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Taking Emotional Support Animals on Planes [COMPLETE GUIDE]

Taking Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) on planes used to be a very straightforward process. However, recently, the rules and regulations for flying with emotional support animals have gotten much stricter. As of January 2021, unfortunately many airlines no longer recognise ESAs as service animals, meaning they may only fly under airlines standard pet policies. 

This is because people seemed to abuse the simplicity of the process and over the past few years there have even been cases where passengers were accompanied by their pot-bellied pigs and miniature horses. One passenger even brought their peacock on board with them.

However, some airlines still permit emotional support animals on planes, with the correct paperwork. The following airlines still allow taking emotional support animals on planes, in 2021:

  1. China air
  2. Latam Airlines
  3. Norwegian Air
  4. Singapore Air
  5. Virgin Australia
  6. Volaris
  7. Westjet

In this article, we will discuss in detail the process of taking emotional support animals on planes and the rules and regulations of different airlines. 

We’ve also included some travel tips, to ensure that the process is as stress-free as possible for you and your ESA.


What are Emotional Support Animals?

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 very presence alleviates the symptoms associated with a personal psychological or emotional disability. The only requirement is that the animal is fully under control in public and does 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 a letter from a credited medical health practitioner. 

taking emotional support animal on plane

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

When considering to have your pet approved as your emotional support animal, it helps to understand what makes ESAs different from other types of “specialty” animals, most notably service and therapy 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 therapy animals and standard pets. So while they don’t generally get the same legal rights as service animals, they do get some. 


What is the process of taking Emotional Support Animals on planes?

The process of taking emotional support animals on planes, in 2021 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 sanitation form

Obtain a Medical Assessment Letter / ESA Letter

It’s important to know that you cannot officially ‘certify’ a pet as an Emotional Support Animal. There are no official certificates and no official registration database for Emotional Support Animals. In order to take Emotional Support Animals on planes, you will need an ESA letter, a letter from a medical health professional.

Beware of scams! There are many websites around that will offer 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 Emotional Support Animals on planes, 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 should:

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

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. Please note that these services will charge you, and you will need to complete 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. 

Please note that under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Emotional Support Animals are not considered Service Animals and are therefore not given the same rights and privileges. However, Emotional Support Animals have the right however to accompany their owners in many other instances, such as traveling with many airlines.

Obtain your Emotional Support Animal’s pet passport

In order to take Emotional Support animals on planes, 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 need 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.

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

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

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

b) Rabies vaccinations.

If you want your take Emotional Support Animals on planes, 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.

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.

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

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. 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.

For example, Turkey requires that all dogs are vaccinated against parainfluenza, leptospirosis, parvovirus, bordetella, hepatitis and distemper before being allowed into the country.  

e) Rabies titer test.

Some countries require pets to have a rabies titer test before entering. This is usually the case when you are traveling from a country that is considered high risk for rabies.

If your ESA requires a titer test the process 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 entering. 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. Furthermore, different airlines have different restrictions on the types of pets that they allow as Emotional Support Animals on planes. If your airline does not allow Emotional Support Animals on planes, your animal will need to adhere to the airlines pet policies.

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 a Sanitation form

A sanitation form is required by some 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 if a sanitation form is required.


Airline requirements for taking Emotional Support Animals on planes?

a) Your ESA must usually be a dog.

Sadly for all the emotionally supportive hamsters and frogs out there, many airlines have tightened their rules regarding Emotional Support Animals on airplanes. Airlines said this was necessary because too many passengers were taking advantage of the free transport of ESAs. Furthermore, they said that the type of animals passengers claimed they needed with them on board for emotional support was getting out of hand. A number of people were claiming that they couldn’t fly without their turkey, peacock, pig, goat, spider or snake for support.

Therefore, the majority of airlines will now only accept dogs as emotional support animals on planes.

emotional support animals on planes
Dexter, an emotional support peacock, photographed at an airport in 2018. Photograph: instagram.com/ventiko

b) Your ESA must be an approved breed and size.

Not only must your Emotional Support Animal be a dog, it must be an approved breed. Different airlines have different policies on which breeds you can take on a flight, as an ESA.

Check the airline policy for who you are flying with, to ensure your dog’s breed is permitted to fly.

If you have a large dog, call your airline as soon as you have booked the tickets. Ask the airline to reserve the bulkhead so that your ESA can sit at your feet with more room. However, it’s important to note that not all airlines will allow you to reserve seats beforehand. In these cases, you will need to show up early to talk to the airline representative at the counter.

c) Your ESA must be well behaved and calm on the flight.

All airlines require your emotional service animal to be well behaved in public and calm on the plane. Your ESA won’t be permitted in the cabin if they display any form of disruptive behaviour that can’t be successfully corrected or controlled. This sort of behaviour includes (but isn’t limited to):

  • Growling at others;
  • Biting or attempting to bite others;
  • Jumping on or lunging at others

If the airline observes any of this behaviour at any point during your journey, then you may be liable to pay the fees required to fly with a pet.

You may want to look into training your ESA, to ensure your experience is as pleasant as possible for you both.

d) You must have an ESA Letter.

As mentioned above, you will need an ESA letter from a medical health professional, stating that your animal is there to provide you with emotional support. For more information on this check the ESA letter section above.

e) Your ESA must have a pet passport.

It is important to note that both service and emotional support animals are subject to the same requirements when flying internationally as other animals of their species. This means you will need relevant documentation to show that your ESA is fit for travel.

A Pet Passport contains a record of the pet’s health and vaccinations. Additionally, it allows animals to travel without the need for quarantine. However, this is providing that they meet certain conditions, such as having the correct documentation, identification, vaccinations and treatments.

For more information on obtaining a pet passport, check the pet passport section above. 

f) You may require a sanitation form.

A sanitation form is required by some 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 if a sanitation form is required.

taking emotional support dog

Which airlines allow taking Emotional Support Animals on Planes in 2021 (IN CABIN)?

  1. China air
  2. Latam Airlines
  3. Norwegian Air
  4. Singapore Air
  5. Virgin Australia
  6. Volaris
  7. Westjet

Tips for taking Emotional Support Animals on planes

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. 

2. Exhaust your ESA before the flight.

Try to exhaust your ESA a little by increasing the level of activity before your trip.

If you have a dog, take them out for longer walks or runs. A sleepy animal will be less prone to getting stressed out 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 dogs 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 him/her 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. You could even do some practice runs. Pop your ESA in its carrier and go out for lunch, or take a walk together.

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.

What dog breeds work well as Emotional Support Animals?


Frequently Asked Questions

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

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 planes with me?

This depends on which airline you are flying with. Most airlines will not allow large emotional support animals in their cabins as they will often need to sit in the space between your feet and not obstruct other passengers or isles. However, some airlines will allow larger dogs, as long as your inform them at least 48 hours before your flight. In these cases, they will need to reserve a special spot for you on the plane.

What animal's are permitted as emotional support animals on planes?

Usually, just dogs are permitted as emotional support animals on planes.

Can I take my emotional support animal on international flights?

You may be able to yes. This depends on which airline you are flying with as they all have different regulations. Singapore Air and China Air all allow ESAs on international flights.

flying with esa on plane

Conclusion

Okay, so as you have now learnt, taking Emotional Support Animals on planes does require a certain amount of planning and preparation. Nevertheless, to ensure your flight is as stress-free as possible for you and your ESA, it’s worth it!

Ensure you fly with an airline that still permits ESAs on planes, as many no longer consider these as service animals. Different airlines also have different restrictions on the types of pets they allow as ESAs, and on board their planes. Airlines that do permit emotional support animals on planes will require an ESA letter from a certified medical health professional. More often than not, your ESA must be small as it must fit in a carrier that’s placed under the seat in front of you. 

Of course, you will also need to obtain a pet passport for your ESA, and must ensure your pet is fit and healthy to travel. 

Hope this has been helpful.

Happy travels!

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