Emotional support animals (ESA) provide an invaluable service. While animals like dogs and cats are generally calming to be around, ESAs play a vital role when it comes to supporting individuals with mental health issues. This includes conditions such as anxiety and autism, where the presence of an animal can enable individuals to handle busy or stressful environments.
In the case of airlines, emotional services animals can provide comfort and security to a passenger during a flight. These animals have also historically been able to travel on an airplane free of charge. However, recent changes in legislation mean that emotional support animals are subject to new policies on most airlines. While this may be disappointing news for ESA handlers, there are still options for bringing your support animal on the plane.
Below is a short guide on the new ESA regulations and how they apply to Air Canada flights.
Changes to Emotional Service Animal Legislation
Air Canada follows the US Department of Transportation’s rules and regulations around disability in air travel. This includes individuals traveling between Canada and the United States and those who have purchased tickets with Air Canada operated through a US-based airline.
Prior to March 2021, Air Canada permitted emotional support animals (ESAs) for free in the cabin of their airlines. However, new legislation from the Department of Transportation (DOT) states that airlines are no longer required to make special accommodations for ESAs (only service dogs are recognized).
Therefore, if you want your emotional support animal on the plane with you, they must travel under Air Canada’s Pet Policy. This involves a pet fee, and your ESA must travel in a pet carrier or crate.
Summary of Air Canada ESA Policy Changes
Below is a glimpse at the policy changes towards animals traveling on Air Canada flights:
- Emotional support animals (ESAs) are no longer recognized by Air Canada and must travel under the airline’s Pet Travel Policy.
- Small pets are permitted to travel in the cabin if they can move around comfortably inside their kennel or carrier. The kennel must also fit under the seat in front of you.
- Larger pets that don’t fit under the seat must travel in the cargo area.
- Under the Pet Travel Policy, animals incur fees for airline travel (ranging between $50 – $100 each way).
While emotional support animals are no longer accommodated by Air Canada, the main change is that they are not given special treatment, even if the animal supports a mental disability. Only trained service animals can travel for free. However, you can still bring your ESA with you if you abide by their pet policies.
Air Canada’s Pet Travel Policy
Like other airlines, there are requirements to be aware of to ensure your ESA is allowed to fly.
In the Cabin
Your ESA can travel in the cabin with you as a pet if it meets the following requirements:
- There is only 1 small cat or dog traveling with you.
- Your ESA is at least 12 weeks old and fully weaned.
- Your ESA is small enough to fit inside a closed pet carrier under your seat (they must remain there for the duration of the flight).
- The pet carrier is no bigger than 55 x 40 x 23 cm (hard-sided crate), and no larger than 55 x 40 27 cm (soft-sided crate).
As space is limited, your ESA must be small enough to fit into these dimensions while also being able to move comfortably. Pets are not allowed to be taken out at any time during the flight. There are also size restrictions depending on the type of aircraft, so check the airline for details.
Conversely, you cannot travel with your ESA in the cabin if:
- You are an unaccompanied minor (under 18).
- Your seat is in an exit or bulkhead row.
- Require a medical device that also needs to be stowed under the seat in front of you.
- Are traveling in Premium Economy or Business Class of a Boeing 737 MAX 8 (7M8) — the seats cannot accommodate safe kennel storage.
Luggage Hold/Cargo Rules
If your ESA is too large to fit in the cabin, it can travel in the luggage hold and must meet the following requirements:
- Only 2 animals are traveling at one time. They also must be fully weaned and of the same species (e.g., cats and dogs cannot mix).
- They weigh no more than 45 kg (100 lbs).
- They don’t exceed 292 cm (115 in) in linear dimensions.
- They are at least 12 weeks old and fully weaned.
- The pet carrier is leak-proof and well ventilated.
- The carrier is large enough for your animal(s) to stand up, turn around, and lie down safely and comfortably. If not, they may be refused travel.
Although it might not be ideal to have your ESA travel in the hold instead of next to you, you can rest assured knowing that they’re close by and can reunite with you upon landing.
Another thing to bear in mind is the breed of your dog. If you are asked to store your ESA in the baggage compartment, the following list of short/snub-nosed breeds of dogs is not permitted. This is due to their increased risks of heatstroke and breathing problems when exposed to stress or extreme heat.
- Boston Terrier
- Brussels Griffon
- Bulldog: all breeds, including the American, English, French, and Dutch Bulldog
- Chihuahua (apple-headed)
- Chow Chow
- English Toy Spaniel
- Japanese Chin
- Lhasa Apso
- Pug: all breeds, including the Chinese Pug
- Shih Tzu
- Teddy Bear (also known as Zuchon or Shichon)
- Tibetan Spaniel
- Strong Dog Breeds
Air Canada also has a list of ‘strong dog’ breeds with special requirements. These dogs must be transported in a reinforced container or crate when traveling in the baggage compartment. The following breeds and crossbreeds are classified as strong or aggressive:
- Caucasian Ovcharka (Caucasian Shepherd Dog)
- Karabash (Kangal Dog, Anatolian Shepherd Dog)
- Pit-bull: All breeds, including the American Pit Bull, American Bully, American Staffordshire Terrier (Amstaff), British Staffordshire Terrier, and Staffordshire Bull Terrier. Note that the Ontario government has banned all pit bulls (including Staffordshire Bull Terriers) from the baggage compartment and the cabin.
- Mastiff: All breeds including the American, Argentine (Dogo Argentino), Bandog (Bandogge), Brazilian (Fila Brasileiro), English, French (Dogue de Bordeaux), Italian (Cane Corso), Neapolitan, and Presa Canario
- Wolf Dog Hybrids
There are also temperature restrictions for animals traveling in the baggage compartment. In summer, if temperatures exceed 29.5°C (85°F), your animal may be denied travel, especially as temperature-controlled and ventilated baggage compartments are only available on certain aircraft.
This also applies to winter, but there are stricter rules that apply. For safety, animals cannot travel in some Air Canada aircraft between November and March. Winter peak times also involve restrictions to pets, especially at Christmas, and on busy flights between Toronto and Mexico City and between Montreal and Mexico City.
For more details, please refer to the Air Canada website.
How to Register Your Pet
If you intend to travel with your ESA, make sure you contact Air Canada Reservations and register your animal within 24 hours of completing your booking. This provides time for Air Canada to find alternative flights if your ESA cannot be accommodated for whatever reason. If the airline is not able to accommodate you, your ticket will be refunded. If you register after the 24-hour period, you will be subject to cancellation fees.
If you’re taking your ESA in the cabin, make sure you arrive 30 minutes prior to check-in to ensure you can both be comfortably seated.
Note: Customers with pets cannot use the airport self-service kiosks or the online check-in services.
Air Canada Pet Fee
Finally, pet fees start at $50 CAD/USD one-way for flights within Canada and Canada/US, excluding Hawaii. If you are traveling internationally, fees range from $100-$118 CAD/USD.
If your flight is marked Air Canada but operated by a codeshare partner, the pet fees are around $105 CAD within Canada and Canada/US (excluding Hawaii). International flights can cost upwards of $270 CAD/USD.
Preparing Your ESA For Flight
Once you and your ESA are approved for travel as a pet, it’s important to prepare them accordingly. To ensure they are as comfortable as possible, it’s recommended that you:
- Exercise your animal (especially dogs) before heading to the airport. This will drain excess energy and help with any travel nerves.
- Don’t feed them prior to the flight. Flying can give dogs and cats motion sickness, so it’s best to feed them the night before, especially if you have a morning flight.
- Bring plenty of support items such as blankets, toys, collapsible bowls, pee pads, Thunder Shirts(to ease anxiety), and sedatives (herbal or prescription).
Once you’re in flight, remember that your ESA needs to be stowed comfortably under the seat in front of you. They are not permitted to sit on your lap or be let out of their carrier for the duration of the flight.
Overall, the recent changes to legislation mean it is more difficult for ESAs to travel as they once did. If you are concerned about the Pet Policy process, it’s worth considering registering your dog as a psychiatric service dog (PSD) instead.
The benefit of a PSD is they are afforded more rights, and owners can bring their animal onto a flight without paying a fee. Also, service animals are granted access to nearly any public area where pets are normally not allowed. This includes grocery stores, restaurants, taxi cabs, theaters, buses, government buildings, medical offices, parks, churches, airplanes, and more.
While a psychiatric service dog requires more training and commitment, it can be a worthy alternative. Contact us for more information, and we can help you reach out to a medical professional to see if you qualify for a service animal today.
Emotional service animals play an important role for individuals with emotional and physical disabilities. Not only do they provide help through challenging situations, but these animals also make it possible to travel in comfort.
While recent changes to the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) regulation mean your animal must travel as a pet, it is still possible to bring them with you. Just be sure to check the rules for the airline before you travel. Good luck and happy travels!