Following a string of incidents last year including headline-grabbing tales of abandoned hamsters and the denied boarding of peacocks and squirrels, domestic airlines have decidedly called fowl foul on which pets adequately provide emotional support.

While there is no doubt that some passengers require the assistance of an emotional support animal (ESA) to keep them calm and collected during the act of air travel, the sudden increase of so-called support animals onboard has alerted the airlines that restrictions and requirements regarding ESAs needed some tightening around the collar.

Updated Guidelines for Flying with Support Animals

Quickly becoming the PetSmart of the skies, carriers have become hip to the loopholes regarding emotional support animals and have uniformly cracked down on select travelers seeking to game the system.

So, if you have flown with an ESA in the past or plan to, beware that the guidelines have recently changed, and showing up at the airport on the day of departure with a dog in a vest and ID card will no longer fly – literally.

To keep you updated on the ever-changing rules regarding emotional support animals, here is a roundup of the latest policies and forms required from major domestic airlines in the guide below.


Related: Flying with Pets: Your on-the-Go Checklist for Air Travel


American Airlines

New enhanced requirements for emotional support animals on American Airlines went into effect on April 1 of this year. The new policy states that only cats and dogs above four months in age will be permitted as ESAs, and customers will be limited to one animal per person.

Customers planning to travel with an ESA will need to submit three forms for approval together at least 48 hours before their slated departure. The paperwork includes a Medical/Mental Health Professional Form, a Veterinary Health Form, and a Confirmation of Animal Behavior Form, which is to be kept during the duration of the journey. On flights exceeding 8 hours, an additional Animal Sanitation Form is required.

Onboard, support animals must be clean, well behaved, and fit at your feet or in a carrier that can be placed under the seat in front of you. Support animals cannot be seated in an exit row, occupy an empty seat, or eat off/be placed upon tray tables.

American Airlines reserves the right to deny boarding if the pet displays disruptive behavior such as biting, growling, or lunging at other passengers.

Miniature horses registered as trained service animals will be evaluated on a case-to-case basis.

Forms and further details may be viewed on American Airline’s dedicated ESA page here.

Delta Air Lines

As of April 2019, Delta Air Lines added an additional form to its required documentation for passengers traveling with an emotional support animal. Bringing the total number of certificates to four. The supplemental form confirming proper animal training will need to be completed by travelers alongside Delta's acknowledgment, veterinary health, and medical/ mental health forms. Completed paperwork must be submitted to the airline 48 hours before departure.

While Delta doesn’t restrict service and support animals to only cats and dogs, the airline does have an extensive list of “do-not-fly” animals including:

  • Hedgehogs
  • Ferrets
  • Insects
  • Rodents
  • Snakes/Reptiles/Amphibians
  • Spiders
  • Sugar Gliders
  • Goats
  • Non-household birds (poultry, waterfowl, game & birds of prey)
  • Improperly cleaned/or animals with a foul odor
  • Animals with tusks, horns, or hooves
  • Pit bull type dogs

Qualifying support animals are limited to one per customer, and travelers must visit the airport check-in counter for visual confirmation by a Delta representative for boarding authorization. Animals with inappropriate behavior such as growling, jumping, excessive barking, and animals who relieve themselves in non-designated areas may be refused travel.

Animals should be seated in the floor space in front of or below the passenger’s seat, and the size of the animal must not exceed the seat’s footprint. Emotional/psychiatric support animals are no longer accepted on flights with durations of over 8 hours.

For more information regarding Delta's policy and to download appropriate forms, click here.

United Airlines

The first carrier to revise its ESA policy in 2018, United has created the framework in which most airlines now adhere to and has recently made more tweaks in 2019. United’s newest policy states that the airline will only accept cats and dogs as ESAs granted they are above four months of age, kittens and puppies below that range will not be allowed on any flight as support animals. Alongside age requirements, United has limited emotional support animals to flights less than 8 hours, due to an increase of onboard incidents on longer trips involving animals unaccustomed to extended air travel.

In addition to those restrictions, customers wishing to bring an ESA onboard are required to submit official documentation from a medical/mental health professional, a licensed veterinarian, and a confirmation of liability and animal behavior form 48 hours before each trip. All forms must be valid within one year of the scheduled travel dates. Multiple ESAs are not permitted, and animals cannot weigh over 65 pounds.

Similar guidelines apply for trained service animals, which include miniature horses, although not stated, I assume weight restrictions will be relaxed in those rare instances, but it’s best to double check with United before traveling.

 Further information and forms can be accessed on United’s service animal page here.

Southwest

Flyers wishing to travel with an ESA on Southwest must tick the following requirements: The animal must be either a cat or dog, must be stowed under the seat in front of the customer or on a leash at all times both onboard the aircraft and at the airport, and must not exhibit any disruptive behavior. One emotional support animal is allowed per customer, and the passenger must provide documentation (dated within a year of departure) from a mental health professional or medical doctor stating the following criteria:

  1. The passenger has a disability recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
  2. The passenger requires the ESA as an accommodation for air travel or for activities as the final destination
  3. The passenger is under the care of the mental health professional or doctor providing the assessment
  4. The date, type, state/jurisdiction of license issued to the mental health professional or medical doctor

Related documentation may apply to passenger planning to bring trained service animals onboard; however, service animals include miniature horses along with dogs and cats. Customers with trained service animals are required to check-in at the ticket counter or with a gate agent to assure boarding and verify the animal is indeed a confirmed service animal. Prior notification is strongly encouraged.

Printable instructions on traveling with an ESA on Southwest can be viewed here.


Related: Travelers Say This Is the Best Airline for Pets


Alaska Air

Alaska Air revised its emotional support policy along with several other airlines in October 2018 to reflect the industry standard on base requirements. Only cats and dogs are accepted as suitable ESAs, and each customer is limited to one animal per flight. Flyers planning to take an ESA onboard are required to provide Alaska with three pieces of completed documentation 48 hours prior to their scheduled departure. The papers required are an animal health advisory form, a mental health form, and an animal behavior form.

Animals exhibiting aggressive mannerisms, occupying a seat or tray table, or other disruptive behavior will be subject to Alaska’s pet policy or denied boarding.

To download required documents from Alaska's website, click here.

JetBlue

In June of 2018, the New-York based carrier revised its requirements for emotional and psychiatric service animals to only include dogs, cats, and miniature horses. These animals are limited to one per customer and travelers intending to travel with one of the qualifying animals need to complete and submit a series of three documents online no later than 48 hours before departure. Paperwork includes a Medical/Mental Health Form, Veterinary Health Form, and a Confirmation of Animal behavior form.

Additionally, all animals must remain on the floor, unless small enough to fit upon the owner's lap. No animal is allowed to occupy a vacant chair and must fit within the footprint of the seat you have purchased, if the animal is too large, you may be required to pay for an additional seat assignment.

Required forms and additional details can be found here.

Frontier

Updated October 2018, Frontier's policy has aligned itself with most other U.S.-based airlines and will only accept cats, dogs, and miniature horses as trained service animals. Regarding emotional support animals, only cats and dogs will be allowed. One animal per customer is permitted, and the animal must be in a carrier that can be stowed under the seat in front or on a leash at all times onboard.

All passengers seeking to travel with an ESA must complete Frontier’s Medical/Mental Health Professional Form and Animal Behavior Acknowledgment Form at least 48 hours prior to their departure. Denied boarding may take place if the animal displays disruptive behavior such as growling, excessive barking, biting, or urinating/defecating in the gate area or onboard.

Required forms and policy details can be viewed here on the special services page.

Hawaiian Airlines

Customers who wish to bring an ESA upon a Hawaiian Airlines flight will be limited to only a cat or a dog, and only one animal is allowed per passenger (miniature horses permitted if designated as a service animal). Flyers will be required to fill out and submit the proper documentation regarding their animal, including supplemental forms issued by the Hawaii Department of Agriculture on flights between the mainland and Hawaii. On segments longer than 8 hours a document stating your animal will not need to relieve itself on the flight or cause a sanitation issue will be required.

Onboard, support animals will have to remain on the floor on a leash or in a kennel during the duration of the flight and may not obstruct any aisles or exit rows. Hawaiian Airlines states that it will not provide food, water, pillows, or blankets for animals. If arriving in Hawaii from the continental United States, an agent will escort passengers and their ESA to the animal quarantine facility upon landing.

FAQs and forms regarding Hawaiian’s policy can be read here.

Spirit Airlines

Spirit Airlines has recently changed its service, emotional, and psychiatric guidelines on itineraries booked after April 15, 2019. The new policy limits customers to only one ESA or PSA per person, and the animal must be at least four months of age due to rabies vaccination requirements. Under the new guidelines flyers traveling with a trained service animal(s) will be limited to 3 pets per person.

Spirit Airlines welcomes many animals onboard granted the traveler has the proper documentation and training; however, the airline will not accept certain animals such as:

  • Snakes/Reptiles
  • Rodents: hamster, mice, rats, squirrels, etc.
  • Ferrets
  • Sugar gliders
  • Spiders

For other unique or nontraditional service animals, several factors will determine whether the animal is fit to travel within the cabin, and customers should contact Spirit Airlines in advance before booking.

To travel with an ESA or PSA on Spirit you can download the required Mental Health Professional Form, Veterinary Health Form, and Passenger Acknowledgement Forms from this page, and view other FAQs about traveling with a support animal on the carrier. Completed forms must be submitted at least 48 hours before your flight.


Related: Traveling Internationally with Pets? Here's a Look at Requirements by Country


International Travel and Foreign Airlines

Flyers that wish to travel abroad with a service, emotional, or psychiatric support animal will be subject to both airline specific guidelines as well as the arrival country’s laws regarding animal travel. These may include required quarantines, additional medical/vaccination forms, other fees, and possible exclusion of entry regarding certain species.

If you plan to travel internationally with a support animal, make sure to visit your carrier’s website and read/follow the arrival country’s requirements on inbound animals to avoid denied boarding or entry.

Support Animals in Training

In almost all instances, support animals in training do not meet the qualifications required by the above airlines and will not be accepted as ESAs. Support animals in training will be considered traditional pets and adhere to applicable fees assessed by the carrier.

Featured image by eva_blanco / shutterstock.com

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