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2018 has been the Year of the Emotional Support Animal Fiascos thus far. A giant peacock found itself flightless in Newark, and Pebbles the Hamster became a flushed fatality after an airline-passenger misunderstanding. Meanwhile, incidents such as emotional support dogs biting adults and children onboard have led both Delta and United to rein in their on-board animal policies. Furthermore, recent fiascos with lost and even dead dogs have made passengers more wary than ever to travel with their pet family members.

But for travelers who truly rely on support animals to get them from tarmac to home turf, sorting through individual airline requirements can make travel more stressful than ever.

To that end, we’ve compiled a guide that lists current requirements and best practices from the major American airlines.

Support dog sitting on an airplane seat. (Photo by benedek/Getty Images)
With airlines getting stricter with policies regarding emotional support animals, it’s crucial to know what forms you must collect and submit ahead of time. (Photo by benedek/Getty Images)

 

The Department of Transportation offers a comprehensive, albeit technical, resource for passengers traveling with service animals, including emotional support animals.

As a general rule, emotional support animals are not evaluated on the same level as trained service animals, as their training protocols are not, and do not have to be as comprehensive.

  • Most airlines require your support animal documentation to be submitted no later than 48 hours before your scheduled departure time. And even if all your forms are in order, traveling with the animal will still be subject to their approval.
  • It probably goes without saying, but, if applicable to the breed, your animal should wear a collar with identification at all times.

What about my emotional support snake/ferret/hedgehog/fox/eagle/tarantula/mini horse?

I’ve personally owned three of the exotic pet types named above, so I can attest to the joy and happiness they brought into my life. Unfortunately, the vast majority of carriers don’t permit any of the above animals on board. The reasons are pretty straightforward: Airlines are concerned about hygiene, but also, other passengers who fear rodents, snakes and spiders might require their own sources of emotional comfort at the idea of being in an enclosed environment with a possible escaped pet. So keep Slither at home and avoid a possible Snakes on a Plane scenario, or the far more likely outcome of being denied on board your flight.

Most airlines permit dogs, cats, and household birds on board.

What forms do I need?

In order to bring an emotional support animal on board, most airlines already require you to provide a doctor’s note stating your medical need. In the wake of recent animal fiascos, some carriers now require additional documentation, and it can’t possibly hurt to be extra-prepared.

In order to cover all bases, we suggest always traveling with the following forms, written in plain and simple English:

  1. Written declaration from your medical provider stating your need for an emotional support animal
  2. Veterinary certification confirming animal is in recent good health, and up to date on shots
  3. Your statement of good behavior affirming that your animal will behave on the flight and in the airport

1. Medical Professional’s Authorization

Your doctor’s note should be a formal declaration on the letterhead of your clinic, signed by your psychiatrist, psychologist, licensed clinical social worker, or other medical doctor specifically treating your mental or emotional disability. The note must be dated no earlier than 365 days from the date of your initial scheduled flight, and should include the following statements: 

  • That you have a mental or emotional health-related disability recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-Fourth Edition (DSM IV). The note does not have to disclose the specifics of the disability
  • That having your animal accompany you is necessary to for your mental health or treatment, or to assist you with your disability during the flight or upon your arrival
  • That the individual providing your assessment is a licensed mental health professional, and that you are under his or her professional care
  • The date and type of the mental health professional’s license, and the state or other jurisdiction in which it was issued
  • The doctor’s signature

2. Veterinary Documentation

This form is filled out by your animal’s primary care provider, and lets the airline know the breed/size of your animal, and whether or not Fido is up to date on all his shots. Your vet also needs to state that the animal is harmless and can be trusted to behave appropriately in crowded, hectic environments. As with the medical professional’s statement, your vet form has to be dated within one year of your initial departure date.

Most airlines don’t require vet documents right now. But now that two of the largest carriers recently began asking for them, it may just be a manner of time before the smaller airlines follow suit. Both Delta and United offer a very thorough set of Emotional Support Animal request forms, which you can print out and take to your veterinarian. If you fly multiple airlines and prefer to carry non-branded forms, you can also substitute forms written or typed on the office’s official letterhead, as long as it includes the information below.

Your veterinarian should complete and sign off on the following information:

  • Animal type
  • Animal breed
  • Animal weight, if over 20 pounds
  • The last date your animal received the following vaccinations, if applicable to the breed:
    • rabies (include date vaccine was administered)
    • distemper (include date vaccine was administered)

The veterinarian must also state that he or she is not aware of any reason to believe that your animal would pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others.

The vet should also suggest what measures, if any, would be helpful to safely transport your animal in the aircraft cabin:

  • Kennel
  • Muzzle
  • This animal should only travel in cargo hold
  • Other

Finally, you’ll need your vet’s license and contact information:

  • Date and type of license
  • License number
  • State or other jurisdiction in which license was issued
  • Veterinarian’s name, signature and date of statement
  • Business phone number and email address

3. Passenger’s Guarantee

A handful of carriers require a final form to be personally completed by you. There are no formal requirements for the format of this statement, but you should include:

  • Evidence that your animal has been trained to behave in public, if applicable, such as behavior school certification
  • The written statement below:

I confirm that this animal has been trained to behave in a public setting and takes my direction upon command
I understand that if my service animal acts inappropriately, that it will be considered not acceptable for air travel and will be denied boarding or will be removed from the aircraft.

  • Your full name, signature, phone number and email address

What should I do with these forms?

Every carrier has different requirements for how your forms should be submitted. Some require them uploaded or emailed at least 48 hours before your travel time, while others simply appreciate a heads-up in advance. To simplify the process, here are the individual requirements and relevant FAQ pages for bringing emotional support animals on board the most popular domestic and international carriers.

US Airlines:

Airline Requires Doctor Authorization Requires Vet Documentation Requires Passenger Guarantee of Good Behavior Eligible Species/Breeds Additional Information
Alaska Air Yes; dated within one year of initial travel date; prior notification to the airline is not required, but highly recommended. Not required Not required No “unusual or exotic animals” including, but not limited to: hedgehogs, insects, rodents, reptiles, spiders, and non-household birds. When traveling with an emotional/psychiatric support animal, you are not permitted to sit in an emergency exit row.
Allegiant Air Yes; dated within one year of initial travel date; prior notification to the airline is not required, but highly recommended. Not required Not required Most likely limited to dogs and cats only, in accordance with pet policies. To add a service animal or emotional support animal, select the Travel with Pets option below the passenger name input section when booking.
American Airlines Yes; dated within one year of initial travel date, and submitted at least 48 hours before travel time. Not required Not required Cats and dogs only; some breed restrictions apply Form or equivalent physician statement must be faxed to American Airlines Special Assistance Coordinators desk at 817-967-4715, or email to Sacdesk.sro@aa.com at least 48 hours prior to travel.
Delta Air Lines Yes; dated within one year of initial travel date, and submitted at least 48 hours before travel time via My Trips. Yes; forms can be downloaded here Yes; forms can be downloaded here No “unusual or exotic animals” including, but not limited to: hedgehogs, insects, rodents, reptiles, spiders, and non-household birds. Request is not confirmed until the animal has been visually verified at airport check-in counter.
Frontier Airlines Yes; hard copy required. Must be dated within one year of initial travel date; prior notification to the airline is not required, but highly recommended. Not required Verbal assurances of training and an outline of the services the animal provides. No “unusual or exotic animals” including, but not limited to: hedgehogs, insects, rodents, reptiles, spiders, and non-household birds. When traveling with an emotional/psychiatric support animal, you are not permitted to sit in an emergency exit row.
Hawaiian Airlines Yes; dated within one year of initial travel date; must notify airline 48 hours before domestic travel, and 72 hours before international travel. Passengers must also check in one hour before the general public. Not required Aggressive or disruptive animals will not be allowed on board. Support animals must either fit under the seat, or have a second seat purchased for them. On flights that are 8+ hours long, passenger must provide documentation that the animal will not need to relieve itself on the flight, or that the animal can relieve itself in a way that does not create a health or sanitation issue.
JetBlue Yes; hard copy required. Must be dated within one year of initial travel date; prior notification to the airline is not required, but highly recommended. Not required Not required  Unusual animals not allowed (i.e. snakes, other reptiles, ferrets, rodents and spiders.
Birds that do not have their wings “clipped or pinioned” may also be refused carriage.
Documents must be in non-editable format (PDF, photo scan, etc.). Word documents will not be accepted.
Southwest Airlines Not formally required, but strongly recommended.  Prior notification to the airline is not required, but highly recommended. Not required Not required Therapy dogs count as pets. No “unusual or exotic animals” including, but not limited to: hedgehogs, insects, rodents, reptiles, spiders, and non-household birds. Employees may ask fact-finding questions to assess what services the animal provides.

Animals may ride under seats or on customer’s lap.

Spirit Airlines Yes; dated within one year of initial travel date; must notify airline at least 48 hours before domestic travel. Passengers must also check in at least 90 minutes before departure. Not required Not required No snakes, other reptiles, rodents, ferrets, and spiders. Passengers with emotional support animals cannot sit in emergency exit rows or, if the animal is in a carrier, the first row.
United Airlines Yes; forms can be downloaded here. Yes; Dated within one year of initial travel date, and submitted at least 48 hours before travel time.  Pet rules here

Domesticated cats, dogs, rabbits and household birds (excluding cockatoos)

Email uaaeromed@united.com with first departure date and flight confirmation code in the subject line. Documentation must be received no later than 48 hours prior to travel.


Featured photo by mauinow1/Getty Images

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