Can Emotional Support Dogs Fly?

Previous years have seen an influx of emotional support dogs and other emotional support animals (ESAs) traveling for free with their owners in airplane cabins.

However, new rules from the Department of Transportation and airline restrictions have made this issue a little more complicated to understand within the past year or two. These restrictions are part of an effort to stop individuals from taking advantage of ESA travel policies.

Our article aims to help you understand these rules and whether or not your emotional support dog can fly with you.

Do ESAs and Service Dogs Have the Same Rights?

Emotional support animals and service dogs have differing rights, and it’s important to understand the difference between these two.

To start with service dogs are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This act lists specifications for service dogs and service animals, and it gives potential handlers information about the questions legally allowed to be asked about their service dog. You can read more about the rights granted to service dogs via the ADA here.

Conversely, emotional support animals are not protected under the ADA. This is because most emotional support animals are not trained to help their owner with specific tasks or the relief of a certain disability. Their presence is simply more about providing comfort and soothing an individual who may be suffering from a mental health condition such as anxiety or depression.

As such, ESAs have limited public access rights, though they can take advantage of certain rights when it comes to fair housing and travel.

Updates to the Department of Transportation’s Policy

The Department of Transportation made its final ruling on the problem of air travel with emotional support animals versus service animals back in December of 2020.

The report stated updates to federal laws that allow the travel of support and service animals with their owner and removed emotional support animals from their classification of a service animal. The full report and all of the updates made to applicable travel policies can be found here.

With the issuance of this report, many airlines took it upon themselves to ban emotional support animals on flights or to start charging fees for an owner to bring these animals on board.

Of course, these rule changes do not pertain to the travel rights granted to service dogs via the Air Carrier Access Act. Service dogs may still travel with their owners on flights for free as long as they are properly registered before the flight takes off and all documentation is provided to the airline. Information on this process can be found here.

All of these rules are done in an attempt to stop fake ESAs or those animals that might be aggressive around others from traveling on flights and potentially putting others in danger. A more in-depth article on how experts are taking steps to stop fake ESAs and the harm they cause for individuals with a real need for an ESA or a service dog can be found here.

Are Emotional Support Dogs Granted Travel Rights?

Emotional support dogs are granted travel rights, including the ability to fly with their owners, but there have been general changes to federal laws and airline policies when it comes to ESAs.

There are now more restrictions surrounding emotional support dogs flying. This follows an influx of individuals abusing airline policies that allowed them to travel with their ESAs for free. Often, these ESAs had been obtained with less than reputable certification letters.

The biggest change in the flight rights of emotional support dogs is that now individuals will have to pay a fee to travel with their dog on most airlines. Some airlines may have banned the travel of emotional support dogs with their owners in the cabin completely, while others allow this with certain restrictions.

It’s important to check with the airline that you wish to travel with ahead of time to learn whether or not your emotional support dog is eligible to travel with you. Before your trip, note if there are any applicable fees, and if there are forms that you need to turn in ahead of time to make sure your dog can safely travel alongside you.

Making Sure Your Emotional Support Animal Can Fly With You

The process for making sure your emotional support animal can fly with you might be a little bit confusing at first, and specifics really depend on the airline that you are working with. Below, we list the steps for making sure your emotional support dog can fly with you wherever you need to travel.

  • Research the airline you want to travel with. This can involve getting information on the flights that you wish to book and then visiting each airline’s website to review their specific restrictions. These rules will typically be listed under ‘emotional support animals’, ‘traveling with pets,’ or ‘service animal travel.’
  • Review the rules for the airline you are traveling with and gather information about fees, travel restrictions (such as dog size and the carrier you are allowed to utilize on board), and any paperwork or information that is needed ahead of your flight.
  • Book your flight and pay any applicable fees to reserve a spot for your pet on the flight. Fees range depending on the airline, and you can expect to pay anywhere between $20 and $100 or more to take your emotional support dog with you on your travels.
  • Make sure that you gather all of the important required paperwork ahead of your flight departure and submit any papers online ahead of time as necessary. Bring paperwork and identification records for your emotional support dog to the airport with you and read up on TSA policies for traveling with an animal so you know what to expect.
  • Board your flight and listen carefully to what the flight attendant or airline workers request of you and your emotional support dog. There may be other passengers on your flight that need accommodation, and you may be required to present identification or health information ahead of boarding.

Of course, this process differs greatly depending on the airline you are traveling with, state laws, and your dog’s temperament. Most ESAs are supposed to be calm and gentle, so make sure that your pup can live up to this standard, or you risk being removed from your flight for disruption, even if you’ve paid a fee.

Contact airlines directly if you have more questions about bringing your emotional support dog on your travels with you.

How to Get a Valid ESA Letter

One of the main problems that inspired an update to ESA travel regulations is an increase in ESAs that were not properly obtained, did not have proper training, and may have received their letter in a less than reputable fashion.

The best way to get a valid ESA letter for your pup is to research the company that you are obtaining your letter from. Make sure that they are reputable, have licensed medical professionals on staff to prescribe ESAs, and that they aren’t just looking to take your money.

Check customer reviews, online ratings, and thoroughly read the fine print of any ESA certification letters offered. Remember that you cannot get a legitimate ESA letter without a diagnosis from a medical professional; if a company is willing to sell you one without a diagnosis, they are not legitmate.

You can request a risk-free consultation here if you want to learn more about obtaining a legitimate emotional support animal letter and what’s required to start the process.

Understanding Your ESA Flight Rights

Travel can be a stressful time for you and your emotional support dog. Preparedness ahead of time lightens the anxiety and confusion that you might have when trying to take your pup on a flight with you.

Make sure that you understand the policies of the airline that you are traveling with and that you have paid all applicable fees. In addition, gather all necessary paperwork to identify your emotional support dog and prove them safe for travel.

Don’t hesitate to reach out to an airline if you have more questions about travel with your emotional support dog.