When you travel, you shouldn’t have to leave your beloved canine at home if you don’t want to (or can’t) travel without him or her. Fortunately, on many airlines you don’t have to. Whether traveling with your dog as a pet or an emotional support animal, there are certain points to be aware of to make sure your dog is indeed allowed to fly with you and that your air travel experience with your dog goes as smoothly, effectively and trouble-free as possible.
To that end, this article is broken down into two sections. In the first section are outlined several key things you should and shouldn’t do when taking a dog on an airplane with you. In the second section are specific pet policies of various major airlines, particularly as they affect passengers bringing dogs on an airplane with them.
Do’s and Don’ts for Taking a Dog on a Plane
Follow these do’s and don’ts for taking a dog on a plane, and you and your dog should fly together in peace and comfort every time.
DO Know Your Rights
Not all airline and airport personnel can be expected to be 100% up to speed on current laws and regulations involving traveling with animals. There’s the Air Carrier Access Act and Americans with Disabilities Act to be aware of, as well as specific airline policies for each type of traveling animals: pets, service animals and emotional support animals. Plus, new laws, amendments and policy changes are instituted all the time, creating the potential for even more confusion at the airport.
It is therefore incumbent on you to know your rights regarding travel with your dog, whether it be a pet, service dog or emotional support dog, and to know the relevant laws and policies of the particular airlines you’ll be traveling. That way, if you encounter a worker who tries to contradict what you know to be true, you can calmly and respectfully inform that worker of what’s actually so and, if necessary, ask for someone with more authority to step in and help you clear up the confusion.
DON’T Call Your Dog a Service Dog or Emotional Support Dog If it Isn’t
Travelers who attempt to skirt airline pet policies by declaring their dogs to be service dogs or emotional support dogs are effectively making it harder for people with legitimate service dogs and emotional support dogs to travel together safely and without hassle, obstruction or delay.
DO Retain Current Vaccination and Health Records for Your Dog
Whether your dog is traveling as an emotional support dog, a service dog or a pet, an airline may very well require you to present documentation that your dog is in satisfactory health to travel by air and is current with all its vaccinations.
DON’T Pay for ESA Registration or an ESA Letter Without a Doctor’s Consultation
There are many companies and websites out there purporting to help your “register your ESA.” The problem is, there’s no such thing as ESA registration. The thing you need to travel with an ESA is a valid ESA letter, not a registered ESA. ESA registration without a valid letter is useless and will not get your dog on that plane with you, at least not for free as an ESA. A valid ESA letter without registration, on the other hand is just fine. However, an ESA letter obtained without a face-to-face consultation with the doctor signing the letter is borderline acceptable at best and a worthless piece of costly paper at worst.
When you receive an ESA letter without first consulting with the doctor signing the letter, that letter holds very little weight. For one, if an airline calls the doctor to verify the letter or ask legally-permissible questions about it and your qualifications, the doctor cannot be of much help. He or she doesn’t even know you. In most cases, the airline won’t even be able to reach the signing doctor in this scenario.
If a company offers ESA registration, just make sure they’re honest about it and that it does not purport to take the place of a valid letter. An honest company will tell you that registration with them gets you and your ESA listed in their database for easy verification if and when needed, but that there is no such thing as an official, comprehensive or nationwide database.
As for the letter itself, by having it be written by a doctor who has met with you at least once, knows your situation and diagnosis and can confirm that you qualify for an ESA, it gives your letter the credibility you need to travel reliably with your ESA with total freedom and peace of mind.
DO Restrain Your Dog Appropriately
At the very least, any dog traveling on an airplane should be leashed and kept by the owner’s side or held in the owner’s arms or lap and within the owner’s control at all times, regardless of whether the dog is an emotional support dog, service dog or pet. Alternatively, a dog can travel in an airline-approved travel kennel. A dog cannot travel, however, without either a leash or kennel, including in airports pre- and post- flights.
Check out also: Pet Carrier to Take Your Emotional Support Dog on a Plane
DON’T Expect Your Dog to Understand What is Happening
A service dog is trained to remain calm, quiet and obedient in public settings and stressful situations. The same cannot be said for pet dogs and emotional support dogs. Therefore, do not expect your dog to be the consummate traveler just because it’s sweet and well-behaved at home and under familiar conditions. Instead, prepare your dog for the unfamiliar situations to be expected when traveling by plane.
Don’t let travel day be the first day your dog experiences the pet carrier in which it will be traveling. Introduce your dog to the carrier in advance and get the dog comfortable in it and familiar with it, even placing treats inside and heaping praise on the dog while inside the locked carrier to encourage good behavior.
Maybe you can’t bring your dog to an airport or confine your dog beneath an airplane seat for practice in those settings, but you can simulate them to some degree. Bring your dog to the mall to expose it to crowds. Travel with your dog in its carrier on a lengthy car ride. Help familiarize your dog with the types of experiences at least that it will encounter in an airport and while traveling by plane.
Dog Policies of Various Airlines
Within the bounds of federal law and FAA regulations, each airline sets its own policies regarding traveling with dogs on its airplanes. Each airline has different sets of policies for taking a dog on a plane in-cabin if that dog is a pet or an emotional support dog.
Therefore, if you’re wondering, “Can I buy a seat for my dog on an airplane?” the answer is that you can on most airlines if your dog is traveling as a pet, but not if you’re bringing your dog on board as an emotional support animal. That said, on all airlines, regardless of their policies for dogs flying as pets, the way how to get a dog on a plane for free is to establish your dog as an emotional support dog and not just a pet.
Check out also: How Much Does it Cost to Fly a Dog?
The following are the dog policies at some of the largest and most popular airlines.
1. American Airlines Dog Policy
Like on most airlines, the American Airlines pet policy emotional support animal owners must abide by differs from the American Airlines pet policy for dogs in general.
When traveling with a dog as a pet, you will have to pay an American Airlines pet cargo cost or travel fee. If the dog is allowed to travel in the passenger cabin with you, there is a pet travel fee charged, while for any dog that has to travel in the cargo hold, such as if flying with a large dog, there is an American Airlines pet cargo cost charged.
The American Airlines pet policy emotional support dogs and owners must follow allows dogs to fly on domestic and certain international flights in the passenger cabin with their owners without the owners incurring any pet travel fees or deposits. However, to qualify for this provision, the passenger must have a valid emotional support letter authorizing him or her to travel with the dog as an emotional support dog.
In terms of answering the question, “Can you take dogs on planes with American Airlines?” the answer is, “Yes, as long as the combined weight of the dog and approved carrier are no more than 20 pounds.”
2. United Airlines Dog Policy
Dogs are allowed on most United Airlines flights, although only service dogs are permitted on United Airlines flights to the UK. Taking a dog on a plane in cabin is not permitted, however, if traveling to Austria, Hawaii, Guam or any other country requiring pets enter only as manifest cargo. On flights to Dubai, Lagos and Nigeria, dogs cannot even fly as cargo. Moreover, on Boeing 777,767, 757 and 747 airplanes, flying with a dog in cabin is not permitted in first class or business class because of a lack of sufficient room beneath the seats.
To travel with your dog on a permitted UA flight requires advance approval for your dog. Your dog must be transported in a UA-approved travel kennel. If your dog is not traveling as an ESA, you must pay a fee. An extra fee is applied to every flight that undergoes a layover longer than four hours in the US or longer than 24 hours outside the US. All dogs flying on UA flights from the US and Canada must submit a health form specific to the country of origin (ie. a USDA form for flights originating in the US.) On international flights, your country of destination may also have forms required for your pet to be granted entry.
United Airlines also runs a PetSafe program for dogs that cannot fly in the cabin. Any dog at least part American Bulldog or Boston Terrier cannot fly on UA flights under the PetSafe program between May 15 and September 15. Between September 16 and May 1, PetSafe travel is only available on flights during which the temperature will not exceed 85 degrees F.
3. JetBlue Airlines Dog Policy
JetBlue honors all laws and regulations regarding emotional support animals and service animals. As for the question, “Can you take dogs on planes with JetBlue if they’re not ESAs or service dogs?” the answer is “Yes, in most cases.”
JetBlue does reserve the right to refuse a dog permission to board one of its flights if that dog is deemed to be too dirty or stinky to fly without disturbing other passengers and crew.
Regardless of whether your dog is a pet, service dog or ESA, if you are traveling by JetBlue internationally, you are required to produce a current veterinary health form called USDA APHIS 7001 Form within 10 days of your planned travel. For dogs flying internationally on JetBlue, you’ll also need to provide a copy of the dog’s updated vaccination record.
Be aware that flying with a large dog on JetBlue could be a problem, as the airline does not let any pets travel in the cargo hold or as checked luggage on any flight at any time under any conditions. That said, while emotional support dogs and service dogs are required by law to be allowed on flights in cabin no matter their size, JetBlue does restrict dogs flying as pets to only small dogs.
Dogs brought on JetBlue flights must be carried in an approved carrier and remain in that carrier at all times, including in the terminal and during takeoff and landing.
With the JetPaws program, any passenger traveling with a dog is given a tag for the dog’s carrier identifying the dog as an approved passenger, a page of tips for air travel with a dog and extra TrueBlue loyalty points.
4. Southwest Airlines Dog Policy
As long as your dog is at least eight weeks old, you can bring it in cabin with you on a Southwest Airlines flight, although it must be kept in an approved carrier at all times. Southwest Airlines retains the right to refuse any animal that seems aggressive entry onto any of its flights.
The answer to the question, “Can i buy a seat for my dog on an airplane?” is that Southwest Airlines does not require it unless your dog is so big it can’t fit in just one seat alone.
If your dog is unable to be accommodated in cabin for whatever reason, you will have to either rebook your flight or plan to travel without your dog as Southwest Airlines has no checked baggage or cargo option for dogs.
You cannot reserve your dog’s space on a Southwest Airlines flight in advance of the flight. Rather, dogs are granted permission to board on a first come, first served basis. You must arrive therefore at the airport early enough before you take off to reserve a space in person for your dog on that flight. Once the quota of dogs permitted on a given Southwest Airlines flight is reached, you must rebook your flight to fly with your dog.
Check out also: Delta Airlines Pet Travel Policy for Flying with a Dog
Flying with an Emotional Support Dog
If your dog is an emotional support dog and you have the proper ESA letter authorizing you to travel with an ESA, you will be allowed to bring your dog with you into the passenger cabin on most domestic and many international flights. Moreover, that is how to get a dog on a plane for free.
Flying with a dog in cabin as an ESA requires presenting your valid ESA letter and necessary additional documentation to every airline you will be traveling, normally at least 48 hours prior to your departure time. Additional documentation may include the dog’s current health and vaccination records and a statement from you attesting that the dog is capable of behaving and staying calm on an airplane in mid-flight and that you take full responsibility for all your dog’s actions on the flight and in the airports before takeoff and after landing. Your emotional support dog must be restrained, either by a leash under your control or in an airline-approved portable pet carrier.