Flying with an Emotional Support Animal (ESAs) used to be a very straightforward process. However, recently, the rules and regulations for flying with emotional support animals have gotten much stricter.
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.
Though, with a little planning, your companion can join you on your flight.
Flying with your ESA can be straight forward and stress-free with a little planning:
- Ensure your animal qualifies as an ESA.
- Prepare all the documentation needed when flying with an ESA.
- Obtain your ESA’s pet passport.
- Inform the airline at least 48 hours before departure.
- Ensure your ESA’s travel carrier is within airline regulations.
- How to prepare your ESA for travel
I’ve also included some travel tips, to ensure that the process is as stress-free as possible for you and your ESA.
a) Your ESA must be a dog or a cat.
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 on planes, as well as cats, as Emotional Support Animals.
However, it is worth checking with the specific airline that you are flying with.
b) Your ESA must be an approved breed.
Not only must your Emotional Support Animal be a dog or a cat, it must be an approved breed.
Different airlines have different policies on which breeds you can take on a flight, as an ESA.
For example, American Airlines don’t allow snub-nosed or brachycephalic dogs and cats on their flights.
Here’s a list of some of the dog and cat breeds that may not be allowed to fly on American Airlines:
- Exotic Shorthair
- American Staffordshire Terrier
- Boston Terrier
- Brussels Griffon
- Bulldog (all breeds)
- Cane Corso
- Dogue De Bordeaux
- English Toy Spaniel
- Japanese Chin
Check the airline policy for who you are flying with, to ensure your dog or cat breed is permitted to fly.
In addition, it 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.
This will be the case for Southwest Airlines.
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.
What is the etiquette for flying with an Emotional Support Animal?
As mentioned above, all airlines require ESA and service animals to be fully trained. They must be under control of their owner throughout the whole journey.
United Airlines states the following:
- A service or support animal or animals may be placed at the feet of the passenger at any bulkhead seat or in any other seat as long as no part of the animal extends into the aisle. Animals must be of a size to not exceed the “footprint” of the seat.
- The animal or animals may not extend into the foot space of another passenger who does not wish to share foot space with a service or support animal.
- Service and support animals may ride in the passenger’s lap for all phases of the flight, including ground movement, take off, and landing, provided the trained animal is no larger than a lap held child (under 2 years of age).
- The animal must remain with the passenger at all times.
- The animal cannot occupy a seat.
- If no single seat will accommodate both animal and passenger without causing an obstruction, the passenger may check the service or support animal as baggage, at no charge, or purchase an additional ticket for the animal, allowing the animal to occupy that space on the floor. The passenger can buy a second ticket at the same rate as the original ticket.
- There is no guarantee of additional space beyond 1 seat per ticket.
- Passengers with trained service or support animals are permitted to occupy flat-bed seats but may require assistance from the flight attendant.
Therefore, your emotional service animal must be well behaved enough to comply to these rules.
These rules apply to most airlines, however airline policies can vary, so again, it is best to check.
a) You must have an ESA letter.
Exhaust your ESA 48 hours before your flight.
Try to exhaust your ESA a little by increasing the level of activity 48 hours before your trip.
If you have a dog, take them out for longer walks or runs. Cats are a little harder to exhaust, as lets face it, they do what they want! Try to have some extra play sessions. I know most of the cats I’ve met can’t resist chasing a laser beam!
A sleepy animal will be less prone to getting stressed out on the flight.
Limit access to food 12-24 hours before taking your dog on a plane.
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 or cats may experience motion sickness if they eat just before a flight. If you are flying in the morning, then feed them the night before.
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.
Pack all the essentials.
- A small amount of dry food
- A travel bowl
- Treats and chews
- Pet passport
- Your ESA’s favourite soft toy, blanket, or pillow
- Medications and first aid items
- Your vet’s contact information