Major Airlines’ Rules for Deciding Whether Your Pet Qualifies as an Emotional Support Animal

Flying can be a scary thing. Today, it’s becoming more common to bring your pet on a plane to help with the fear of flying. However, different airlines have different regulations for animals who want to come on board. We broke down the rules of a few major airlines, so you’ll know what to expect if you try to bring your supportive friend on board.

The world of emotional support animals has been expanding

peacock

A woman recently tried to bring her peacock on a flight. | iStock.com/AlexeyVis

One woman recently made the news when she attempted to bring an emotional support peacock on a United Airlines flight at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey. She even offered to buy the bird its own ticket. United Airlines still refused, but the event prompted airlines to crack down on the rules and regulations surrounding emotional support animals.

Next: Here are the rules if you’re flying American Airlines. 

You must have approval from a medical health professional

psychologist talking to her patient

A document must explain the animal’s purpose. | iStock.com/shironosov

According to Business Insider, in order to fly your support pet with American Airlines, you need to have approval by either a doctor or a licensed medical professional, such as a therapist. The document must explain that you do indeed have some sort of emotional or mental health disability, and that an emotional support pet is necessary for the flight.

Next: You can’t submit an old document. 

The document must be recent

Buenos Aires inhabitant carrying a pet dog

It has to be within the past year. | STF/AFP/Getty Images

If you submit a document signed 10 years ago, it’s not going to fly (pun intended). American Airlines requires that the document must have been signed by the health professional within the past year to ensure that you are still suffering from the mental health or emotional issue.

Next: Here’s how to submit the document.

How to submit the document

Public information officer for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty

You have to submit the document before you show up to fly. | David McNew/Getty Images

The document must be submitted to American Airlines within 48 hours of the departure of your flight. You can fill out the document online and submit it to the American Airlines Special Assistance Coordinators desk. Always be sure to keep a copy of the document for yourself as proof of filling it out. You might need to present it to an airline representative.

Next: These are the rules if you’re flying Delta Airlines. 

You must have approval from a medical health professional

Businesswoman waiting in airport

Delta also requires a doctor’s note. | iStock.com/Martin Barraud

Delta Airlines also requires that you have approval from a doctor or licensed medical health professional. Events such as the peacock scandal led airlines to reevaluate how easy it is for people to bring their animals on board a flight. People have been claiming that their regular pets are emotional support pets just to let their pet fly for free.

Next: Delta also requires this. 

The animal must be vaccinated

dog hired by a library in Tartu, south Estonia to encourage kids

You must have proof of vaccination. | Raigo Pajula/AFP/Getty Images

In addition to requiring a document proving your state of mental health, you must also provide a document proving your pet is vaccinated. Proof of vaccination requires providing all vaccination dates of the pet. It must be signed by a veterinarian.

Next: The animal needs veterinarian approval of this. 

The animal must be approved to behave in a public setting

dog hired by a library in Tartu

It must be under the owner’s command. | Raigo Pajula/AFP/Getty Images

Finally, pets must also be approved by a veterinarian to behave in a public setting. This means the pet must be properly trained to not run around wildly or cause commotion. Also, the pet must be able to take its owner’s direction upon command.

Next: Here’s how to submit your emotional support request. 

How to submit the documents

Customers check in at Delta's counter

Complete a form on Delta’s website. | Andrew Burton/Getty Images

To complete your Delta emotional support request, you must first fill out a service request form on Delta’s website. Then, attach the three necessary forms to your request form. When you check in to your flight, your request will be verified by a Delta representative. Keep a copy of your forms with you at all times.

Next: These are the rules if you’re flying United Airlines. 

You must have approval from a medical health professional

Doctor is making notes while listening to his patient

United only requires a doctor’s document. | iStock.com/vadimguzhva

Just like Delta and American, United requires its emotional support passengers to submit a signed document from a medical health professional. However, this is the only document United passengers must submit. United does not require proof of vaccination or proof of behavioral skills from a veterinarian.

Next: This is how you submit your document. 

How to submit the document

Airport lounge

Submit it right after booking your flight. | iStock.com/Martin Barraud

United recommends submitting your emotional support pet request as soon as possible after booking your flight. However, the airline requires the forms be submitted within 48 hours of the flight. Simply fill out the form and submit it to United Airlines Accessibility desk via email (uaaeromed@united.com). Keep a copy of the forms with you during your flight to and from your destination.

Next: Airlines can reject animals for the following reasons. 

The type of animal

young boy pets a therapy dog

The line is fairly ambiguous. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The line between animals that are allowed and not allowed is fairly ambiguous. Lately, airlines have been developing more restrictions about the types of animals allowed on planes. Ferrets, reptiles, spiders, insects, birds, and snakes are the most common types of animals that airlines do not allow on planes. Snakes on a plane might not go over too well after that 2006 film.

Next: This aspect of the animal matters, too. 

The size of the animal

senior amstaff

They must be able to fit in front of your seat. | iStock.com/redstallion

An animal’s size plays a role in whether it gets on the flight. Since emotional support animals fly for free, they need to be able to fit in the space in front of your airline seat. An animal too large might conflict with the space allotment, causing a problem or a potential safety issue for other passengers on the plane.

Next: If the animal has these, it might not be allowed. 

Animals that could potentially cause danger

elephant to demolish illegal constructions

Animals have to be safe. | Biju Boro/AFP/Getty Images

Any animal with hooves, tusks, or anything else that is potentially dangerous to passengers might not be allowed on the plane. Ultimately, the safety of the passengers comes before anything else when flying. Plus, if you board the plane with an elephant, the tusks might be the least of your problems.

Next: If your animal can’t do this, your airline can say no. 

The duration of the flight

An Air China plane flies in front of the moon

You have to deal with your pet’s bathroom needs. | Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images

One drawback of a long flight is that humans often need to use the bathroom at some point. Emotional support animals face the same problem. According to transportation.gov, if a flight is more than eight hours, you may be required to provide signed documentation that your animal won’t need to use the bathroom during the flight (or that it can do so in a sanitary way). If your pet can’t do this, it might not be allowed on the plane.

Next: There are rules your animal must follow while the plane is in the air. 

Rules in the air

plane surrounded by soft toys

Your pet has to remain in front of your seat and not disrupt anything. | iStock.com/Digital Vision

Once the plane takes off, there are rules your emotional support pet must abide by. Transportation.gov says that your pet cannot block any space that needs to remain unobstructed, such as the aisle or the emergency exits, for safety reasons. Also, your pet needs to be able to remain in the space in front of your seat (this could be a problem for larger animals). Any disruptive behavior, such as barking or running around, might get your animal banned from future flights.

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