Does American Airlines Require Paperwork for Emotional Service Animals?

ESA Pet Staff

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Air travel is more popular now than ever, thanks to the speed and convenience of getting from one place to another. American Airlines is one of the top airlines in the world, and they handle more than 200 million people on an annual basis. Of this large number, a decent amount has emotional service animals that they can’t live or travel without.

If you’re flying with American Airlines and want your emotional service animal (such as a support dog) to accompany you, here’s what you need to know about the American Airlines ESA Policy / American Airlines Pet Policy.

Dog travelling with an ESA letter in a pet kennel

American Airlines Rules

American Airlines only allows trained service animals, such as a psychiatric service dog, to fly in the cabin area with the passenger they accompany. Additionally, you’ll need to complete and submit a US Department of Transportation (DOT) Service Animal Air Transportation form before your trip. If you fly with a pet that isn’t an emotional support animal, it cannot be in the passenger area and must be transported as a pet. 

American Airlines rules are effective as of January 1, 2021, when many airlines updated their service animal policies. While they may sound fairly cut and dry, there’s a lot more you should know before flying with a pet or emotional service animal. Let’s go over what you should know about flying with your service animal and the steps necessary to make it happen.

Pet Fees When Flying With American Airlines

While American Airlines accept pets, it certainly isn’t free. There are fees for both carry-on pets and checked pets based on their size, breed, and age. While many pets are allowed to join their owners in the passenger cabin, there are restrictions on this policy. 

Let’s start by looking at American Airlines’ pet fees associated with checked pets that fly in the plane’s cargo section. A checked pet costs $200 per kennel and may travel within the U.S.A, Canada, Mexico, Central America, and South America. Other international destinations may allow pet travel, but you should always check with your specific destination country. 

According to the updated American Airlines ESA policy, a checked pet includes emotional support animals. Carry-on pets are much cheaper and only cost a pet travel fee of $125 per kennel. This also includes emotional support animals. 

American Airlines recently came out with an updated statement regarding checked pets traveling in the cargo section of the plane.” Due to increased flight changes, we’ve stopped checking pets for now. We accept checked pets at the ticket counter for active-duty US Military traveling on assignments; fees and applicable restrictions apply. Carry-on pets, service, and emotional support animals may fly in the cabin if they meet the requirements. If your pet is too large to fit in the cabin, please contact American Airlines Cargo.”

American Airlines ESA Standards

However, if you have an emotional service animal, your pet can fly in the cabin with you at no extra charge. Here are American Airlines’ ESA standards and what constitutes an emotional service animal. Only trained service animals meet the criteria required.

A service animal is defined as an animal that is trained to perform a task for the benefit of its owner. Benefits may include physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental concerns. 

These terms are restricted to trained service animals, however. Assistance animals in training, emotional support, and comfort animals can travel as pets, but not as an ESA.

What Do I Need to Know About ACAA’s and American Airlines ESA?

The ACAA is the Air Carrier Access Act and was put in place to prevent discrimination based on disability during air travel. However, the Department of Transportation (DOT) has decided to take a different route regarding emotional support animals as of January 11, 2021. 

According to the updated policy, emotional support animals are no longer considered ESAs. They aren’t protected by the same rules that emotional service animals are. Support animals can still travel in the cabin as pets, but not for free.

The law change came in response to numerous arguments and complaints by those who truly need service animals. The rule change has also helped legitimize the needs of those who truly do require the assistance of emotional support animals. 

There are thousands of people across the country that are terrified of flying in an airplane. Many people turn to emotional support animals for relief, and the rule change has helped legitimize their needs.  

What Types of Support Animals are Allowed in American Airlines Cabin?

According to the updated pet and service animal policy, only cats and dogs are allowed to fly in American Airlines cabins. This includes emotional service and support animals. 

In the past, rules were more lenient and included pigs and other species, but the updated policy limits cabin flying to just cats and dogs.

Are There Breed Restrictions on American Airlines? 

There are also breed restrictions on both cats and dogs regarding flying in the cabin area. While there are specific breed restrictions in place, one of the broader-sweeping restrictions is that snub-nosed dogs and cats are prohibited from being in the cabin. Snub-nosed dogs and cats are also known as short-nosed or brachycephalic and are not allowed in the cabin area on American Airlines airplanes. 

Here are some of the specific breed restrictions for both dogs and cats. The following dog breeds and cat breeds are typically not allowed to fly with American Airlines. 

Cat Breeds

  • Burmese 
  • Persian 
  • Himalayan 
  • Exotic Shorthair 

Dog Breeds

  • Affenpinscher 
  • American Staffordshire Terrier 
  • Boston Terrier 
  • Boxer 
  • Brussels Griffon 
  • All Breeds of Bulldogs 
  • Cane Corso 
  • Dogue de Bordeaux 
  • English Toy Spaniel 
  • Japanese Chin 

If you get into direct contact with an American Airlines representative, they may be able to make an exception for you, but it’s unlikely. 

American Airlines ESA Pet Carrier Requirements

Whether you have an emotional support animal, an emotional service animal, or just a pet, it’s important to know the pet carrier requirements that American Airlines has put in place. These apply to all dogs and cats traveling in the cargo compartment or in the main cabin that you keep in a kennel or pet carrier. 

Remember, American Airlines has stopped accepting checked pets. Therefore, this currently only applies to pets allowed in the plane’s main cabin. 

Allowances 

Here are the types and sizes of pet carriers that are allowed according to the pet policy of American Airlines. 

  • The kennel must be large enough for your pet to stand up, turn around, and lie down in a natural position. 
  • If your kennel is non-collapsible, it cannot be larger than 19″ x 13″ x 9.” The kennel must be able to fit underneath the seat in front of you. 
  • If you have a collapsible kennel, it must be water repellent material and feature nylon mesh or padding ventilation on at least two of its sides. You should be able to put the kennel underneath the seat in front of you without excessively collapsing the kennel. 

Restrictions

Any kennels and carriers that don’t meet the requirements will be rejected and not allowed on the plane as a carry-on. Because American Airlines has stopped accepting checked pets, you won’t be able to take your pet with you on your flight. 

You also aren’t allowed to bring more than three items on your flight. Your service dog or cat and kennel count as your carry-on, which means that you are only allowed one additional personal item. Pack and plan accordingly! 

American Airlines and most other airlines also have restrictions about your pet’s location during the flight. According to American Airlines ESA Policy and Pet Policy, your dog or cat must remain inside their kennel during the duration of the flight. You should keep the door closed and the kennel under the seat in front of you for the duration. 

Your pet and kennel should never be located in an exit row, block the aisles, use up a seat next to you, or be able to access your tray table or food. There won’t be any walks or potty breaks for your pet during the flight.

American Airlines Travel Guidelines for Emotional Service Animal

American Airlines Travel Guidelines for your Emotional Service Animal

While there are also restrictions for certified ESAs, they are more lenient. Depending on your condition, your emotional or physical service animal has to be by your side and ready to aid you. Their travel requirements are different from those of pets and emotional support animals. 

  • You have to keep your ESA on a leash and harness during the flight. 
  • If your dog or cat is less than four months old, they aren’t allowed to travel as an ESA under American Airlines ESA guidelines. They can travel in a kennel as a pet or support animal, not as an emotional service animals. 
  • Your trained service animal should be clean and behave properly during the flight. 
  • Your service animal should be able to sit comfortably at your feet, under your seat, or on your lap. If your dog or cat is too large to meet these requirements, they may be rejected as a service animal. 
  • You won’t get final approval for your service animal until you arrive at the gate and the American Airlines staff approves the size of your service animal. 
  • If your service animal is traveling in a kennel, the same requirements are in place as those for a pet or emotional support animal. 
  • You may not have more than two animals with you per flight. 

Here are some things that will get you and your service animal into hot water. 

  • Your ESA may not be seated in an exit row, so plan your tickets accordingly. 
  • Your ESA may not block or protrude into the aisle. 
  • Your ESA cannot sit in or occupy a seat. 
  • Your ESA cannot eat food or drink off your tray table, as this is a sanitary problem. 

If your service animal is too large to sit at your feet, under your seat, or in your lap, there are other options. You have the option of purchasing an additional ticket for them so that they can sit in the seat next to you. However, if your flight is full and this isn’t an option, you will have to rebook your flight, and there’s no guarantee that American Airlines will refund your ticket. 

Once American Airlines starts accepting checked pets, you also can check your pet in and allow them to fly in the cargo section of the plane. 

If your service animal, support animal, or pet is on the larger side, you will do well to plan and seek alternative transportation options for them. 

American Airlines Required Forms and Documents for ESAs

Now that you have a better idea about the rules and regulations for your furry traveling companion, let’s get into the forms and documents that you’ll need to fill out. Remember that since American Airlines doesn’t recognize emotional support animals as service animals, you don’t technically need these forms, but they’re still a good idea to have on hand. 

ESA Letter 

If you have an ESA, such as a service dog, because of a mental problem, the ESA letter is written by your medical health professional (see our screening process if you need help getting your ESA letter. It essentially acts as a prescription that requires an ESA for your condition. Remember, you only need this letter if you have an emotional service animal rather than an emotional support animal. 

Behavior Form 

A Behavior Form isn’t technically required, but it’s you attesting that your ESA won’t misbehave during the flight. This only applies to emotional service animals that are allowed to be out of their kennels during the flight. The behavior form states that your ESA won’t be aggressive towards anything or anyone and that they will have perfect manners during the flight. 

Health Form from Your Veterinarian 

If you’re travelling with an ESA, your pet will need a clean bill of health from their veterinarian within ten days of flying. Pets and emotional support animals don’t require this documentation, but it’s still a good form to have on hand if questions arise about your pet’s health. This form also includes your pet’s rabies vaccination form. 

Don’t Forget About Prepping Your ESA 

If you thought that flying was stressful before, try throwing in the added headache of an ESA or pet that doesn’t cooperate. Emotional service animals don’t struggle with this as much as other pets because they’re specially trained to listen to commands. However, all dogs and cats will benefit if you take some extra time to prep them for their upcoming flight. 

The biggest issue that people will have with their ESA or pet is if it’s a dog. Cats are small and quiet enough to fit into their kennel and rarely cause an issue. On the other hand, dogs can bark, growl, and disrupt your flight. 

Go Over Their Manners Training 

No matter how often your ESA has flown or how well-behaved they are, it’s a good idea to brush over their training with them. Barking, growling, or acting aggressively toward other passengers won’t be tolerated on a flight with American Airlines. Make sure that they can sit quietly and comfortably for the duration of your flight, or there may be consequences when you land. 

Make Sure They Can Hold It

Another huge concern is that your dog or cat doesn’t have a bowel movement or go potty during the flight. This presents a health and sanitation concern that American Airlines won’t look kindly upon. Make sure to take them potty beforehand and that they can hold it on your flight. 

Make Sure to Check International Laws if Necessary 

A final consideration for pet owners to consider when traveling abroad with their furry friends is that the country you’re traveling to allows ESAs. Not all countries look as kindly on ESAs as the United States and the other countries previously mentioned. 

The first issue that you’ll run into is that American Airlines typically doesn’t allow ESAs or other pets on transatlantic flights. Additionally, many countries have customs and quarantine policies for incoming animals. Here are some of the specific countries you should pay attention to and contact regarding your ESA. 

  • Auckland, New Zealand
  • Central and South America
  • London (Heathrow Airport), England
  • All other English destinations
  • Edinburgh, Scotland
  • Japan 

Regardless of where you travel abroad, you should request approval for your ESA several weeks in advance of your trip.

ESA Pet Staff