Traveling With Your ESA – A Handy Guide to New Airline Regulations

By Sarah Archambault On August 2, 2018 In ESA

Dog Flying with Neck Pillow ESA Letter MyPetCerts

The Dos and Don’ts of Flying with an Emotional Support Animal

Traveling with an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) is a wonderful way to reduce stress, calm anxiety and have a built-in travel companion. But if you’re not aware of the latest rules and regulations for flying with your ESA, you may be in for some unexpected surprises. As of this spring, there are some new laws on the books as well updated policies from every major airline.


Both increases in animal behavior issues on flights and a rise passengers traveling by air with their ESAs have prompted the new legislation and tighter rules. Before you book your next flight or head to the airport with your ESA, make sure you’re all caught up on the latest regulations.


From which animals quality to travel as an ESA (it varies with each airline!) to where and when your pet can relieve itself and what paperwork you need to verify your ESA, we’ve rounded up everything you need to know about traveling with your ESA in this handy  guide.


New Government Regulations for Traveling with an ESA

On March 20, 2018, the U.S. Department of Transportation updated their guidelines for service animals, including emotional support animals. The policies issued are in accordance with the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) and must be followed by airlines and passengers, alike. There are rules that every airline must follow, but there are lots of gray areas too, allowing airlines to individualize their ESA policies. Make sure you’re up to speed on the latest government guidelines and remember, international flights are subject to the rules of the destination foreign country.


New Rules for Flying with Your ESA by Airline

Each airline has some wiggle room when it comes to their policies for flying with your ESA. Here are some of the big domestic carriers’ policies. Policies are changing every day, so when in doubt, always be sure to check you have the latest information for your carrier.


American Airlines

American Airlines’ new policies became effective for all tickets issued after July 1, 2018. Highlights of the rules around traveling with emotional support animals include:

  • Advanced notice at least 48 hours before your flight

  • Paperwork is required, using AA’s forms and must be submitted before your flight

  • Animals must fit at your feet or on your lap

  • Lots of animals are excluded including reptiles, non-household birds and goats



Delta added some new rules as of July 10, 2018 for passengers flying with ESAs. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Required paperwork must be uploaded at least 48 hours before your flight

  • The size of the animal must not exceed the footprint of your seat, and the animal needs to ride on your lap or under the seat

  • Animals with behavior issues, including growling or eating off seat-back tray tables, can be refused transportation

  • “Pit bull type dogs” are no longer accepted on flights



United put their expanded rules for emotional support animals into effect on March 1, 2018. Some of the new policies include:

  • Advanced notice required at least 48 hours before your flight

  • 3 special forms must be completed, including one by a licensed veterinarian

  • Animal is expected to sit on your lap or stay seated in the floor space below your space


ESA policies for some of the other major carriers can be found at Jet Blue, Southwest and Spirit. Don’t see your airline listed, just go to their website or give them a call.


Five Easy Tips to Make Flying with Your Emotional Support Animal Easier

  1. Check and Check AgainReview the airline’s ESA rules before you book your trip. And check them again right before you leave, as new regulations are added every day.Don’t trust that the ESA regulations for one airline are the same as another. While most airlines do have similar rules, there are many differences ranging from the paperwork needed and breed restrictions, to weight limits and even rules around your pet’s behavior with other passengers.

  2. Get Your Paperwork TogetherBe sure to have your ESA certification letters, doctor’s notes, veterinary records and any other required paperwork in order for both you and your pet. You may need to show papers in advance and then again on the day of travel. Sometimes airlines will require you to use their own forms and submit through a web link or a special email address.  

  3. Be CooperativeAlways follow the airline’s rules – at the airport, during boarding and on the flight. This will help minimize any potential issues. Make sure your animal is well-behaved, clean and relieves itself only in designated areas before the flight.

  4.  – Make sure you have a “Plan B” just in case your pet gets denied boarding for any reason. Airlines can refuse boarding for a number of reasons like if your pet has an accident at the gate, is excessively barking or if your paperwork is not in order.

If you have any questions about what kinds of animals qualify as an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) or need help registering your pet as an ESA, get in touch with the experts at MyPetCerts. Safe travels!


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    November 25, 2020 - 11:33 AM

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    Andrea Harris

    April 17, 2019 - 12:42 PM

    Thank you. Great submission. Actually i am planning to travel with my esa next month. He is a terrier and just got the recommendation letter for him a couple of weeks back from this website myesadoctor. Anyways great work.

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