiatric service dogs on their flights.

PSDs are allowed to board flights in the cabin free of charge. In order to fly with a psychiatric dog, you must submit a DOT’s Service Animal Transportation Form prior to your flight.

On the form, you must self-certify that your dog has been trained to perform tasks relating to your disability. PSD owners have a right to privacy and dignity: airlines are not allowed to ask what the passenger’s specific disability is, and they are now allowed to ask you to demonstrate the task your PSD has been trained to perform.

Furthermore, the form requires the name of the PSD’s trainer, which can be the owner (third-party training is not a requirement for PSDs). 


What is the process of taking an Emotional Support Animal on an international flight?

The process of taking emotional support animals on an international flight is as follows:

  1. Obtain a medical assessment letter / ESA letter
  2. Obtain your pet’s pet passport
  3. Book flights and inform your airline you will be bringing an Emotional Support Animal
  4. Complete required forms

Obtain a Medical Assessment Letter / ESA Letter

It’s important to note that there are no official certificates and no official registration database for Emotional Support Animals. In order to take Emotional Support Animals on international flights, you will need an ESA letter, an official letter from a medical health professional.

Beware of scams! There are many websites popping up offering ESA Certificates in exchange for a fee – please avoid any websites offering this service. There is no such thing as an official ESA certificate or registry.

When taking an Emotional Support Animal on an international flight, you do not require a certificate, just a ESA letter. This is a recommendation letter from a licensed medical professional stating your need for an ESA. Medical professionals include psychologists, therapists, psychiatrists or other duly-licensed and/or certified mental health professionals.

The letter must:

  • Be legitimate—i.e., on professional letterhead and written by a qualified physician and/or mental health provider.
  • Clearly explain your need for an emotional support animal.
  • Include your medical professional’s license number, as well as their signature and the date the letter was signed. 

If you don’t already have a mental health provider, you have two options:

  1. You can either make an appointment with one and get your letter that way, or;
  2. You can use an online ESA letter service, such as Emotional Pet SupportESA Doctors, or CertaPet. These services do charge, and you will be required to undergo a mental health evaluation before receiving your letter.

What qualifies you to own an emotional service animal?

Many people who suffer from a variety of illnesses, including mild to severe depression, phobias, PTSD, anxiety, and panic attacks have found that companionship of an Emotional Support Animal alleviates symptoms, sometimes even when prescription medications failed or had adverse side effects.

To qualify for an ESA, a licensed medical health care professional will determine whether you have a disability and whether an ESA would help manage your symptoms. A “disability” for purposes of qualifying for an Emotional Support Dog means a mental health condition like depression or severe anxiety that substantially limits one or more major life activities, like the ability to study, work, travel or sleep. 

Obtain your Emotional Support Animal’s pet passport

In order to take an Emotional Support animal on an international flight, they must have a pet passport. 

The requirements for obtaining your Emotional Support Animal’s pet passport will differ depending on where you are travelling to and from, and the species of your pet. However it is likely that your pet will require the following:

  1. Microchip
  2. Rabies vaccination
  3. Animal health certificate
  4. Additional vaccinations
  5. Rabies titer test
  6. Parasite treatment

This is just a guide on what is required, please check the requirements for the specific country you and your ESA are visiting. 

a) Microchipping your ESA.

A microchip is a electronic chip that’s inserted under the skin of your dog or cat. A microchip holds a number unique to your pet, and will be connected to a database with your contact details.

Your Emotional Support Animal can get microchipped at your local vet or a charity, such as RSPCA.

Not only is a microchip usually a requirement when getting a pet passport, it is in your best interest. If your ESA was to go missing, then you are far more likely to be reunited. 

Get your ESA microchipped BEFORE getting his/her rabies vaccinations. Often, vaccinations will not be valid if microchipped after.

b) Rabies vaccinations.

If you want your take an Emotional Support Animal on an international flight, it is mandatory that he/she has a valid rabies vaccination. This is a requirement for entering most countries.

Most countries require dogs to have their rabies vaccination between 30 days and 12 months prior to importing. However, this differs depending on your destination country. Furthermore, some countries recognise both 1 year and 3 year vaccinations, while others only accept 1 year vaccinations. 

You can get your pet’s rabies vaccination at your local vet, alternatively some charities offer this service for free or for a discounted price. 

c) Animal health certificate.

In order to export and import pets most countries will require an official animal health certificate issued by an accredited veterinarian.

Of course, it differs between countries, but most require the animal health certificate to be obtained within 5-10 days of travel. 

In most cases, your health certificate will also need to be endorsed by the country’s authority responsible for the import and export of animals. For example, if you are traveling from the US, you will need your documents endorsed by the USDA. Alternatively, if you are traveling from Canada, you will need to have your documents endorsed by CFIA.

d) Additional vaccinations.

Depending on where you are flying to, your ESA may also require additional vaccinations or treatments. Common required vaccinations include:

  • bordetella
  • distemper
  • hepatitis
  • leptospirosis
  • parainfluenza
  • parvovirus

e) Rabies titer test.

Some countries require pets to have a rabies titer test before entering, to show that your pet’s rabies vaccination was successful. This is often the case when you are traveling from a country that is considered high risk for rabies.

The process for getting a rabies titer test is as follows:

  1. Your pet will have a blood sample taken at least 30 days after the rabies vaccination.
  2. Your vet will then send the blood sample to an approved blood testing laboratory.
  3. Your pet’s blood test results must show a rabies antibody level of at least 0.5 IU/ml.
  4. You must wait 3 months from the date the blood sample was taken before you travel.
  5. The vet will give you a copy of the test results.

f) Parasite treatment.

Many countries require that dogs are treated against internal and/or external parasites before importation. This includes treatment for tapeworm, fleas, ticks, nematodes and cestodes. 

Book flights and inform your airline you will be bringing an Emotional Support Animal

It’s important to check that your airline allows Emotional Support Animals on board, as many do not. If your airline does not allow Emotional Support Animals on planes, your animal will need to adhere to the airlines standard pet policies, which usually means flying as checked baggage. 

When booking your flight, it’s important to note that you may be restricted to sit in specific seats on the plane. Most airlines require that passengers travelling with ESAs sit in certain seats on the plane. Therefore, it is important to check these specific requirements, when booking your flight or reserving your seats.

Generally, you will need to inform the airline that you will be bringing an ESA, at least 48 hours before the flight.

As well as providing your ESA letter, some airlines may also require you to complete a form. The document will state the address and jurisdiction of the health professional who approved your use of an ESA. Additionally, it will state that you have a mental health related disability and are under the care of a health professional.

The amount of notice the airline will need, may differ between airlines. So, again, please check the policies before booking your flight. If you fail to give some airports sufficient notice, then your ESA may need to be checked into the kennel compartment of the plane.

Complete required forms

Airlines usually require you or your medical health professional to complete forms before taking emotional support animals on international flights.

Forms usually ask to verify that you have a mental health related disability, and that your ESA is necessary for your treatment.  

Furthermore, a sanitation form is often required by airlines, if your flight is over 8 hours long. This form states that during the flight, your service animal or ESA will not defecate or urinate on a flight. Furthermore, the forms requires you to inform the airline how you’d go about dealing with a scenario in which they will need to defecate or urinate.

Check the airline policy of who you are flying with, to see which forms are required.

Tips for taking an Emotional Support Animal on international flights

1. Train your ESA to stay calm.

Your ESA will need to stay calm on the flight otherwise they risk being sent into the cargo area of the plane. Being obedient to orders is a requirement when taking emotional support animals on international flights. 

2. Exhaust your ESA before the flight.

Try to exhaust your ESA a little by increasing the level of activity before your trip. A sleepy animal will be less prone to getting stressed out on the flight, and will likely be better behaved on the flight. 

3. Limit access to food and water before the flight.

Limit your ESA’s access to food. Therefore, it’ll be less likely that they will need to ‘defecate or urinate’ on the flight.

Additionally, some animals may experience motion sickness if they eat just before a flight. If you are flying in the morning, then feed them the night before.

4. Get your ESA used to it’s travel carrier.

You want to ensure that the journey is as stress-free as possible for your ESA.

If you are using a carrier, let your ESA get used to it, so that they feel a little at home in there. Lure your ESA into their carrier with plenty of treats, and let him/her play and sleep in there as much as possible.

In addition, pop some of their favourite toys in their travel home, for extra comfort.

5. Familiarise yourself with the airport that you are departing from and arriving to.

Most airports will have a dedicated area for pets and service animals to rest. It is actually a legal requirement that all U.S. airports have pet-relief areas available for working animals and pets to rest. Take some photos of the airport maps, so you don’t have to wander around on the day trying to find a resting place.


 

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need to pay to take my emotional support animal on international flights?

No. You will not need to pay to take your emotional support animal on planes. Of course this is as long as the airline you are flying with allow emotional support animals, and your ESA complies to all of the airlines regulations.

Can I take a large emotional support animal on international flights with me?

This depends on which airline you are flying with. Most airlines will not allow very large emotional support animals in their cabins as they will often need to fit in the space by your feet. However, if you call your airline at least 48 hours prior to your flight, they may be able to reserve a special space for you on the plane.

What animal's are permitted as an emotional support animal on an international flight?

Usually, just dogs are permitted as emotional support animals.

Where will my emotional support animal have to sit on the flight?

This depends on which airline you are flying with as they all have different regulations. Some airlines require animals to travel in an airline approved carrier, that will be placed under the seat in front of you. However, other airlines may allow emotional support animals to sit on their human companions lap, as long as they are no bigger than a 2 year old child

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