A complete guide to airline policy on emotional support animals

A complete guide to airline policy on emotional support animals
Emotional support dogs can fly, but only with proper paperwork and other airline-imposed requirements.

Image: Stephen Chernin/Getty Images

Emotional support animals are becoming common sights on airplanes. We’ve seen pigs fly, and miniature horses as doctor-sanctioned animal companions. Then peacocks get the shaft when it comes to comforting passengers on board. And an emotional support hamster was tragically flushed away when it was refused entry on a flight earlier this year. 

That harrowing tale of a companion animal gone very, very wrong highlights the confusion and complications of flying with animals for medical reasons. Before you tote your furry friend to the airport, make sure to brush up on which animals airlines allow on planes. 

To help you out, we’ve rounded up every major airline’s emotional support animal policy.

First, though: It’s important to distinguish an emotional support animal from a service animal. Unlike a guide dog for a blind person, an emotional support animal is there for people with emotional, psychiatric, or psychological needs. You can’t just show up at the airport with a cat or dog and proclaim it to be your emotional support animal — official documentation from doctors, psychologists, and/or other mental health officials is required.  

As more people attempt to fly with their support animals, airlines are getting more specific and detailed on what’s allowed, and cracking down on which animals can fly uncrated and in the main cabin. Airlines have created fairly robust info pages as passengers attempt to fly with a wide range of animals, and Delta and United have both updated their requirements for flying with an emotional support animal. Both airlines will implement the new procedures with more paperwork and oversight starting March 1. 

An increase in animals — and incidents

According to a company release in Jan. 2018, Delta “carries approximately 700 service or support animals daily — nearly 250,000 annually. ” Since 2016, they said, the airline has had an 84 percent increase in incidents with animals on planes, such as peeing, pooping, and even biting

United has a growing number of comfort animals onboard: 43,000 in 2016 and 76,000 in 2017, according to a spokesperson who spoke to USA Today.

Recently, a dog scraped a girl’s face when she tried to pet the emotional support animal on a Southwest flight from Phoenix to Portland, Oregon, according to the Washington Post.

Some airlines clearly list which animals can join you on your flight, while others list what animals aren’t allowed (like comfort turkeys). This huge dog, below, made the cut.

Here’s your emotional support animal guide for flying on major air carriers in and out of the U.S.

A doctor’s letter is required in advance to bring your support animal with you. Also, a large dog like the one above literally won’t fly. American requires animals to “fit on your lap, at your feet, or under the seat, and cannot block the aisle.” For travelers headed to Auckland, New Zealand, emotional support animals aren’t allowed.

United is making its procedures more robust in order to fly with an emotional support animal starting March 1. More documentation will be necessary — that’s a letter from a doctor and a vet record, along with confirmation the animal will behave in public.

Animals are limited by size also as they must fit at passenger’s feet and not “protrude” into the aisles or other areas.

Delta says it can refuse an animal that growls, jumps on passengers, barks excessively, or eats off seat back tray tables.

After pet owners download and fill out the proper forms, certain animals can accompany travelers. Only animals who do not “exceed the footprint of the passenger’s seat” can fly on board. 

Delta says it can refuse to fly an animal that growls, jumps on passengers, relieves themselves on board or in waiting areas, barks excessively, or eats “off seat back tray tables.”

Southwest also allows support animals to ride with passengers if those animals don’t block evacuation routes. But if you have an “unusual or exotic” animal it won’t be allowed on. That includes rodents, ferrets, insects, spiders, reptiles, hedgehogs, rabbits, and sugar gliders.

While on JetBlue flights, emotional support animals need to be on the floor or on a passenger’s lap. As seen in a recent incident, the animals aren’t allowed to be on the seats — at all.

JetBlue’s list of unacceptable animals includes all animals with tusks (so no baby elephants). Here’s the full list:

  • Hedgehogs

  • Ferrets

  • Insects

  • Rodents

  • Snakes

  • Spiders

  • Sugar gliders

  • Reptiles

  • Non-household birds (farm poultry, waterfowl, game bird, & birds of prey)

  • Animals improperly cleaned and/or with a foul odor

  • Animals with tusk

Alaska Air has a clear list of animals it won’t accept as emotional support animals. For acceptable animals, proper documentation is needed. The no-fly list: 

  • Hedgehogs

  • Ferrets

  • Insects

  • Rodents

  • Snakes

  • Spiders

  • Sugar gliders

  • Reptiles

  • Non-household birds (farm poultry, waterfowl, game birds, and birds of prey)

  • Animals improperly cleaned and/or foul odor

  • Any unusual or exotic animals

This is the airline that denied the ill-fated hamster, which makes sense since rodents are on their no-fly list: “Spirit does not accept snakes, other reptiles, rodents, ferrets, and spiders.” Other animals need to have forms and permission from health officials to fly on the ground near a passenger’s seat or on a passenger’s lap.

Emotional support dogs can fly, but only on flights booked through the Iceland-based airline’s U.S. website. For those traveling to the UK, your support pet is not allowed.

Emotional support dogs are allowed on the Icelandic airline, but the animal won’t be allowed in Iceland since a four-week quarantine period is required. You can travel through Keflavík International Airport in  Reykjavík for up to three hours, but then on you must go with your emotional support dog.

Traveling with your emotional dogs, cats, miniature horses, pigs, and monkeys is allowed on WestJet, but other “unusual animals” need to get approval on a case-by-case basis. Snakes, reptiles, ferrets, rodents, and spiders are always a no-no.

You’re good to fly on this budget airline as long as the proper paperwork is filled out for your animal, and the passenger has a mental or emotional health-related disability from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-Fourth Edition (or DSM IV). 

The Canadian airline will allow emotional support dogs, but no other animals are allowed to serve as a comfort animal. The same procedures are required as most other airlines, such as forms verifying emotional or mental need for the support dog.

Like other European-based airlines, KLM is OK with your emotional support dog as long as the documentation is prepared and available.

For flights bound outside the U.S., your support animal won’t be allowed on flights. Like many European and non-U.S. air carriers, British Airways only has information about traveling with an assistance dog on its site.

Service animals are allowed, but otherwise no pets, emotional support or otherwise, are allowed in Emirates’ cabins.

For all those sugar glider emotional support animals out there … time for a road trip.

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