ESAs: New Airline Rules and Papers for Domestic Travel

The ESA rules have changed, per airline. I often fly with Toby and he is an ESA. I do have strong feelings on the matter, as you’ll read in a moment. Individual airlines are cracking down on the documentation and liability surrounding ESAs. It is meant to weed out those who are simply trying to fly free with their pet. Below you’ll find the documentation and rules for the most common airlines. Note: Delta is updating its ESA rules again, effective July 10, 2018, and detailed below. Expect other airlines to follow suit. 

Soapbox/ Paying $250+ to have some internet doctor you’ve never met create a letter for you, based on your answers to a few questions, seems a bit like cheating. I went to my existing doctor, had a long talk about it all, and had her create the letter two years ago. Recently I asked her to complete the new forms. Please do it honestly and do not try to skirt the system by having a doctor you’ve never met fill out the forms or letters. In the end, you’ll end up paying more for that (over $250+ for the letter and the new airline-by-airline forms) than you would for pet fees on many airlines. An ESA is a privilege. It is not a way to get out of paying fees or getting your dog into places they are normally prohibited. It’s also hard to fake – most airlines now verify the license number of the listed mental health provider. /Soapbox

Let’s start by talking about documentation. While some airlines now request forms, others still require a letter, no more than one year old, from a licensed mental health professional. This document must clearly state that the passenger suffers from a recognized emotional disability. The health professional must state, in this document, that the passenger requires the use of an ESA for travel and that the passenger is under the care of the health professional signatory. Additionally, this document must clearly state the date and type of license the health professional holds and the state or jurisdiction in which it was issued. Southwest offers a great printable tip sheet, which applies to all airlines, to provide to your medical provider to help draft the letter.

I also carry with me, at all times, Toby’s rabies certificate and shot record. This is not always required but I believe that it’s wise to have this documentation available at a moment’s notice whenever traveling with an animal.

Most airlines are now banning certain animals from both regular in-cabin flight and as an ESA. Please don’t try to bring on your bat, sugar glider, monkey, rodent, insect, peacock, turkey, goat, calf, and other uncommon pets. Sadly, this often extends to ferrets, rabbits and hedgehogs. Please check the Flying with Animals or Pets section of your airline web site to learn exactly which pets are prohibited.

Finally, please make sure your pet is trained. Your pet must fit on your lap (as in a small dog or cat – not a german shepherd on your lap) or be able to lay quietly on the floor at your feet, and not in the aisle. Your pet may also remain in its carrier as long as the carrier fits under the seat in front of you (no overhead bins, please). Your pet may be denied boarding if they are aggressive, urinating in the gate area, or generally running wild. Your pet must also be on a leash. Whether you have documentation or not, airlines are within their rights to deny boarding to an untrained animal.

Airline ESA Requirements

Alaska: Prior to boarding, you must present current documentation to one of our customer service agents. It must not be more than one year old and it must be on letterhead from a mental health professional or medical doctor who is treating your mental health-related disability. The letter must state the following that you have a mental or emotional disability recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders - Fourth Edition (DSM IV); that you need the emotional support or psychiatric service animal as an accommodation for air travel and/or for activity at your destination; the letter must come from a licensed mental health professional, you must be under his/her professional care. the letter MUST contain the date, the mental health professional's or medical doctor's license, and the state or other jurisdiction in which it was issued. All of these specific criteria must be provided to accept your emotional support / psychiatric service animal for travel in the passenger cabin. Advance notice is strongly recommended to ensure all paperwork is in order. You should call Customer Service to learn how to submit your documentation. It is also recommended to carry your paperwork with you to the airport.
American: To travel with an emotional support or psychiatric service animal you must provide recent documentation (within 1 year) to Reservations at least 48 hours before your flight. As opposed to a letter, American provides a form for your mental health professional. Once the form is filled out, you can call Reservations for information on how to submit the documentation. Please have your confirmation number/record locator and flight numbers handy.
Delta: Delta now has forms that should be submitted at least 48 hours before your flight. You can download the forms on the Delta web site and, when complete, just upload the forms to your reservation. The form has three parts. The first sheet is to be filled out by your licensed mental health provider and serves to replace the formerly required letter. Next, your vet needs to fill out a section verifying that your pet's shots are up-to-date. These first two forms require the medical professionals (human and animal) to provide their license numbers and date the license was issued. Finally, there is a form that requires you, as the owner, to take responsibility. You are to sign the form, stating your pet is well trained and not aggressive. This form holds you liable if your dog injures another person or animal or severely misbehaves. As of July 10, 2018, Delta will only allow one ESA per person. Additionally, your ESA cannot be a "pit bull type" dog.
Frontier: A hard copy of a written statement, one per animal, current within one year, on letterhead from a mental health professional is required if you wish to travel with a therapeutic/emotional support animal. The statement must include the date and type of the mental health professional's license and the state or other jurisdiction in which it was issued; include documentation that the individual providing the written statement is a licensed mental health professional and that you are under their professional care; verify that you have a mental or emotional disability recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders—Fourth Edition (DSM IV); and include documentation that having your therapeutic/emotional support animal accompany you is necessary to your mental health, treatment and/or is needed to assist you during travel.
JetBlue: In order to travel with an emotional support/psychiatric service animal, you must provide current documentation (i.e., no older than one year from the date of the scheduled initial flight) on letterhead or prescription pad from a licensed mental health professional or physician stating the following:the customer traveling has a mental health-related disability or diagnosed mental health condition; the animal accompanying the customer is necessary to the customer's mental health or treatment; the animal accompanying the customer is necessary to the customer's mental health or treatment; the number and type of animal(s); the individual providing the assessment of the customer is a licensed mental health professional and the customer is under his or her professional care and treatment or a physician specifically treating the mental health disorder; the physician or mental health professional's license number OR the type of license, the issue date and the state or other jurisdiction in which it was issued. Required documentation for Emotional Support/Psychiatric Service Animals must always accompany the animal when traveling and is to be presented upon request to JetBlue personnel for review. JetBlue accepts documentation as a photo of a letter or a pdf file. The behavior of the animal will be assessed at the airport to ensure safety requirements are met before approving the animal for travel.  
Southwest: In order for a Customer to travel with an emotional support animal, the Customer must provide to a Southwest Airlines Employee current documentation (not more than one year old) on letterhead from a mental health professional or medical doctor who is treating the Customer's mental health-related disability stating the passenger has a mental or emotional disability recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – Fourth Edition (DSM IV); the passenger needs the emotional support or psychiatric service animal as an accommodation for air travel and/or for activity at the passenger's destination; the individual providing the assessment is a licensed mental health professional or medical doctor, and that the passenger is under his or her professional care AND the date and type of mental health professional's or medical doctor's license and the state or other jurisdiction in which it was issued. When you book your ticket on Southwest, you can add a disability and that you will be flying with an animal in-cabin. Please present the documentation at the airport.
United: United now requires forms to be submitted at least 48 hours before your flight. Once you fill out the forms, email them to uaaeromed@united.com and include your flight numbers and confirmation number/record locator. Similar to Delta, the forms require information and signature/license from your mental health professional, your veterinarian, and a statement of responsibility/liability from you regarding your animal's training and behavior

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