ESA Letter for Airlines

The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) allows passengers on all domestic US flights to bring an emotional support animal on board with them, even if that animal would otherwise not be allowed to board or would be required to fly in a carrier in the cargo or luggage compartment of the plane.

Moreover, a passenger traveling with an emotional support animal does not have to pay any pet fee or other fee related to the animal’s travel like a passenger would to travel with an ordinary pet. In order for your emotional support animal to travel with you on a plane, however, you must meet certain requirements, foremost among these to present a valid emotional support animal letter.


Sample of Letter for Emotional Support Animal

Sample of ESA Letter

General Airline Policies on Emotional Support Animals

Within the confines of the ADA and ACAA, airlines do have some leeway to create policies that specify additional requirements and restrictions on travel with an emotional support animal on their flights.


Most airlines require you to provide your ESA letter and any additional required paperwork at least 48 hours before your first flight takes off.

Most airlines also restrict emotional support animals to domestic flights and flights lasting shorter than eight hours. That means, even with a valid ESA letter, you may not be able to bring your emotional support animal on board with you if you are flying internationally or on a flight eight hours or longer. That said, some airlines do allow ESAs on certain international flights or on flights lasting longer than eight hours with proper authorization.

Note that most airlines treat flights between the mainland of the US and Hawaii, Alaska, the American Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico like international flights rather than domestic flights when it comes to ESA and pet travel rules.

Some airlines may outright refuse ESAs on board these flights while others may simply require additional documentation to allow the ESA to board. Be aware as well that, while traveling within the US you are exempted from any pet travel fees for flying with your ESA, certain international destinations might charge a fee to allow the animal to enter, whether an ESA or not. In those cases, you will be required to pay that fee for your ESA to travel to such destinations.

Under most circumstances, airlines cannot prohibit an ESA from its flights purely because of the animal’s weight or size and is legally obliged to make an accommodation. An airline may, however, restrict ESAs to only certain species or even certain breeds, if that species or breed is believed to pose a health or safety risk to others or if air travel is believed to pose a health or safety risk to the animal, such as may be the case with brachyocephalic, or snub-nosed, dog and cat breeds. Some of the animal species often excluded from flights, whether as ESAs or pets, include:


  • rodents
  • amphibians
  • snakes
  • reptiles
  • ferrets
  • goats
  • spiders
  • insects
  • hedgehogs
  • sugar gliders
  • non-household birds (including birds of prey, game birds, waterfowl and farm poultry
  • any animals with hooves, horns or tusks

Any animal that is smelly or dirty can also be refused permission to board, even with all other paperwork and requirements in order.


Most airlines require all animals traveling in the passenger cabin, including ESAs, be placed in an approved pet carrier during takeoff and landing, taxiing between the airport and runway and periods of turbulence. Most airlines further require ESAs, and all animals, to remain in their carrier throughout the flight unless they are leashed and can fit either on the floor in front of the passenger’s feet or in the passenger’s lap without sticking out into the aisle or intruding on neighboring seating space. All airlines prohibit animals, including ESAs, from eating off the airplane dining trays.


Whether or not an airline makes you sign a behavior or training testament before letting your ESA board a plane with you, all airlines are permitted to refuse an animal passage if it exhibits aggressive, loud or disruptive behavior or poses a direct threat to other passengers, other animals or airline or airport staff or property.

Note that the ESA must actually exhibit aggressive, loud or disruptive behavior for an airline to legitimate refuse it passage.

An airline worker cannot refuse an ESA passage simply because it is of a certain breed or because the worker suspects the animal may pose a problem. Likewise, if a similar animal caused problems on one of the airline’s flights before, the airline can not refuse your fully qualified and authorized ESA from boarding the plane.

⚠ What Restrictions Airlines Cannot Impose ⚠

An airline also cannot require that an ESA wear any particular form of identifying clothing, although you might decide it is worth your while to clothe your ESA in an identifying vest or harness for less hassle by airline staff and other passengers.

To be sure your ESA will be allowed with you on all flights on your itinerary, call each airline on that itinerary well-enough ahead of time to find out and make any necessary preparations. At this time, you can also inquire if the airline has any special or new policies applicable to your situations that you should be aware of, such as extra documentation it may require.

Specific Airline Policies on Emotional Support Animals

Lastly, as you proceed with your plans to travel with your ESA, remember that emotional support animals are not granted the same rights as service animals, and that includes psychiatric service animals. Do not make the error of confusing permissions granted to psychiatric service animals while traveling abroad with those granted to emotional support animals. A therapy animal is distinct from all of these and has its own set of rights that, in cases, are either more or less extensive than those of emotional support animals. Therefore, before traveling, be sure you know the ESA policies of the airlines you will be traveling and make sure your animal is properly authorized as an emotional support animal.


As of April 1, 2019, the American Airlines emotional support animal policy came into effect, allowing ESAs on American Airlines flights. However, American Airlines restricts ESAs to dogs or cats only. American Airlines requires additional documentation as well. In addition to an ESA letter, American Airlines has a Behavior Guidelines form it requires all passengers traveling with an ESA to sign. It affirms the animal’s behavioral fitness to fly and acknowledges the owner’s responsibility for all the animal’s actions while traveling.

The third form American Airlines requires is an Animal Sanitation During 8+ Hours Form. This form is only required for flights lasting longer than eight hours, on which American Airlines does allow qualifying ESA to travel.

To be allowed to travel in the passenger cabin with you, the ESA must be able to fit at your feet, under the seat in front of your or in your lap without imposing on neighboring seats or the aisle. If your ESA does not fit in one of these locations, you may need to rebook a flight with more open seating, purchase a ticket for your ESA or check in your animal as a pet. They don’t allow any kind of animals in an exit row.

AA may request Veterinary health form

Read more on American Airlines website

The United Airlines emotional support animal policy allows an emotional support animal to travel in cabin with a passenger if the animal is small enough to sit beneath the passenger’s seat without sticking out into the aisle or obstructing neighboring seating or foot space. If you have a smaller animal and wish to bring a kennel on board in which to carry your ESA, you are welcome to do so. ESAs too large to fit in the approved space may be required to be checked in UA’s PetSafe temperature-controlled pet cargo. Recently United Airlines tightened its policy and now ESA must be at least 4 months old and be vaccinated. 

At least 48 hours prior to your first departure, you must submit your ESA letter to the United Airlines Accessibility Desk. UA may verify your credentials with your mental health professional before approving your ESA for travel.

Virgin America no longer exists, as it has merged with Alaska Airlines. Virgin Australia and Virgin Atlantic, however, both fly actively, including between some US cities.

Under the Virgin Airlines ESA policy, which applies to flights on both Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia, you must make a special request to have an emotional support animal allowed on board with you. The flight must be between two US cities, and the animal cannot be a Pekingese, Pug or other snub-nosed dog or cat breed or any breed of dog listed in dangerous animal legislation.

Virgin will also refuse all requests for species listed above under general airline policies as commonly prohibited as ESAs. Depending on the animal’s size, you may be required to keep it in a carrier. Generally, the animal must fit within the “footprint” of your seating area and remain within it for the duration of the flight.

The documentation required to bring an ESA on board a Virgin Atlantic or Virgin Australia flight are:

  • ESA letter
  • Veterinary Health Certificate – affirming your animal’s vaccinations are up to date and that it has no health issues that could impact its fitness to fly
  • Training Testimonial – affirming your animal can behave in public and responds appropriately to basic obedience commands

To find out about ESA policies while flying on Virgin America Airlines, review the Alaska Airlines ESA policies, which also apply to Virgin American flights.

In addition to a valid ESA letter, the Delta emotional support animal policy requires passengers flying with an ESA to complete a Veterinary Health Form along with a Certificate of Health that shows the most recent dates of all applicable vaccinations, including DRB and rabies.

You must also sign a testament to your animal’s behavior, affirming the animal is trained enough to act right in public and can behave in the confined, crowded and sometimes turbulent space of an airplane. To be authorized for travel on Delta flights, an ESA must be at least four months old. As of February 1, 2019, no animal is allowed to fly as an ESA on Delta flights lasting longer than eight hours.

Delta Airlines requires all ESAs be kept in a soft or hard shelled kennel that is leak proof, ventilated on two sides, has a solid top and contain empty food and water dishes and a blanket, towel or other absorbent material. The kennel must also be able to fit under the seat.

The kennel needs to be spacious enough to be humane to the animal, its head and ears not touching the top. While in the kennel, the animal should be able to stand up straight, lie down and turn completely around. Delta prohibits certain carriers from being used on its flights, including those made of cardboard, wicker, wire mesh, welded mesh or any collapsible material.

As of September 17, 2018, Southwest Airlines allows emotional support dogs and cats on board its flights, as long as you present a proper ESA letter. Unlike airlines requiring you produce all necessary documents at least 48 hours ahead of your travel time, Southwest Airlines lets you bring your documents with you to the airport and present them there at the Ticket Counter or to the Gate Agent. Your ESA may be required to stay in a kennel or carrier while in the airport terminal.

On board any Southwest flight, an ESA must either be leashed at all times or kept in a carrier that can be stowed underneath the seat. While Southwest Airlines has a policy prohibiting more than six pet carriers on any given flight, emotional support animals do not count toward that limit.

Alaska Airlines, which now also includes the recently-merged Virgin America, allows ESAs on board all flights allowing for space restrictions and possible carrier requirements. Allowed ESA species on Alaska Airlines include dogs, cats, household birds and rabbits. Animals must be a minimum of eight weeks old and completely weaned to be allowed to fly.

When flying with an ESA on Alaska Airlines (including Virgin America flights) you must complete the following forms that the airline provides:

  • Animal Health Advisory Form – acknowledging your awareness of the animal’s health and that it meets airline requirements
  • Confirmation of Liability Form – acknowledging that you take complete responsibility for all the actions as well as the safety, care and well-being of your animal while traveling
  • Mental Health Professional Form – the equivalent of an ESA letter verifying you have a qualifying disability and ESA recommendation

As of October 15, 2019, Spirit Airlines requires not only 48 hours notice before traveling with an ESA on its flights, but it requires two additional forms of documentation besides your ESA letter. To fly with an ESA on Spirit Airlines also requires:

  • A veterinarian’s certification that your ESA is up to date on all its vaccinations and has no health issues that could affect its safety or health while flying
  • A statement signed by you, the passenger and ESA owner, that you take complete responsibility for the conduct, safety and well-being of your animal, including its interactions with other people and animals

Of its 48-hour minimum required notice, Spirit Airlines has said that it will make every effort to accommodate those making their request after the 48-hour window has closed, provided all the other documentation and requirements are met. If you give Spirit Airlines less than 48 hours notice before you try to fly with your ESA on one of its flights, however, you cannot expect your ESA to be guaranteed to board that flight.


Considered one of the most animal-friendly airlines, JetBlue accepts dogs, cats, household birds, rabbits and other animals not previously listed as banned from most airlines. Dirty or stinky animals will also be refused passage on JetBlue flights regardless of species.

In addition to producing a valid ESA letter at least 48 hours before departure, you may also need to bring a completed Veterinary Health Form, a copy of your ESA’s current vaccination record, and/or an animal behavior testament signed by your animal’s trainer or veterinarian, depending on the flight.

Note that no JetBlue planes have pressurized cargo holds, so an animal that does not qualify to board a flight as an ESA in the passenger cabin with you will not be able to fly JetBlue as a checked-in pet. Unlike many other airlines, JetBlue does not prohibit snub-nosed dogs or cats from flying on its planes. However, it is recommended, if you are planning on flying with such an animal as your ESA, that you contact the airline in advance of your flight to make it aware of the breed’s planned presence on the flight.

As of November 1, 2018, Frontier Airlines allows emotional support dogs and cats on its flight. To be approved to board a Frontier Airlines flight with your ESA, you need to produce three documents, as follows:

  • A valid ESA letter
  • An animal health certificate
  • Animal’s current vaccination records

These requirements include a rabies certificate required for any emotional support dog and possible additional documentation for certain US states. Your ESA must be on a leash or in a carrier at all times in the airport and on flights. The carrier must be able to fit under your seat.


Flair Airlines allows ESAs to fly at no extra charge on all its flights within and between the US and Canada. In addition to an ESA letter, you may need to produce a veterinary health form, depending on the flight.

Porter Airlines allows emotional support dogs on its flights. It does not allow cats or any other animals to travel as ESAs. The Porter Airlines ESA policy includes size and weight restrictions, so check with the airline’s customer service team if you have any questions about your emotional support dog’s eligibility to fly.


What an ESA Letter for Airlines Contains

To be valid for boarding a domestic US flight (and some international flights, airline depending) with an emotional support animal, you must present a letter written by a licensed physician, therapist, social worker or other mental health practitioner. Further, that person must be licensed to practice in your state of residence. The letter he or she writes must be printed on his or her official letterhead. It must be dated within one year of your intended travel dates and it must be signed with the practitioner’s name, title, state of licensure and license number. The content of the letter must state:

That this disability or disorder is impeding your capacity to engage in certain necessary functions of everyday life like travel and tasks required for living on your own

That the practitioner is treating you for a mental or emotional disability or disorder that can be found in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders)

That an emotional support animal can help alleviate some of the symptoms of your disability or disorder so that you can engage in those activities after all

Note that the letter does not need to state the name or nature of your diagnosis, nor should it. It is not legal, either, for the airline to ask you about your diagnosis.

If it is not known or visibly obvious and apparent to an airport or airline worker that you meet the qualifications for an ESA despite a valid letter, that worker may not ask you for further clarification, but he or she may contact the practitioner to request certain verification or additional information. Even your practitioner, however, cannot disclose your diagnosis to anyone else. He or she can only confirm that you have one that qualifies for an ESA and that an ESA is a recommended part of your treatment.

What if an ESA if Refused?

If your animal is not allowed to board the plane with you as an ESA because you were unable to meet certain requirements or meet them in a suitably timely manner, your animal may still be allowed to board, whether in the passenger or cargo area, as a pet. If your ESA is only allowed passage as a pet, however, you will have to pay whatever pet travel fee that airline charges.

If, however, your ESA is refused permission to board and you believe there is no good reason for the refusal, there are several actions you can choose to take. You can speak with the Complaints Resolution Officer (CRO) of the particular airline and see if you can work out a solution, you can file a complaint with the Department of Transport (DOT) or you can hire a lawyer and either try to compel the airline to change its mind or sue the airline in court.

ESAs vs Other Types of Assistance Animals

Lastly, as you proceed with your plans to travel with your ESA, remember that emotional support animals are not granted the same rights as service animals, and that includes psychiatric service animals. Do not make the error of confusing permissions granted to psychiatric service animals while traveling abroad with those granted to emotional support animals. A therapy animal is distinct from all of these and has its own set of rights that, in cases, are either more or less extensive than those of emotional support animals. Therefore, before traveling, be sure you know the ESA policies of the airlines you will be traveling and make sure your animal is properly authorized as an emotional support animal.