Southwest planes in the airport

Preparing for a Trip with Your ESA: Requirements of Top-Tier Airlines

7 min read

Have you ever seen dogs and cats flying with their handlers on board the airplane? In fact, emotional support animals have become a usual sight on planes. Some of them fly with no restrictions while others are not allowed to enter the cabin.

Why is it happening? The reason is obvious – you just need to follow the rules imposed by each airline on ESA handlers. If you fail to do this, you may face certain problems or may not be permitted to fly with your ESA at all.

Want to learn more? Below you’ll find a full set of rules for all those who plan to use services of the leading US airlines and want to fly with their furry companions with no limits.


Jet blue airline

This airline has numerous limitations for ESA owners. Just like it is with other companies, ESA handlers traveling with JetBlue shouldn’t let their animals sit on the passenger’s seats. What’s more, the list of animals that aren’t accepted by this airline is also long. It includes:

  • Ferrets
  • Insects and rodents
  • Dangerous animals like spiders and snakes
  • Hedgehogs
  • Non-domesticated birds
  • Pets that smell bad or aren’t clean
  • Animals with tusks.

Every traveler who wants to take the ESA on a trip and use the services of JetBlue must have proper documentation that must contain the next information:

  1. An indication that you have a psychiatric disorder and the animal is necessary for your emotional wellbeing
  2. The number of animals and type of ESA
  3. An indication that you’re under the supervision of a certified medical practitioner
  4. The type of doctor’s certificate, its number, the date of issue and the state where the license was provided to the medical practitioner.

Note that the letter mustn’t be older than one year. It should be valid and submitted to the airline at least a couple of days before the planned departure.

American Airlines

American Airline plane

Just like other airline companies, American Airlines has certain restrictions for ESA owners who want to travel with their pets. Thus, it doesn’t allow too large animals to enter the cabin. What’s more, some destinations like Auckland, New Zealand, are out of bounds for everyone who wants to fly with their ESAs.

Remember that when you travel with this airline, your animal must be seated:

  • On your lap
  • On the floor near you
  • Under the seat.

It’s not allowed for the animal to be seated over the passenger’s seat and, moreover, it mustn’t bother other passengers. Among others, the animal mustn’t sit near the exit row, block the passageway or eat food from trays.

American Airline allows the next animals to travel with their handlers:

  • ESA dog
  • ESA cat
  • Mini-horse

To travel with this airline, you must have three valid forms at your disposal:

  1. Psychiatric form
  2. Vet health form containing vaccination details
  3. A document proving that the animal knows how to behave in public.

All forms, including your ESA letter, must be valid and approved by certified medical workers. You should also inform the airline company that you’ll be flying together with the companion animal. It’s best to do it a few days before your planned flight.

United Airlines

United airline plane

If you wish to take your furry friend with you on a trip and travel with United, you should know that this airline is constantly shaping its demands for ESA owners making things a bit complicated. In fact, in contrast to the previous rules, more documents are now necessary for everyone who wants to fly with their ESA. These include:

  1. Vet documentation
  2. Confirmation of the animal’s proper behavior in public areas
  3. ESA letter signed by a doctor to confirm your disability.

The animals taken on a plane must be of a relevant size to fit the space near the passenger’s feet. They also mustn’t block the passageways or other walking areas. Your ESA should also know good manners and follow norms of behavior so that it doesn’t cause any trouble on the plane.


Southwest airline plane

This company permits to travel with animals as long as they don’t block the evacuation and exit routes. However, if you’ve got an exotic or some uncommon animal, you won’t be allowed to take it with you on board. These may include not just spiders and snakes but also rabbits which is not good news for those who have one.

As for the major requirements of this airline, they usually include the next ones:

  • Acceptable animals taken with you on the plane include dogs and cats only.
  • Only one companion animal per passenger is permitted.
  • Animals must be kept under control with the help of a leash or kennel.
  • Animals must behave well in public.
  • ESAs shouldn’t block the passageways or sit in exit rows.

Fortunately, Southwest doesn’t require you to have any extra forms and additional documents. You only need the ESA letter that is not older than one year.


Delta airline plane

The Delta airline suggests that only those animals whose size doesn’t exceed the footprint of a seat in the passenger’s cabin can enter the plane and fly with their handlers. Delta may also refuse to accept animals if their owners don’t have relevant documents or if the animal behaves badly. The unacceptable behavior of the animal may be revealed in:

  • Jumping on other people
  • Biting, growling or showing aggression
  • Barking too much
  • Eating from tray tables
  • Blocking passageways and others.

You must notify the company that your pet will accompany you during flight. Note that this airline accepts only one ESA per single passenger. As for other requirements, they are pretty much the same as with other companies.

Alaska Air

Alaska Air plane

This airline requires passengers to have only acceptable types of animals and relevant documentation. The unacceptable ESAs include various uncommon types and species as well as exotic animals, non-domesticated or simply unusual ones.

The ESA letter mustn’t be outdated and it should also:

  • Indicate that you’ve got a disability and undergo medical treatment
  • Be signed by a certified mental health expert.

The list of forms requested from travelers by this airline is quite the same as in other airline companies. Just don’t forget to notify the airline about your planned journey with the ESA a couple of days before traveling.

Tips for travelers: Etiquette on board

A dog with the airplane ticket and luggage
Teach your pet to behave well in unfamiliar environments in advance

Now that you know all about what rules to follow when flying with the ESA, you may also want to learn more about the acceptable behavior of animals on the plane. Although the rules may vary from case to case, the most common requirements include the following points:

  • You must have control over your animal at all times. The easiest way to achieve this is to have a leash. But if your ESA is obedient enough and well-trained, you’ll hardly have any trouble.
  • Your ESA mustn’t climb on seats. This rule is used by not just restaurants and other public facilities but also airlines. Remember that your support animal shouldn’t bother other people so try to ensure it doesn’t climb on passenger’s seats. This is out of bounds in all cases.
  • A good idea is to purchase some sort of tag for your animal. This will let other people know that you’re flying with the ESA, not a usual pet. 
  • Your pet must be trained to behave normally in public areas. This is pretty much obvious so it doesn’t need any explanation. Good behavior of your animal among people will guarantee that your travel experience is pleasant and free from any stress.
  • Your animal should feel comfortable in new settings. To guarantee that your travel experience goes smoothly, your animal shouldn’t feel bad in confined areas. On the contrary, it must feel comfortable even in unfamiliar environments.

Just follow these rules and don’t forget about the major requirements of airline companies. This way, you’ll face no undesirable problems when going on vacation with your ESA.

Key Takeaways

The whole nation is rocked by the changing regulations of US airlines that are gradually getting stricter for passengers with emotional support animals. However, it’s still possible to make things easier for you and your ESA.

Thus, if you follow a few simple rules, you won’t face any trouble whatsoever. Don’t forget that you should:

  • Keep all of your documents in order and check if your ESA letter is up-to-date before going on a trip
  • Guarantee that your animal is clean and behaves well
  • Never lose control over your animal when you’re traveling with it
  • Make sure your little companion doesn’t bother other passengers
  • Always know the rules imposed by each airline.

All this will let you make your travel experience enjoyable and pleasant for everyone involved. Just do your part and your trip will bring only positive emotions to you and everyone around.

Ready to set out on a journey with your ESA? Check if you can get an ESA letter and get started!

by GetESA

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ESA Laws and Regulations