New policies by DOT has emotional support animals banned on airlines. They can no longer fly free on major carriers with their guardians. The rules that came into effect the beginning of 2021. Only permit qualified service dogs are able to fly gratis. So if you have a dog that you rely on for emotional or psychological support, you’ll have to pay. In addition you will be signing a litany of federal forms.

Airlines are in strict conformity with the DOT policies. These policies were formulated in December 2020. Airlines will no longer have to accommodate any service animal other than a dog in their airplanes.

emotional support animals

Flying With FIDO Comes At A Price Since January 2021

Following aggressive campaigning by US airlines, ESAs (Emotional Support Animals) will not be permitted to accompany their owners inside aircraft. US Department of Transportation stated that dogs and only trained and skilled service dogs will be able to fly with their keepers free of charge. In December 2020, DOT declared that it’ll be updating the ‘Air Carrier Access Act’ (ACCA). These changes relate to carrying of professionally trained service animals, guaranteeing them “a safe and accessible air transportation system”.

The Latest Guidelines 

The upshot of DOT’s latest guidelines will be that almost every carrier will endorse the ban on flying ESAs. The only notable exception will be specially trained assistance and service dogs. This includes guide dogs, psychiatric services, and autism support dogs. Other ESAs like cats, miniature horses, birds, rabbits, and monkeys, etc will be regarded as pets.  The emotional support animals will be prohibited from flying if their owners don’t pay the pet travel charges.

Travelers diagnosed with various psychological disorders or mental illnesses were in the dark on the changes to the ESA policy guidelines. In particular during the traumatic pandemic. However, with the DOT detailing all ESA categories, the picture became clear to travelers and airlines. Many veterinarians, animal psychologists, dog breeders, and trainers think that the DOT rules are discriminatory.

emotional support animals

Other Important Notifications 

The ACAA allows physically handicapped owners and those with specific emotional conditions like schizophrenia and PTSD to take along an assistance dog. On the other hand, the same rules prohibit ESAs from escorting their owners clinically diagnosed with grave psychiatric disorders. However, several disability rights organizations, passengers, attendants, and carriers lobbying hard for bringing about changes in the policies. It was a foregone conclusion that DOT would make the changes.

Airlines in the US had witnessed a massive upsurge of pets accompanying their owners during air travel over the years. Injuries to crews and passengers from pets kept increased along with the surge in pets stepping inside planes alongside their guardians. Passengers have reported seeing Appaloosa horses, opossums, kangaroos, squirrels, emotional support ferrets, snakes, hamsters, and even comfort lobsters inside cabins.

In one instance, American Airlines were compelled to deplane a support pig weighing a whopping 80lbs. The support animal was asked to leave after it excreted and squealed in the passageway. In another incident, an ES dog sank his teeth into a stewardess in 2019 necessitating five stitches. Delta Air Lines Inc. reported an estimated 85% proliferation in disruptive behavior, urination, defecation, and bites entailing ESAs over four years (from 2016-2019).

emotional support animals

A4A: Airlines for America

A4A is a lobby group for air-carriers organized an association of over eighty organizations including United Airlines, Southwest, Hawaiian, Delta, and American to endorse DOT’s new regulations about ESA’s in-flight travel. A good number of the coalition’s members included service animal and disability groups. Airlines for America had lobbied aggressively for fine-tuning the description of an ESA as a “dog that is individually trained to do work perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability”.

The coalition also wanted DOT to “allow airlines to recognize emotional support animals as pets, rather than service animals” which the department conceded.

emotional support animals

Demystifying The Recent Rules Drawn Up By DOT For ESAs

It was in December 2020 when DOT explicitly stated that it was revising the rules and regulations. These would be changes governing the airline transportation of ESAs. To be specific, they modified policies that put ESAs out of the description of ‘service animals’. Emotional support animals are no longer considered service animals. The newly updated policies were posted in the Department of Transportation’s ACCA that standardizes the in-flight transport of service animals.

ADA (Americans with Disabilities) legalizes service animals as well as regulates their accompaniment with their owners. They are to be permitted in commercial aircrafts’ cabins for free. Carriers from now will not be obligated to offer access to ESAs in their airplanes.  DOT no longer regards them as service animals. Several airlines in the US are making outlawing ESAs aboard their aircraft, categorizing such animals as normal pets.

Required Documentation

As for owners chaperoned by guard dogs or service dogs, they’ll be required to complete a bunch of federal forms substantiating their Fido’s conduct, fitness levels, and training. If it is discovered that a dog owner made a bogus declaration, they will have to pay a heavy fine. Besides completing federal forms, service-dog owners will have to provide information about the professional training association or the trainer.

Additionally, carriers will regard the alleged service-dog as an ordinary pet if the animal misbehaves or barks. Consequently, the dog will be sent to the cargo section for further transportation, and the owner will be liable to pay the stipulated fees.This stringent statute boils down to either transporting your dog in a crate underneath the plane’s fuselage or placing the pet beneath the seat you’re facing.

Towards that end, you may have to pay about $125 each time you carry your pet along with you on United, Delta, or American Airlines for domestic travel. And if your pet accompanies you on international flights, then you’ll need to pay an additional $75-$200 one-way.  On the other hand, if you’re planning to transport the pet in a crate or kennel, you’ll have to cough up a higher amount.

You’ll have to abide by a set of remarkably rigorous directives like taking your pet to the cargo facility at least three hours before departure.

emotional support animals

DOT Has Redefined the Classification of Service Animals

Following rising complaints from flight attendants and passengers about the misbehavior of ESAs, DOT redefined a ruling coinciding with the Americans with Disabilities Act’s air travel policy. DOT redefined the classification of service animals to this new definition in December 2020. The current definition of DOT, a service animal is identified “as a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability”.

According to DOT disorders or disabilities entail physical, mental, intellectual, psychiatric, or sensory conditions. The ruling has made it convenient for carriers to ban cats, birds, rabbits, horses and any other service animal from boarding an aircraft. The DOT exclusively specifies dogs as service animals. Professionally trained service dogs are presently permitted to board planes along with their owners. They do not have to pay any fees for them.

ESAs Were Considered Service Animals By DOT Before New Rules?

Before DOT introduced changes about ESA’s air travel in 2021, emotional support animals were grouped with trained dogs as ‘service animals’ as per ACAA. Even though ESAs did not receive any specialized training for carrying out tasks that service dogs or guard dogs performed, the former was still regarded as ‘service animals’. The fact that ESAs offered psychological or emotional support to their owners made them eligible to fit the description of a ‘service animal’ by DOT.

Since DOT did not specify ESA as a particular kind of animal, passengers exploited this loophole in the definition of the hilt. Passengers carried their dogs, cats, peacocks, raccoons, pigs, and every other type of pet onto planes with abandon and without paying anything, as airlines watched helplessly. Americans with Disabilities Act in sharp contrast to DOT has always classified service animals as highly trained dogs competent to carry out tasks to assist individuals with disabilities.

As federal government policies require that carriers comply with DOT guidelines. Government states airlines to follows and abide by DOT’s ESA definition.

emotional support animal

What made the DOT review and update its regulations on ESAs?

The issues relating to ESAs convoying their owners can be traced back to the year 2008. At that time DOT widened the regulations for enabling service animals and ESAs to assist passengers. When carriers increased pet travel fees in 2009, many passengers declared their pets as ESA enabling their pets to fly free inside cabins. Travelers could easily access certificates attesting an individual’s psychological requirement for the animal and ESA vests via websites.

Congress in 2018 directed DOT to take drastic measures for regulating the gradual upsurge of pets in cabins of aircraft. DOT officials noticed ESAs not only defecated and urinated inside cabins and aisles but also barked at and bit passengers and flight attendants. The officials also discovered that many travelers had deceitfully tagged the pet as ‘ESA’.

Fast-forwarding to December 2020, DOT declared that it will be updating the ACCA “to ensure a safe and accessible air transportation system”. AA complained to DOT about passengers who not only brought on bizarre pets such as opossums and comfort lobsters but also did not pay any pet travel fees.

emotional support animals

Top Airlines upholding the ban on flying emotional support animals 

American Airlines

American Airlines started obeying the new DOT rules, not allowing ESAs in their aircraft, since January 31, 2021. Travelers intending to take along their pets on airplanes will be required to submit an online DOT form at Special Assistance Desk at least 2 days before their trip. AA employees can ask travelers a few questions to establish if the dog fits the bill for a service animal before issuing an SVAN ID (service animal ID).

The SVAN ID card will remain valid for one year or till the duration of the dog’s vaccination.

Alaska Airlines

Alaska will allow ESAs for which bookings were made before January 11, 2021, and the pets will be permitted onto flights preceding March 1, 2021. From March 2nd, each traveler or passenger will be able to take along a maximum of two dogs inside the cabin. Service dogs, include psychiatric service canines that have been specially trained. This includes training to help individuals with explicit learning disabilities and those suffering from mental or psychological disorders.

Additionally, owners will have to fill out a ‘Service Animal Air Transportation’ form online guaranteeing the pet’s behavior, training, and health at least 2 days before traveling.

Delta Airlines

Delta will not accept any new bookings for ESAs but will allow emotional support animals booked on flights before January 11, 2021. A maximum of two professionally trained service dogs will be allowed in the cabin per passenger. Service dog owners will be required to complete and submit an ‘Accessibility Service Request Form’ on the Delta Airlines website.

Owners may also have to complete a ‘Relief Attestation’ form if the flight’s duration is more than eight hours. The Relief Attestation form, promises that their dogs will not urinate or defecate in the cabin. In case the dog has to relieve itself, it must do so, the owner will guarantee it's done sanitarily or hygienically.

Frontier Airlines

Frontier Airlines is allowed highly trained dogs, miniature horses, and cats to travel aboard an airplane till January 31, 2021. Starting February 1, 2021, the carrier will  permit each passenger to book two service dogs. These dogs must have received professional training. Travelers must complete a Service Animal Air Transportation form 48 hours before travel.

The owner may keep the dog in his or her lap, if the dog weighs below 30lbs. If their animal is larger, they can place the animal on the floor. However, service dogs will not be allowed to sit on the aisle or occupy a neighboring or empty seat.

Final Words

Bottom line is, if you want your ESA to accompany you on domestic or international flights then you’ll have to put the pet in a crate in the cargo section. Additionally, you’ll have to pay a pet-travel fee. Your pet needs to be dropped off at the cargo facility at least three hours before take-off. If you’re the owner of a service dog, your dog will be allowed to travel free. Service dog owners will need to complete several federal forms and submit documents confirming your service dog’s health, training, and behavior.

 Read Next: Service Dogs: What You Need to Know

No More Emotional Support Animals on Planes




Kelly works as a veterinary technician in Austin, TX as well as regular animal rescue volunteer. She's been an animal lover and dog owner since childhood, and has worked in different dog related fields over the last twenty years. Currently she lives with three dogs and a cat.