Which Airlines Allow Emotional Support Animals
Traveling can sometimes be a stressful experience, and for many individuals, the companionship of an emotional support animal (ESA) significantly alleviates this stress. These animals play a crucial role in providing comfort and emotional stability to individuals dealing with mental or emotional health issues. However, when it comes to airlines and their policies regarding emotional support animals, regulations can vary widely. As of my knowledge cutoff in September 2021, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued new rules, leading to most U.S. airlines no longer recognizing ESAs as service animals, although some may allow them as pets.
As of 2021, American Airlines stopped accepting emotional support animals onboard. They now adhere to the new Department of Transportation (DOT) rule that only defines a service animal as a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability. ESAs, however, are welcomed as pets but must adhere to the pet policy, which includes certain fees and restrictions.
Similar to American Airlines, Delta also updated its policies in line with the DOT’s new definition of service animals. As a result, emotional support animals are no longer accepted on Delta flights booked after January 11, 2021. However, like other airlines, ESAs can still travel, but they must comply with the airline’s specific pet policy.
United Airlines’ policy aligns with its competitors. Following the new DOT rules, they no longer accept emotional support animals. However, United Airlines will continue to accept ESAs as pets, in compliance with its pet travel policy.
Southwest Airlines, following the DOT regulations, discontinued its emotional support animal program in March 2021. They now only accept trained service dogs for travel. However, passengers are still able to travel with dogs and cats as pets under the airline’s existing pets program.
Alaska Airlines also aligned its policy with the updated DOT regulation. They no longer accept emotional support animals, but dogs that are specially trained to perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability are welcome onboard. ESAs can be transported as pets in accordance with their pet policy.
JetBlue stopped accepting new reservations for emotional support animals in early 2021. The airline now only allows dogs trained to do work or perform tasks for individuals with disabilities. As with other airlines, JetBlue does accept ESAs as pets under its pet program.
For non-US based airlines, policies can differ significantly, and it’s essential to check with the specific airline. As of 2021, airlines such as Air Canada, British Airways, and Lufthansa allowed emotional support animals on select flights, but the animals needed to meet certain criteria, and additional documentation was usually required.
While the new DOT rules have changed the landscape for traveling with emotional support animals, it’s still possible in many cases to bring your ESA with you, but they must comply with each airline’s pet policy. These typically involve paying a fee and ensuring that your pet can fit comfortably in a carrier under the seat in front of you.
It is recommended to thoroughly review an airline’s policy on their official website or contact their customer service before traveling with your ESA or any other pet. Policies can change, and certain restrictions may apply, such as limits on the number of animals allowed, breed restrictions, or restrictions on travel to specific destinations.
While these policy changes have disappointed many ESA owners, it’s important to remember that they were introduced in part due to concerns about passenger safety and fraudulent ESA certifications. Going forward, the hope is that airlines and regulators can find a balance that respects the genuine needs of passengers with disabilities, the comfort and safety of all passengers, and the well-being of the animals involved.
It’s also noteworthy that there are alternative solutions for those who rely on their emotional support animals for travel. Some mental health professionals recommend strategies such as mindful meditation, breathing exercises, or distracting activities to help manage anxiety during flights. For others, a Professional Therapy Dog that has been trained to behave in various environments, including airports and airplanes, might be a more appropriate choice. While they require more extensive training and investment than ESAs, these animals are recognized as service dogs under the Americans with Disabilities Act and thus are allowed on flights.
In conclusion, with the changing landscape of travel policies regarding emotional support animals, it’s crucial for travelers to stay informed about the most current rules and regulations. Emotional support animals offer an invaluable service to their owners and understanding the most up-to-date airline policies can ensure a smooth and stress-free travel experience for all involved.
While the journey to finding a balance between ESA owners, other passengers, and airline safety continues, it’s essential that dialogue remains open, and empathetic solutions are explored. Mental health is just as crucial as physical well-being, and it is everyone’s hope that airlines will continue to recognize this and make policies that are accommodating and fair, while still maintaining the necessary safety precautions.
Ultimately, it is through understanding, respect, and consideration for all passengers that we can hope to achieve a satisfactory solution. The discussions and changes in the policy regarding emotional support animals onboard are a testament to the evolving landscape of mental health recognition and accommodation. As our understanding and acknowledgment of these needs grow, it is anticipated that the methods by which we accommodate them will also evolve. The hope is that the future of airline travel will include fair and equitable solutions that consider the needs of all passengers, including those who rely on the support of their loving pets.