Guide to flying with an emotional support animal

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Travel can be a stressful experience, especially for those with disabilities. The good news is, if you’re a person that has a registered emotional support animal to help you during travel, you’re permitted to bring your animal with you on all airlines to almost any destination. Here’s everything you need to know to make traveling with an emotional support animal easy, convenient and cost-free.  

Did you know? JetBlue accepts dogs, cats and miniature horses as emotional support animals. (Photo by Eudyptula/Getty Images)

Difference between service and emotional support animals

The main difference between a service animal and an emotional support animal is that service animals are trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability, whereas emotional support animals are not. Emotional support animals may provide some of the same type of assistance as service animals, as they can help alleviate symptoms or effects of a person’s disability, but they are not trained to do so. 

An emotional support animal can help combat loneliness, symptoms of depression, anxiety, phobias and more. Because these animals are not formally trained, their benefit is typically companionship for their owner. 

Both emotional support and service animals can be almost any type of animal that is registered to a person with a disability and, in the case of a service animal, that has completed the necessary training.

Documentation needed

Both service animals and emotional support animals are different from pets in that they require specific documentation to show their benefit to the individual. When you’re flying with an emotional support animal or service animal, you’ll likely be asked by the airline for a couple of different forms. 

Service animals

To fly with a service animal, you’ll typically be required to provide three forms: a letter from a medical or mental health professional outlining the need for the service animal (written on official letterhead), a veterinary health form about your animal showing they are up to date on their vaccines, and an animal behavior form, stating that you take responsibility for your animal throughout your travel and that they’ll behave appropriately on the flight.   

Emotional support animals

For an emotional support animal to fly, you will likely need to bring a veterinary health advisory form detailing your animal’s age, weight, ability to travel and that they’re up to date on vaccinations, as well as a letter from a medical or mental health professional explaining your need for the animal. In some cases, an airline might require an animal behavior/passenger acknowledgment form stating that you take responsibility for your animal and will control them for the duration of the flight. Lastly, on some longer flights (typically 8 hours or more), some airlines require a document that says your animal will not need to relieve itself during the flight or will do so in an undisruptive manner. 

Airline requirements

All airlines allow emotional support animals to fly without cost, however, each airline differs in what they require in terms of paperwork and documentation for your animal to travel. 

AirlineDocumentation RequiredImportant Information
Alaska AirlinesVeterinary Health Advisory Form

Mental Health Professional Form

Animal Behavior Form

All must be submitted at least 48 hours before your flight.
Animals must be at least four months old, must fit in the traveler’s seat or foot area for the entire flight, and cannot sit in the exit row.
American AirlinesVeterinary Health Advisory Form

Medical/Mental Health Professional Form

Animal Behavior Form

Animal Sanitation Form for flights that are 8+ hours

All must be submitted at least 48 hours before your flight.
Animals must be at least four months old, be able to sit at the traveler’s feet area or on their lap, and advanced notice is required.
Delta AirlinesVeterinary Health Form

Mental Health Professional Form

Both must be submitted at least 48 hours before your flight.
All documentation can be no more than a year old. The mental health professional’s license number is recommended, but not required. Small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds and insects are not permitted.
Frontier AirlinesVeterinary Health Form

Mental/Medical Professional Form

Passenger Acknowledgement Form

All must be submitted at least 48 hours before your flight.
Emotional support animals on Frontier must be either a cat or a dog at least four months old. Limit of one emotional support animal per traveler. 
Hawaiian AirlinesHawaiian Airlines Emotional Support Animal Form

Veterinary Health Form

Both must be submitted at least 48 hours before your flight.
Hawaiian Airlines has their own documentation to fill out for emotional support animals, which requires the signature of a medical/mental health professional and the traveler’s signature.  
JetBlueVeterinary Health Form

Medical/Mental Health Professional Form

Animal Behavior Form

All must be submitted at least 48 hours before your flight
JetBlue only accepts dogs, cats and miniature horses as emotional support animals and limits them to one per traveler. 
SouthwestMedical/Mental Health

Professional Form
Emotional support animals are limited to one per traveler and all animals must stay in a carrier under the seat or on a leash at all times. 
Spirit AirlinesVeterinary Health Form

Medical/Mental Health Professional Form

Passenger Acknowledgement Form

All must be submitted at least 48 hours before your flight.
Emotional Support animals are not permitted to sit in the exit rows, first rows, nor any seat that is equipped with an inflatable seatbelt. Reptiles, rodents and hamsters are not permitted on spirit flights.
United AirlinesVeterinary Health Form

Medical/Mental Health Professional Form

Animal Behavior Form

All must be submitted at least 48 hours before your flight
United limits emotional support animals to one per traveler, and animals must be at least four months old. Larger animals will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. 

American

American Airlines has one of the toughest policies for bringing an emotional support animal onboard one of their flights. While they don’t require (but do recommend) service animals to be registered in advance, emotional support animals must be registered with the airline in advance to be allowed on an American Airlines flight. American also allows only one emotional support animal per traveler, but the good news is that every time you fly with American, you won’t need to re-register your animal. After your emotional support animal is approved, American will provide you with an ID number, that you can use to register your animal for all flights within a year of its issuance. 

Delta

Delta has pretty lenient policies when it comes to emotional support animals and does not require the animal behavior form that most other airlines do. Pre-boarding accommodations are available to those that fly on Delta and can be requested at the gate. 

JetBlue

JetBlue only allows dogs, cats, and, surprisingly, miniature horses to fly on their planes as emotional support animals. JetBlue is strict on the behavior of emotional support animals and reserves the right to question any owner about their need for the animal and the animal’s behavior. The behavior of your animal will be assessed at the airport, and the final decision on whether your animal can fly will be made by the gate agent at the gate, even if your animal has already been approved. 

Southwest

Southwest is another airline that has pretty lenient guidelines when it comes to emotional support animals. The only official paperwork you’re required to provide to Southwest is a letter (written on official letterhead) from a medical/mental health professional stating the passenger has a disability, needs the emotional support animal for travel, and provides the professional’s license number and license date. Southwest does ask that your animal is up to date on their vaccines, but does not ask for official documentation to prove this. 

United

United is the best airline for those traveling with larger emotional support animals. Animals that are greater than 65 pounds will be evaluated by United on a case-by-case basis to see whether the flight can accommodate them, which is better than most other airlines that state emotional support animals must be able to fit on the traveler’s lap or beneath the seat in front of them. Although it’s not a guarantee, United is your best bet at traveling with a larger animal. 

(Photo by gchutka/Getty Images)

International Travel

It’s also important to note that international traveling with emotional support animals may be a little bit different than domestic travel. For starters, these flights will be longer so you’ll have to make accommodations for your animal to relieve itself. Airplanes do not have a place for your animal to use the bathroom, so they’ll either need to be trained to not go during the flight, or be able to do so in the carrier without being disruptive to other travelers. 

Depending on where you’re flying, the country you arrive in may have stricter guidelines for emotional support animals, or may not even allow them at all. Here are a few of the top destinations that require extra work when flying with an emotional support animal. 

London

When flying into London Heathrow Airport (LHR), your animal will need to be approved by the Heathrow Animal Reception Center, which you can do by notifying them of your arrival via email. Once the center approves your animal, print out the confirmation and present it to customs to get your animal into London. This process must be completed no less than seven days prior to your departure. 

Scotland

If you’re traveling with any animal into Scotland, you must notify the Scotland animal travel agency at least 48 hours before your flight via email.

Ireland 

If you travel with an emotional support animal into Ireland, you must notify the Irish Authorities that you’re bringing an animal to the country. Upon arrival, you will need to pay 50 euros (around $59) and your animal will need to have a mandatory veterinary compliance check. 

Hong Kong

Hong Kong does not accept emotional support animals and only accepts dogs as service animals. 

New Zealand

New Zealand does not accept emotional support animals of any kind. 

FAQ about emotional support animals

How do I register an emotional support animal?

You can register your emotional support animal for free at the Emotional Support Animal Registration of America website. The website asks for your and your animal’s basic information as well as provides scheduling assistance so you can book a time and date to meet online with a licensed therapist and see if you qualify for an emotional support animal. 

Remember, just registering your animal as an emotional support animal does not automatically mean they can fly. You’ll still need to have the rest of the required documentation, like official letters from professionals and veterinary records, for your animal to be able to get on a flight.  

What is an ESA letter?

An ESA letter stands for an Emotional Support Animal Letter. This letter must come from a mental or medical health professional, be no more than a year old, be written on the official letterhead of the professional, and include their license number and direct contact information.

For airlines that require you to submit a medical/mental health professional form to fly with your animal, an ESA letter should fulfill this requirement. 

Do emotional support animals have a size limit? 

Most airlines request that your emotional support animal be able to fit in a carrier that goes under the seat in front of you, or be able to sit on your lap without disrupting other travelers. Some airlines, like United, evaluate bigger animals on a case-by-case basis to determine whether they’ll be able to board the flight.

Do I need a special harness for my emotional support animal?

Your emotional support animal does not need any kind of harness, however, some airlines require them to be in a carrier or on a leash at all times when in the airport and onboard. 

Bottom line

Flying with an emotional support animal can be extremely helpful for those with some disabilities and disorders. If you’re planning to fly with one on your next trip, it’ll come at no cost to you, but you will need to bring a good bit of documentation and do some planning before your travels. Remember to always check your airline’s website as well as your destination’s policies before traveling with an emotional support animal for the most up-to-date information, but if you do all the necessary preparation it’ll be smooth skies for you and your animal!

Alexandra Maloney is a contributor for Million Mile Secrets where she covers points and miles, credit cards, airlines, hotels, and general travel. She's worked as a writing consultant for the University of Richmond and is a features writer for The Collegian UR.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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