Updated: March 9, 2020

Flying with a dog can be like flying with a baby. The process might be unpleasant, but necessary. Some airlines will allow you to travel in the cabin with your dog if they are small. While other airlines do not accept pets inside the cabin regardless of size.

If your dog is an Emotional Support Animal, all airlines will allow you to fly with them regardless of size or breed. If you need help finding a Licensed Mental Health Professional near you, you can search for one here.

To learn more about flying with your dog, keep reading. If you suffer from a mental or emotional disability and believe you would benefit from having an Emotional Support Animal, you can work with a Licensed Mental Health Professional through ESA Doctors to see if you may qualify for an ESA Letter.

Flying with your Dog – Choose an airline that accepts pets

fly with your dog

Most airlines will allow you to fly with a small dog in a carrier.

Airlines such as United Airlines and Southwest will allow you to fly in the cabin with a small pet. The pet needs to fit in a bag that fits underneath your legs. There is a fee for each leg of the flight. The standard fee can range from $150+ per flight.

Unfortunately, larger pets such as a Golden Retrievers or Pit Bulls will not be permitted. As a result, you will need to transport your larger pet in a crate with the luggage underneath the plane; in the cargo hold. Please note, larger Emotional Support Animals are exempt from this restriction and can fly with their owner and sit at their feet

As expected, the cargo hold may not be well maintained and may not have proper ventilation and heating. The cargo hold transport is not recommended. It can be dangerous, expensive, and a hassle.

Unfortunately, many dogs have either been lost or injured while being transported in the cargo hold.

In some instances, dogs have even died. The problem is so prevalent that the Department of Transportation has to keep a record of pet deaths via cargo hold transport.

Besides cargo transport, what can you do if your dog is larger in size? If you suffer from anxiety, depression, PTSD or one of many other mental illnesses, you may look into making your pet an Emotional Support Animal (ESA). An ESA is a special category of assistance animal and should not be confused with a service dog or therapy animal. An ESA is not considered a pet and may fly with you in cabin regardless of size or breed.

4 Steps to Follow for Flying with an Emotional Support Dog

  • Step #1 – Educate yourself on Emotional Support Animal Laws
  • Step #2 – Secure correct paperwork from a Licensed Mental Health Professional
  • Step #3 – Inform the airline you are flying with an Emotional Support Dog
  • Step #4 – Prepare to fly with your Emotional Support Dog

How to Fly with an Emotional Support Dog

fly with your esa dog

Emotional support animals are protected by the Air Carrier Acccess Act

Understanding the ins and outs of flying with an emotional support dog is vital to having a seamless travel experience with your ESA. Here’s what you need to know to fly with your emotional support dog.

Step #1 – Educate yourself on Emotional Support Animal Laws

  • What is an ESA? An Emotional Support Animal is a companion pet that a therapist recommends for an individual with a disability. The disability may be physical, emotional or mental. The Emotional Support Animal is not considered a pet but they also do not require the same level of training as a service dog. To learn more about how to train an ESA, you may read this helpful article.
  • Familirize yourself with the Air Carrier Access Act. Although the airline employees should be well versed in ESA rules, that might not be the case. Make sure you know which ESA laws protect you so you may stand up for yourself if needed.

Step #2 – Secure an ESA letter from a licensed mental health professional

  • Although your pet may already be acting as your ESA, they are not protected under the law until it is official. You can make your pet an official ESA by securing a recommendation letter from a licensed therapist. If you are currently in therapy, we recommend requesting an ESA letter from your therapist. If you do not have a therapist or your therapist does not understand animal therapy or ESA law, we would be happy to assist you.


Step #3 – Inform the airlines you are traveling with an ESA

  • Once you have booked your flight, call your airline to inform them that you are traveling with an ESA. You will send the airline your ESA letter for approval. Each airline has their own policy and procedure so contacting the airline ahead of time is recommended. As long as you have a legitimate ESA letter and give the airlines proper notice, you will not have an issue traveling with your ESA.
  • The airlines are well aware of the laws and do not want to have legal issues with discrimination. However, if the airlines can show your ESA is untrained and may cause harm to the other passengers, they can deny access. Do not travel with your ESA if they may hurt other passengers. This will cause further discrimination against all ESA handlers.
  • The Department of Transportation recently released a 28-page document clarifing rules for flying with an Assistance Animal. If you are not familiar with these new updates, read this helpful article that summarizes points that are more releveant to people who travel with their Emotional Support Animals.

Step #4 – Prepare to fly with your ESA

  • Exercise your ESA for at least one hour before the flight. Traveling is stressful for your ESA. Since they need to remain still in a cramped space for a long period of time, it is better for them if they can release energy before the flight.
  • Although your ESA letter has been submitted and approved, you should always have a digital copy of our ESA letter ready. If you do not have a smartphone, we recommend printing out a copy of your ESA letter to carry on you at the airport.
  • When you are traveling with an ESA, you may want to also purchase a comfortable ESA vest for them. This will help identify your animal as an official Emotional Support Animal, removing the small chance of hostility at the airport. Although a vest is not required by law, having your ESA wear a vest may be helpful.
  • Once you have cleared security with your ESA, head straight to your gate and inform the gate attendant that you are traveling with an ESA.


FAQ’s for Flying with an ESA

  • Q: Does my ESA have to ride in a crate or carrier?
  • A: No, your emotional support dog can sit on the floor in front of you or on your lap.
  • Q: Can an ESA be any type of dog? 
  • A: Yes, but your ESA must be under your control and cannot cause a disturbance to other passengers.
  • Q: Do I have to register my ESA?
  • A: No. All you need is an ESA Letter.
  • Q: Does my ESA have to wear a vest?
  • A: No. An emotional support animal is not required to wear a vest.

We hope this guide on traveling with your dog was helpful. Please comment below with any questions. If you would like to learn more about Emotional Support Animal laws, you may read about it here.

Start your questionnaire now to see if you qualify for an emotional support animal.


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