Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) provide therapeutic relief to sufferers of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, and many other mental and emotional health conditions. Fortunately, regulations require airlines to accommodate reasonable requests for ESAs to travel onboard with passengers. The tips, tools, and takeaways below will help prepare you for your flight with your ESA.
Unlike other service animals who are automatically allowed onboard commercial aircraft, passengers travelling with an ESA are required to notify the airline 48 hours prior to their departure. Passengers are also required to provide valid documentation in the form of an ESA letter from their issuing doctor.
Passengers must follow these stipulations to be compliant with these regulations. A failure to obtain clearance by the airline to travel with an ESA can result in passengers paying extra fees or having to check their pet as cargo.
Follow these guidelines to ensure that your experience traveling with your ESA is pleasant and stress-free.
In order for a passenger to travel with an ESA, they must first obtain a valid ESA letter stating that the ESA may accompany the passenger during air travel. MyPetCerts simplifies this process, and the online evaluation to determine eligibility is completely free.
ESA letters are provided by doctors and psychiatrists for a variety of mental and emotional health conditions. This letter must be issued by a mental health professional on professional letterhead, and must not be more than one year old. Each year, the owner must obtain a new prescription for their ESA in order to continue to travel with their ESA by air.
The letter must contain the following statements:
The passenger has a mental health disability that substantially limits one or more major life activities.
The presence of the ESA is necessary to the passenger’s health during the flight.
The issuer of the letter is a licensed mental health professional who is currently treating the passenger.
This 48-hour window allows the airline staff to verify your ESA request with the doctor or psychiatrist that issued the ESA letter. Failure to notify the airline in time may result in the ESA request being denied. This step is extremely important, as a denial may mean that the passenger may face additional fees in order to travel with their pet, or could even be denied boarding.
All airlines require an ESA letter and 48 hours’ advance notice, but some airlines have additional regulations. American Airlines, Virgan America, and JetBlue require only the ESA letter and 48 hours' notice. The following airlines have additional rules and regulations:
According to the United website, “An animal should sit at the customer’s feet without protruding into the aisles to comply with safety regulations. Customers may elect to use an approved in-cabin kennel for smaller animals. Exit row seating is prohibited.”
ESAs are allowed on board all Southwest flights with the exception of flights to and from Jamaica.
ESAs are required to sit on the floor besides the passenger’s seat. According to the Delta website, “No animals are allowed to occupy seats that are designed for passengers.”
Always contact your specific airline prior to travel to ensure that you are fully apprised of any additional requests the airline might have for your ESA approval.
Not all countries allow entry of foreign animals. In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) require dogs entering the country to be immunized against rabies, with proof of immunization upon arrival.
The state of Hawaii requires quarantines of 5-120 days for all dogs and cats entering the island, regardless of service animal or ESA status. Travelers entering Hawaii with an ESA are urged to contact the Hawaii Animal Quarantine Branch in advance to obtain quarantine requirements.
International travelers are recommended to check not only the specific airline’s protocol for ESAs, but to also contact the consulate or embassy at least four weeks prior to their entrance into the country to ensure that all procedures and protocols for traveling with an ESA are followed.