Your ultimate guide to airline policy on emotional support animals
Emotional Support Animals provide support to those with
By Kieran Beckles
Updated on January 28, 2019

Do you want to fly with your emotional support animal?

There are a number of airlines that do accommodate Emotional Support Animals, but they will each have a different set of rules you and your ESA will need to follow.

It can be quite a confusing experience for pet owners looking to fly within the United States – or even further afield.

If you have flown within USA in the past couple of years, you’ve probably encountered an ESA in the airport or even on your flight.

These can range from cats and dogs, to more bizarre animals such as miniature horses and pigs to chickens and ducks.

Emotional Support Animals have regularly featured in the American media over the past 12 months and airlines are starting to clamp down on what ESAs they will permit to fly on their aircraft.

Most airlines restrict ESA animals to dogs and cats, with more exotic animals no longer permitted to enter the cabin.

But even some cat and dog breeds won’t be allowed to fly with most major airlines, irrespective of any ESA documentation that you have in your possession.

There are also US laws – and those of the destination countries – to consider.

To help you out, helloBARK! have taken a look at the major airlines and rounded up their ESA policies to make the process of bringing your support animal with you a little easier.

What is an Emotional Support Animal?

Airlines have strict rules when it comes to ESAs (Photo: Adobe Stock)
Airlines have strict rules when it comes to ESAs (Photo: Adobe Stock)

While a lot of Americans will know what an ESA is, they aren’t as prolific in other countries.

There is a distinction between service animals and emotional support animals, too.

According to CertaPet, an emotional support animal (ESA) is an animal that helps alleviate symptoms of an emotional or mental disability through companionship and affection.

They go on to add that an ESA can only be prescribed to a patient by a Licensed Mental Health Professional, which is extremely important if you plan to fly with your ESA.

Cats and dogs are recognised as the most common emotional support animals. They should fulfil emotional, psychiatric, or psychological needs for those suffering from an emotional or mental condition.

You can’t assert that your pet is an emotional support animal when you arrive at the airport. You will need to have the relevant documentation from a licensed doctor, psychologist and/or other mental health official. Most airlines require prior notice that you intend to fly with your ESA.

Some countries, such as the United Kingdom, have strict rules. Even if you alert the airline, you may need to contact the animal reception centre at the relevant airport to avoid your dog or cat going into quarantine.

The advent of ESAs have resulted in many companies offering ESA certificates online. It is important to do thorough research before purchasing any documentation online.

To get an ESA certificate, you will need to have at least one assessment session with a licensed medical official before you are able to get the relevant documentation.

USA Federal safety regulations

– A customer traveling with an emotional support animal cannot sit in an emergency exit seat.

– The emotional support animal must be positioned so as not to obstruct customers’ expeditious evacuation in the unlikely event of an emergency.

– If a customer opts to carry his/her emotional support animal in a pet carrier, the carrier must be properly stowed for taxi, takeoff, and landing in the under the seat in front of the customer’s seat.

– A leashed animal can be placed on the aircraft floor or on the customer’s lap (provided the animal is no larger than a child under the age of two).

Other things to note

helloBARK! recommends speaking to your doctor about the steps required to make your pet an ESA and they should point you in the direction of a psychologist and/or other mental health official who can help determine whether you qualify.

Some companies online will offer similar services over the phone but it is important to note that you may be required to pay extra to get additional documentation if you decide to fly with your emotional support animal.

You will find many websites offering a therapist’s letter, while there is no shortage of online companies offering to register your emotional support animal with their company.

While there are many legitimate websites that offer ESA documentation, helloBARK! advise that the first step should be talking to your therapist or doctor about the best way to obtain a prescription for an emotional support animal.

That’s a brief introduction to emotional support animals – but what is the policy of airlines when it comes to bringing an ESA on their aircraft. Let’s take a look at some major carriers.

Alaska Airlines

What animals can fly?

Emotional support animals assist those with a mental health related disability and are not trained to perform a specific task or work.

Alaska Airlines add on their website that animals accepted as trained emotional support animals are cats and dogs.

Documentation required

You must provide Alaska Airlines with the following completed documentation at least 48 hours before departure, and keep the completed forms with you for the entire journey.

1) Animal health advisory form

Alaska Airlines strongly recommend guests should have a certified copy of:

2) Mental health form
3) Animal behavior form

Making a booking and arriving at the airport

Each guest who is a qualified individual with a disability may travel with an emotional support animal in the cabin but is limited to one ESA per flight.

Trained service animals or emotional support animals travel for free.

If you are traveling with an emotional support animal, you must check in one hour prior to the check in time for the general public and advise the customer service agent upon arrival at the airport to ensure the airline have your animal accounted for onboard the aircraft.

In the cabin

Alaska Airlines have a number of rules for ESAs in the cabin:

1) The size of the animal must not exceed the footprint or personal space of the guest’s seat or foot area during the entire flight.

2) Emotional support animals must be under the control of the owner at all times in the airport and onboard the aircraft. Due to safety concerns, emotional support animals must be leashed, or in an approved carrier that fits under the seat.

3) Emotional support animals are expected to be seated on the floor space below a guest’s seat or, if no larger than an infant, seated in the guest’s lap, if needed to accommodate your disability.

4) Emotional support animals must not:

a) Occupy a seat or sit on a tray table at any time.
b) Obstruct the aisles or areas that must remain clear for emergency evacuation.

5) When traveling with an emotional support animal, Alaska Airlines will do everything they can to seat you in a row with the most leg room within your class of service.

For safety reasons, guests traveling with a service animal or emotional support animal are not permitted to sit in an emergency exit row.

Alaska Airlines recommend choosing a window seat so the animal is safe from foot traffic.

Anything else to consider?

For those flying internationally, Alaska Airlines recommends the following:

“If you are traveling outside of the United States with your service or emotional support animal, we highly recommend that you contact the appropriate consulate or embassy at least 4 weeks prior to departure. This is to ensure that you understand and are able to obtain the specific documentation, including health certificates and proof of vaccination, required for entry into that country.

“Failure to ensure that all proper steps have been taken and documentation provided may result in your animal being placed in quarantine on arrival. Any costs related to the care of your animal in quarantine, issued fines, and any fee associated with returning the animal to its origin will be your responsibility.”

For more information visit: https://www.alaskaair.com/content/travel-info/accessible-services/specialservices-support-animals

American Airlines

How do American Airlines define an ESA?

Emotional support animals provide emotional, psychiatric or cognitive support for individuals with disabilities. Specific disability training isn’t required for animals to meet this classification.

Banned animals

-Amphibians
-Ferrets
-Goats
-Hedgehogs
-Insects
-Reptiles
-Rodents
-Snakes
-Spiders
-Sugar gliders
-Non-household birds (farm poultry, waterfowl, game birds, & birds of prey)
-Animals with tusks, horns or hooves (excluding miniature horses properly trained as service animals)
-Any animal that is dirty or has an odor

Documentation required

American Airlines provide an emotional support and psychiatric service animal document packet which contains instructions and three forms that are necessary for approval to fly if your ticket was issued on or after July 1, 2018:

1) Mental Health Professional Form
2) Behavior Guidelines
3) Animal Sanitation During 8+ Hours Form (only required if your flight is scheduled to be over 8 hours)

Making a booking and arriving at the airport

Many airlines do permit emotional support dogs (Photo: Adobe Stock)
Many airlines do permit emotional support dogs (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Emotional support and fully-trained service animals can fly in the cabin at no charge if they meet the requirements.

To travel with an emotional support and psychiatric service animal in the cabin, you must contact the airline’s Special Assistance Desk with all required documentation at least 48 hours before your flight.

Documentation validation will include American Airlines contacting your mental health professional.

In the cabin

American Airlines state on their website that animals must be able to fit at your feet, under your seat or in your lap (animals to be seated on lap must be smaller than a 2-year old child).

For safety reasons, you won’t be able to sit in an exit row when traveling with your service or emotional / psychiatric support animal.

Emotional support animals cannot:

-Protrude into or block aisles
-Occupy a seat
-Eat from tray tables

If your animal doesn’t fit within the allowed spaces, you may need to:

-Re-book on a flight with more open seats
-Buy a ticket for the animal
-Transport the animal as a checked pet
-All restrictions apply to checked pets. Contact the Special Assistance Desk to make arrangements.

They have strict rules when it comes to your ESA’s behaviour.

They must be trained to behave properly in public and they won’t be permitted in the cabin if they display any form of disruptive behavior that can’t be successfully corrected or controlled, including but not limited to:

– Growling
– Biting or attempting to bite
– Jumping on or lunging at people
– If this behavior is observed at any point during your journey and isn’t corrected or controlled, the animal will be considered a pet and all pet requirements and applicable fees will apply.

Furthermore, emotional support animals must be in your control at all times by leash and / or harness.

Anything else to consider?

American Airlines list destinations that have restrictions with regards to ESAs:

– Hawaii
– London, England (LHR)
– Edinburgh, Scotland (EDI)
– All other destinations within the United Kingdom
– Japan
– Auckland, New Zealand (AKL)
– Hong Kong (HKG)
– Georgetown, Guyana (GEO)
– St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVD)

For more information visit: https://www.aa.com/i18n/travel-info/special-assistance/service-animals.jsp

Aer Lingus

Aer Lingus only permit Recognised Assistance Dogs to fly in the cabin. All other pets must be checked into cargo.

What is a Recognised Assistance Dog?

Aer Lingus quote the Republic of Ireland’s Department of Agriculture who define Recognised Assistance Dogs as:

“Guide dogs or other assistance dogs who are specifically trained to assist a wide range of disabled persons with everyday tasks. Guide dogs must be trained by an organisation that is accepted by, and affiliated to, the International Guide Dog Federation (IGDF) and assistance dogs must be trained by an organisation affiliated with Assistance Dogs International (ADI)”.

What about ESAs?

Unless your ESA is trained by International Guide Dog Federation or an organisation affiliated with Assistance Dogs International, then under the Pet Travel Scheme, your emotional support dog must travel as freight and you are required to use IAG Cargo as your agent / broker.

For more information visit: https://www.aerlingus.com/travel-information/special-assistance/disability-assistance/

British Airways

British Airways only allow assistance dog in their cabin for flights.

What is an assistance dog?

An assistance dog is one that has been trained to assist a person with a disability or medical condition and has been determined as being able to travel safely in the aircraft cabin. For your assistance dog to travel with you in the cabin on British Airways your assistance dog must:

-be trained to assist you with a disability or medical condition
-have documentary evidence confirming that it has been trained
-wear an identifying jacket/harness, and
-remain under your control at all times

What about ESAs?

If your dog does not meet these criteria, it will need to travel as a domestic pet. Therefore, any ESA dogs flying on a British Airways flight will need to have proof that it has been trained to help you with a disability or medical condition.

For more information visit: https://www.britishairways.com/en-gb/information/disability-assistance/travelling-with-your-assistance-dog

Delta Airlines

What animals can fly?

Delta Airlines state that an emotional support animals must assist those with emotional, psychiatric, cognitive or psychological disabilities.

They go on to make a very clear distinction between service animals and emotional support animals.

Banned animals

-Hedgehogs
-Ferrets
-Insects
-Rodents
-Snakes
-Spiders
-Sugar gliders
-Reptiles
-Amphibians
-Goats
-Non-household birds (farm poultry, waterfowl, game bird, & birds of prey)
-Animals improperly cleaned and/or with a foul odor
-Animals with tusks, horns or hooves

Documentation required

Customers must submit the Emotional Support and Psychiatric Service Animal documentation at least 48 hours before their flight. Currently, Delta Airlines require documentation that is no more than a year old (prior to the first flight in the itinerary) from a certified mental health professional indicating need for an emotional support animal, plus certification of the animal’s health including rabies and DRB shot verification.

Making a booking and arriving at the airport

To travel with an emotional support or psychiatric service animal, passengers must:

1) Download and fill out the required Emotional Support Animal PDF (provided on their website).

2) Upload it to My Trips through the Accessibility Service Request Form

3) Keep completed paperwork with you while traveling

Any animal other than a dog or cat will be evaluated on case-by-case basis. Service and support animals must remain with the passenger at all times; unaccompanied animals are not permitted in the cabin.

In the cabin

On Delta flights, service and support animals are expected to be seated in the floor space below a passenger’s seat or seated in a passenger’s lap.

Emotional support animals and their associated items travel for free. The size of the animal must not exceed the “footprint” of the passenger’s seat.

Items include a kennel, blanket, toy, food or similar item.

Passengers traveling with emotional support animals must complete the required paperwork and customers traveling with a trained service animal are encouraged to submit it at least 48 hours before a flight.

Anything else to consider?

Delta Airlines have three additional requirements.

– Effective July 10, 2018: Each customer is limited to one emotional support animal. We are no longer accepting pit bull type dogs as service or support animals.

– Effective December 18, 2018: Service and support animals under four months of age are not allowed on any flight due to rabies vaccination requirements. Additionally, emotional support animals are no longer allowed to be booked on flights longer than eight hours. If you purchased your ticket prior to December 18th and have requested to travel with an emotional support animal, it will be ok to travel as originally ticketed.

– Effective February 1, 2019: For customers originating travel on or after February 1, 2019, Emotional support animals will not be accepted on flights longer than eight hours after regardless of booking date.

For more information visit: https://www.delta.com/us/en/accessible-travel-services/service-animals

Jet Blue

What animals can fly?

An emotional support animal or psychiatric service animal provides comfort to support a customer’s diagnosed mental or emotional disorder. Emotional support animals need not have specific training for that function, while psychiatric service animals are task trained. All must be trained to behave appropriately in a public setting. Acceptable emotional support and psychiatric service animals are limited to dogs, cats, and miniature horses.Your animal must behave appropriately in a public setting.

Banned animals

-Hedgehogs
-Ferrets
-Insects
-Rodents
-Snakes
-Spiders
-Sugar gliders
-Reptiles
-Non-household birds (farm poultry, waterfowl, game bird, & birds of prey)
-Animals improperly cleaned and/or with a foul odor
-Animals with tusk

Documentation required

For travel beginning July 1, 2018, regardless of purchase date of ticket, customers will be required to provide 48 hours’ notice of their intention to travel with an emotional support or psychiatric service animal.

The following documentation will be required:

-Medical/Mental Health Professional’s Form
-Veterinary Health Form
-Confirmation of Animal Behavior

Upon completion of the documentation, you must submit the forms for review through this link at least 48 hours prior to departure. These documents need to be submitted for each reservation you’re traveling on; documents are not kept on file.

Required documentation for emotional support/psychiatric service animals must always accompany the animal when traveling and is to be presented upon request to JetBlue personnel for review.

The behavior of the animal will be assessed at the airport to ensure safety requirements are met before approving the animal for travel.

Making a booking and arriving at the airport

Customers are required to add the ESA to their reservation when booking online or notify JetBlue at 1-800-JETBLUE (538-2583) of the animal’s travel.
JetBlue must be notified of emotional support animal travel and receive documentation no later than 48 hours prior to departure.

Emotional support animals are limited to one per customer.

In the cabin

If you are traveling with more than one service animal, JetBlue will make every reasonable effort to accommodate the space needed. Your animal(s) must fit within the footprint of your seat(s). If your animal(s) is too large to fit in a single footprint in accordance with FAA safety regulations, you may purchase a second seat to guarantee travel or wait for a flight that has suitable empty seats available.

All animals must remain on the floor; however, if the animal is no larger than a lap infant and is well-behaved, circumstances may permit the animal to remain in your lap.

No animal is ever allowed to occupy a seat.

For more information visit: https://www.jetblue.com/at-the-airport/accessibility-assistance/service-dogs-animals/

Lufthansa –

Distinguishing between recognised assistance dogs and emotional support animals

Lufthansa distinguish between:

-Recognised assistance dogs (SVAN) such as, for example, guide dogs
-Emotional support dogs (ESAN)

When taking an assistance dog with you into the cabin, we need your confirmation that the animal meets the stated requirements for travelling as a recognised assistance or emotional support dog. For this purpose, please present two copies of the fully completed and signed ​SVAN or ​ESAN form at the check-in counter.

What animals can fly?

Lufthansa only permit emotional support dogs.

Documentation required

1) Lufthansa require a medical certificate that confirms the need for you to be accompanied by this kind of dog.

2) The ESA dog must be registered and confirmed for the flight no later than 48 hours before departure. There are three ways to register your emotional support dog:

a) ​An email to the Lufthansa Medical Operation Centre or an email to the Lufthansa Medical Operation Centre in the USA
b) Lufthansa Service Center
c) Through your travel agency

3) Confirmation that the dog fulfils the requirements for travelling as an emotional support dog. For this purpose, you must present two copies of their “Transporting an assistance dog in the passenger cabin” form fully completed and signed at check-in.

Making a booking and arriving at the airport

Recognised assistance dogs, such as, for example, guide dogs and hearing dogs, can be transported in the cabin free of charge on all Lufthansa flights. On routes to and from the USA, emotional support dogs can also be transported free of charge.

On no account may the dog relieve itself in the cabin or at the boarding gate, or may only be permitted to do so in such a way as to cause no health risk or hygiene problem.

If your dog does not behave in an appropriate manner, Lufthansa may transfer the dog to the cargo hold at an additional cost or refuse to transport the animal. You are liable for any damage and additional costs arising from the transport of your dog.

In the cabin

1) Your dog must fit in front of your seat and be attached to your safety belt by its lead.

2) The animal may on no account sit on a passenger seat.

3) We recommend securing the dog with a harness rather than with a collar.

4) Out of consideration for the other passengers, we request that you bring a muzzle with you for your dog.

For more information visit: https://www.lufthansa.com/ch/en/assistance-dogs

Norwegian Air

Norwegian Air state on their website that “an emotional support dog provides support to a person with a mental or emotional disability.”

The airline goes on to add that emotional support dogs are not required to have specific training, but the person travelling with the dog must bring documentation they require this support.

What animals can fly?

Norwegian Air only permit emotional support dogs.

The airline has additional information for dog snub-nosed dog breeds:

“Brachycephalic dogs, such as Bulldogs, Boxers or Pekingese, can find it difficult to acclimatise to certain temperatures and may experience breathing difficulties. Please talk to your vet about flying with your snub-nosed dog before you travel”

Documentation required

The budget airline require that documentation is on the letterhead of a licensed mental health professional (e.g. psychiatrist, psychologist, licensed clinical social worker, including a medical doctor specifically treating the passenger’s mental or emotional disability).

Norwegian Air add that it must state the following:

a) The passenger has a mental or emotional disability recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders—Fourth Edition (DSM IV).
b) The passenger needs the emotional support or psychiatric service animal as an accommodation for air travel and/or for activity at the passenger’s destination.
c) The individual providing the assessment is a licensed mental health professional, and the passenger is under his or her professional care.
d) The date and type of the mental health professional’s license and the state or other jurisdiction in which it was issued.

Making a booking and arriving at the airport

Customers with ESAs are required to make a booking through their contact centre.

Norwegian Air require that you check in with your emotional support dog at their check-in counter at least one hour before departure so the airline can make sure they can take care of anything you might need.

You must arrive at the boarding gate at least 45 minutes before departure so you’ve got lots of time to board and get settled.

Furthermore, your dog must be on duty and easily identified as a service dog (e.g. wearing a vest).

In the cabin

Norwegian Air add that you’ll be assigned a suitable seat, and your service dog must lie or sit on the floor in front of you.

Anything else to consider?

Norwegian Air state that to be accepted for travel on flights to the UK, the dog must receive specific training and certification from an accredited body for assistance dogs worldwide.

So unless your ESA fulfils that requirement, they will have to travel in the cargo.

For more information visit: https://www.norwegian.com/uk/travel-info/special-needs-assistance/service-dogs/

Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines have provided thorough information about their ESA policy.

What animals can fly?

A customer seeking to travel with an emotional support animal must satisfy all of the following requirements:

-The Customer must have the required documentation described below.
-The emotional support animal must be either a dog or a cat.
-Each Customer may bring only one emotional support animal on the flight.
-The emotional support animal must be in a carrier that can be stowed under the seat in front of the Customer or on a leash at all times while in the airport and onboard the aircraft.

How an ESA must behave

Southwest Airlines add that an ESA doesn’t need to be trained to perform a specific task but an emotional support animal needs to be trained to behave in a public setting and the handler must have complete control of the animal.

The airline goes on to say that an animal that engages in disruptive behavior may be denied boarding. This includes but is not limited to barking, scratching, excessive whining, growling, biting, lunging, urinating or defecting in the cabin.

Documentation required

A customer seeking to travel with an emotional support animal must provide to a Southwest Airlines Employee current documentation (not more than one year old on the date of travel) on letterhead from a licensed mental health professional or medical doctor who is treating the Customer’s mental health-related disability.

The letter must state all four items below:

1) The Passenger has a mental or emotional disability recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
2) The Passenger needs the emotional support dog or cat as an accommodation for air travel and/or for activity at the Passenger’s destination
3) The individual providing the assessment is a licensed mental health professional or medical doctor, and the Passenger is under his or her professional care AND
4) The date and type of mental health professional’s or medical doctor’s license and the state or other jurisdiction in which it was issued

Making a booking and arriving at the airport

Customers can use the “Add/Edit Disability Options” to indicate that he/she will be seeking to travel with an emotional support animal. Alternatively, there is a facility to add an ESA if you have already made a booking. If you have an animal that requires extra space, Southwest Airlines recommend adding a seat to your booking, although this will not be refunded after the flight.

In the cabin

Their website states that an emotional support animal must be in a carrier that can be stowed under the seat in front of the Customer or on a leash at all times while in the airport and onboard. Federal safety regulations (listed at the start of the article) apply.

For more information visit: https://www.southwest.com/assets/pdfs/customer_service/emotional_animal_travel_instructions.pdf

Virgin Atlantic

What animals can fly?

Virgin Atlantic do permit customers to fly with emotional support animals if you suffer from an emotional or mental disability and need an emotional support animal to travel by air.

However, if your dog is not a guide dog, or service animal, they will have to travel as cargo.

Banned animals

Given the list of organisations (see below) that must certify your ESA, it appears that Virgin Atlantic only permit emotional support dogs.

Documentation required

To fly your ESA with Virgin Atlantic, you will need to provide the following:

a) Formal identification from the UK Department of Health

b) Qualify under one of the organisations listed below:

-Canine Partners
-Dogs for Good
-Guide Dogs for the Blind Association
-Hearing Dogs for Deaf People
-Support Dogs

This applies to all animals entering the UK and each animal must meet the full membership criteria of one of the above organisations.

Making a booking and arriving at the airport

According to ESA Doctors, you will need to do the following ahead of your flight:

a) Documentation – have your ESA’s vaccination and medical records (treatments and tests) with you to avoid delay. Virgin Atlantic will not accept responsibility for the denial of your animal due to the lack of documentation.

b) Animal Reception Center – You will need to fax copies of your dog/animal’s paperwork to the Animal Reception Center at your airport. Click here for the numbers.

c) Special Assistance Team – three working days before your flight you will need to call Virgin Atlantic Special Assistance Team (0844-412-4455) to let them know you will be traveling with a service animal. The customer service representative will ask for the following information; A copy of the PETS passport or non-EU official veterinary certificate if your dog is starting its travel outside of Europe. A copy of the dog’s identification card from the accredited, recognized charity and the details of the breed and weight of your dog.

d) Flight Day – please bring with you a copy of the Animal Reception Centre pre-approval letter, a safety harness, and an absorbent mat.

In the cabin

The airline recommend to prepare to fly by making sure you have a safety harness and an absorbent mat for your dog to use.

Anything else to consider?

Virgin Atlantic list the destinations where you can bring your assistance dog into the cabin on their flights:

-London Heathrow
-London Gatwick
-Manchester
-JFK (New York)
-Newark (New Jersey)
-Washington DC
-Boston
-Miami
-Orlando
-Los Angeles
-Chicago
-San Francisco
-Las Vegas
-Antigua
-Barbados
-Dubai
-Hong Kong
-Tobago

helloBARK! recommend doing thorough research before deciding to fly with your ESA.

Our guide is designed to help with general information about travelling with your emotional service animal.

However, helloBARK! advise ESA owners to contact airlines directly to ensure they have met all the requirements prior to flying.

All information source directly from the websites of the following airlines:

Alaska Airlines
American Airlines
Aer Lingus
British Airways
Delta
JetBlue
Lufthansa
Norwegian Air
Southwest Airlines
Virgin Atlantic