This article describes the rights you have under federal law if you are traveling with an emotional support or service animal. The requirements differ for each. Part 1 of this article applies only to service animals and Part 2 applies only to emotional support animals. If your situation precludes you from bringing your animal on board as a service animal or emotional support animal, you may still be able to bring the animal onboard as a pet, but airline requirements for pets vary, and you should consult the individual airline to determine the applicable requirements.
- Airlines may require you to provide up to 48 hours’ advance notice and check in one hour earlier than normal if you want to bring your emotional support animal in the cabin or bring any service animal on an 8+ hour flight.
- Your airline must provide a relief area for service animals at the airport.
- If you have a disability and are traveling with a service animal, you may request to sit in a bulkhead seat or in another seat.
- In order to guarantee seating accommodations, you should request them at least 24 hours before your flight’s departure time and check in at least one hour earlier than the general public.
- You may request to pre-board your flight with a service animal or if you have a disability and self-identify at the gate as needing additional time or assistance to board.
- Your airline must allow you to travel with your emotional support or service animal in the cabin (if you meet the applicable requirements).
- Airlines have no obligation to transport “certain unusual service animals,” such as snakes or rodents, in the cabin.
According to the Air Carrier Access Act (the “ACCA”), airlines may not discriminate against individuals with a disability.1In order to carry out the ACCA, the U.S. Department of Transportation (“DOT”) published part 382 of Title 14 in the Code of Federal Regulations (“C.F.R.”).2 These rules outline many of the rights airline passengers with disabilities have and how airlines must accommodate these rights. All U.S. airlines must comply with these rules, and foreign airlines must comply for flights to and from the U.S.3
Before Your Trip
If you plan to travel with an emotional support or service animal, you should check with your airline to determine whether you must provide advance notice and check in early. Airlines may require you to provide up to 48 hours’ advance notice and check in one hour earlier than the general public if you want to bring your emotional support animal in the cabin or bring any service animal on a flight scheduled to last more than eight hours.4
However, your airline must not require you to sign a waiver of liability for loss of, or injury to, your service animal.5
Part 1: Traveling with a Service Animal
At the Airport
According to the C.F.R., if you are traveling with a service animal, your airline must provide a relief area for your animal at any airport in which you depart, connect, or arrive on a flight operated by your airline.6 You may also request that the airline cooperate with the airport operator in escorting you and your service animal to the relief area.7
On the Plane
If you have a disability and are traveling with a service animal, you may request to sit in a bulkhead seat or in another seat.8 Your service animal may also accompany you at any other seat, unless the animal blocks the aisle or emergency exit area. If your seat cannot accommodate you and your service animal, the airline must offer you the opportunity to move to another seat with your service animal.9 In order to guarantee you will be able to receive these accommodations, you should request them at least 24 hours before your flight’s departure time and check in at least one hour earlier than the general public. If you do not do this, then the airline must still try to accommodate you reasonably, but it is not required to reassign another passenger’s seat for you.10 You may also request to pre-board your flight and the airline must accommodate this request.11
If you have a disability, your airline must allow you to travel with your service animal in the cabin. However, if you are traveling on a flight longer than 8 hours, your airline may require you to provide documentation that your animal won’t need to relieve itself, or that it can do so in a sanitary manner.12
Airlines are not required to transport all service animals and have no obligation to transport “certain unusual service animals,” such as snakes or rodents, in the cabin. Other service animals, such as miniature horses, may be denied transportation in the cabin if doing so is not possible or not practicable. If the airline decides not to allow you to travel with your service animal in the cabin with you, it must notify you of the reason and provide written documentation at the airport or within ten calendar days of the denial.13 Foreign airlines are “not required to carry any service animals other than dogs.”14
Part 2: Traveling with an Emotional Support Animal
If you are traveling with an emotional support animal, you must provide documentation signed and dated by a mental health professional within the last year that states: (1) you have a mental or emotional disability recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual – Fourth Edition, (2) you need the animal during the flight or at your destination, (3) your assessment is provided by a licensed mental health professional, and (4) the date, type, and jurisdiction of the mental health professional’s license.15
The federal regulations under the ACAA governing emotional support animals are not nearly as robust as those governing service animals. Thus, airlines have more freedom to adopt their own restrictions and requirements for emotional support animals, so be sure to check your airline’s policies for these animals.
Click here to visit the Department of Transportation’s website regarding traveling with service and emotional support animals.