Flying with your dog can be stressful — you don’t want to risk sending them in a crate with baggage. If the airline can lose your luggage, they can lose your dog. Before January 2021, you were allowed to fly with your dog in the cabin of the plane if you qualified for an Emotional Support Animal (ESA). Unfortunately, you can now only fly with your mental health assistance dog in the cabin of the airplane if your dog works as your Psychiatric Service Dog (PSD). 

The ban on Emotional Support Animals was due to the lobbying efforts of big businesses. Many dog owners may now be hesitant or ashamed to fly with their assistance animal, even though they provide a vital function for their mental health. For some ESA or pet owners, it may be possible for their dog to qualify as a psychiatric service dog

Here are three steps to consider if you’re thinking about whether your ESA can be a Psychiatric Service Dog: 

  1. Do you have a mental health disability that requires a trained service dog to perform tasks?  
  2. Is your dog actually capable of being properly trained?
  3. Are you familiar with service dog rules versus ESA rules?

Your Psychiatric Service Dog must perform a task that aids your disability. If you do not require a task to be performed for your disability or your dog is incapable of being trained, you cannot qualify for a PSD.

There are many tasks PSDs can perform. For example, a common task is deep pressure therapy: your dog’s job is to lay over your chest while you are having a panic attack or anxiety attack. Another common task is morning alert: if you are in a bout of depression or experiencing general anxiety, your dog’s job is to wake you up in the morning and help you get out of bed and retrieve your medication.

Psychiatric Service Dog Tasks Examples - Infographic - ESADoctors
Get a PSD Letter - Button - ESA Doctors

And your Psychiatric Service Dog must always be in your command — if you ask them to sit and stay, they must sit and stay immediately. They cannot act aggressively towards others or bark unprovoked. Psychiatric service dogs are given public access rights, so they must be capable of doing their work without being distracted in public places.

Psychiatric Service Dogs are a type of Service Dog. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) you are not required to order a vest or carry a letter. For personal peace of mind and ease of travel, many PSD owners opt-in for both of these optional items. From personal experience, service dog owners often run into people who aren’t familiar with service dog rules and demand to see proof. Therefore, it’s a personal preference for many PSD owners to show a PSD Letter and ID card rather than having a debate regarding ADA rights. 

Even if you opt-in for a PSD Letter and vest, you should still be well aware of your rights. Showing documentation for your service dog can never be required. As a service dog owner, airlines must allow you to fly for free with your service dog. You will notify the airline ahead of time and fill out the form provided by the DOT. Here is a guide on filling out this form.

In addition, airline employees and other third parties are only permitted to ask you two questions, 

  1. Is the dog a service dog required because of a disability?
  2. What work or task has the service dog been trained to perform? 

They are not allowed to inquire about your specific disability or request that your service dog perform their task as proof.

PSD Letters for Air Travel 

Not sure whether you’re eligible for a psychiatric service dog? The first step is to check whether you meet the ADA criteria for having a psychiatric disability.

The best person to assess this is a licensed mental health provider such as a therapist or doctor. They can evaluate your mental health and provide an opinion on whether your mental and emotional state meets the ADA standard.

If they believe that you are eligible, you can request a PSD letter. A PSD letter puts in a signed document the healthcare professional’s findings on whether you have a condition that would qualify for a psychiatric service dog. 

You’ll need to confirm you have a qualified PSD on the DOT’s federal air travel form, so it’s important to be sure that you meet all the necessary qualifications. A PSD letter can give you comfort in knowing you’ve taken the step to verify an important ADA requirement. 

Get your PSD Letter in three easy steps.

Three easy steps to get a PSD Letter - ESA Doctors
Get a PSD Letter - Button - ESA Doctors