Flying with your pet or service animal
UPDATED August 14. 2019
UPDATE: The US Department of Transportation has told airlines that they cannot ban specific breeds from flying as service animals or emotional support animals (ESA’s). This follows individual airlines efforts to ban Pit Bull type breeds from the cabin of the plane. While this may sound like a victory for pet parents who want to fly with them, the ruling allows for the airlines to refuse boarding to any animal that they deem as a threat based on the airline’s observations, examination or interaction with the pet. For more airline rules about flying with your pet- the potential costs involved- and rules specific to each airline (the major carriers out of Tampa International Airport)- continue reading the original article below.
The summer travel season is here, and our veterinarians at Tampa Vet have been getting lots of questions- and seeing lots of appointments for guests who will be traveling by air with their pets. The question we hear most often is “what does my pet need in order to fly?” That’s a tough question to answer since each airline has their own set of rules- and the full answer may depend on your destination. It gets more complicated when we have to factor in if the pet is going in the cabin with you- or if they’re going in the belly of the plane. We’ll do our best to answer all of this- and cover all of the bases for the major airlines flying out of Tampa.
I have covered the topic of Emotional Support Animals (ESA’s) in this blog previously- but have realized that almost every air carrier has established their own rules- and most of them require the submittal of forms prior to travel. On this page, we will try to include links to all of the forms you may need if you are traveling with an Emotional Support Animal, Service Animal or your pet.
Before we get to the airlines, we should clear up how the airlines classify our furry or feathered friends. An Emotional Support Animal or Psychiatric Service Animal is defined by the airlines as follows:
“Emotional support animals assist those with emotional, psychiatric, cognitive or psychological disabilities.” Each airline’s wording may be a little different, but in essence an ESA is not considered a pet- regardless of how the traveler views their pet. If you have an ESA, most airlines will require that you notify them in advance of travel of your intention to bring an ESA with you on board. You will likely need several forms- which will vary from airline to airline. All of those forms can be found below.
Trained Service Animals are different from ESA’s. Trained Service Animals are animals that receive training to assist those with visual impairment, deafness or hard of hearing, diabetes, seizures, mobility limitations or other needs. Like ESA’s, the airlines do not consider these animals to be pets. You may argue against their thoughts, but you can’t. Dogs, cats and in limited circumstances, miniature horses can be considered to be a trained service animal. There are no exceptions.
Finally, we have what airlines consider pets- usually a dog or a cat (which are allowed on all airlines)- but some allow birds, guinea pigs, rabbits and hamsters. In order for you to travel with your pet- the airline will charge you a fee. Fees range from $75 to $150 depending on the airline.
If you’re traveling with an ESA, and need your veterinary forms filled out- please print them out and bring them to us to your pet’s appointment.
Airline Requirements and Links to Required Forms
If you are traveling with an Emotional Support Animal (ESA), you will be required to fill out certain forms in order to travel with your pet. Those forms can be found here.
The airline also “Strongly Recommends” that your pet receive a health certificate issued no more than 10 days prior to travel. We do not like this language- as it may leave room for interpretation. To avoid any miscommunication or conflict when at the airport, we suggest getting a health certificate from your veterinarian prior to travel.
For more information on traveling with an ESA on Alaska Airlines, visit their website.
If you are traveling with a trained service animal, you are not required to provide documentation. Per the Alaska Airlines website: “Documentation is not required when traveling with a trained service animal. However, our employees are trained to ask certain questions to determine the classification applicable to your animal.”
If you are planning travel with your pet- who is NOT an ESA or service animal in the cabin of the plane- a health certificate is NOT required. If they are too large to travel in the cabin, they can go in the cargo hold on certain flights. A health certificate must be presented, and completed no more than 10 days of travel. The cost for carriage is $100 for both cargo and in the cabin is $100 each way.
Alaska Airlines does not permit brachycephalic dogs or cats in cargo. These are typically known as ‘short-nosed’ breeds. These breeds include:
American Pit Bull, American Staffordshire Terrier, Boston Terrier, Boxer, Brussels Griffon, Bull Mastiff, Bulldog, Bull Terrier, Chow Chow, Dutch Pug, English Bulldog, English Toy Spaniel, French Bulldog, Japanese Boxer, Japanese Pug, Japanese Spaniel, Pekingese, Pug, Shih Tzu, Staffordshire Bull Terrier
Burmese, Exotic Shorthair, Himalayan, Persian
Allegiant Airlines (Flies out of St. Petersburg, Not Tampa)
Traveling with an ESA on Allegiant Airlines requires you to complete three forms prior to travel, and present the forms at least 45 minutes prior to the scheduled departure of your flight. Allegiant will only accept dogs, cats or miniature horses- no other species will be allowed or considered. The forms can be found here:
Please note- Pit Bulls or Pit-Bull type breeds cannot or will not be accommodated on Allegiant Airlines.
If you are traveling with a Trained Service Animal, you will be required to fill out forms prior to arriving at the airport. These forms for Trained Service Animals may be found here:
Pets (non ESA or Service Animals) can travel in the cabin if they meet Allegiant’s requirements. The fee is $100 per segment. A health certificate is not required for pets. For all of Allegiant’s pet policies, please visit their website. https://www.allegiantair.com/traveling-with-pets
Allegiant Airlines does not transport pets in the cargo hold.
American Airlines requires special forms to be submitted for their review for Emotional Support/Psychiatric Service Animals. These forms must be completed and submitted to the airline at least 48 hours prior to your flight. The forms can be found on their website here.
Trained service animals do not require advance forms, however per AA.com states the following: “As the requirements for transporting each type of animal differ, our employees are trained to ask certain questions to determine the classification applicable to your animal”
For all details on traveling with a Trained Service animal, or Emotional Support animal on American airlines, visit their website here. https://www.aa.com/i18n/travel-info/special-assistance/service-animals.jsp
For pets (not ESA’s or Trained service Animals) pets are allowed in the main cabin for a fee of $125. Pets are considered a ‘carry-on’ and you will be limited to one personal item along with your pet. The pet must remain in its kennel for the boarding process and the duration of the flight. The kennel’s maximum size is dependent on the aircraft- so check with the airline before travel.
American also allows pets to travel as cargo, for a fee of $200. A health certificate is required and no brachycephalic breeds of dogs or cats are allowed. Their list is similar to Alaska Airlines (above). The health certificate must be issued by a licensed veterinarian within 10 days prior to travel. There is a limit to the number of pets that can be accommodated in cargo, and it is on a first-come, first served basis- so contact the airline well in advance to notify them of your intentions of bringing a pet to be carried in the cargo hold.
If your pet is traveling in cargo on American, and you have a connecting flight- pets can only connect through the following cities:
Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW)
Los Angeles (LAX)
New York Kennedy (JFK)
New York Laguardia (LGA)
Washington Reagan (DCA)
For all of American’s policies on traveling with pets- please visit their website.
Like most of the other airlines included in this blog, Delta has specific pre-flight requirements for Emotional Support Animals. They specifically define an Emotional Support/Psychiatric Service Animal as follows:
Emotional support animals assist those with emotional, psychiatric, cognitive or psychological disabilities.
In order to travel with an ESA on Delta, travelers must download and fill out/return the required Emotional Support Animal documentation which can be found here:
The forms must be signed by you, a mental health professional and a licensed veterinarian. Be sure to allow yourself plenty of time to get these forms filled out and submitted to Delta no later than 48 hours prior to departure.
Trained Service Animals are defined by Delta as “animals that receive training to assist those with visual impairment, deafness or hard of hearing, diabetes, seizures, mobility limitations or other needs.” Delta requests that passengers traveling with Trained Service Animals travel with the animal’s Veterinary Health Form or vaccine history on their person. Although this is not a requirement, it will likely be a smoother travel experience if you have these documents filled out and with you while traveling.
If you’re flying Delta with a pet, they are welcome in the cabin and in cargo to certain destinations. In the main cabin, Delta accepts dogs, cats and household birds. The fee to carry on a pet is $125, and counts towards one of your carry on bags. For more information on Delta’s in-cabin policies, see their website. Delta does limit the number of pets on board each flight- so contact them well in advance to ensure your pet has a spot on the plane.
Cargo on Delta is a little different. Pets going cargo must have a separate booking via www.deltacargo.com. There is no guarantee that your pet will have the same flight itinerary as yours, and booking cannot be done until 14 days prior to travel. You must drop off and pick up your pet at Delta Cargo- which is in a different area from the passenger check in area. Fees will vary depending on the origin of the flight and destination. Doing some spot checking, Delta’s cargo fees are much higher than other airlines.
Frontier also requires travelers with ESA’s to fill out and submit forms in advance of travel- however Frontier does NOT require a form from a veterinarian. The forms for an ESA traveling on Frontier can be found here:
For all other policies regarding ESA’s traveling on Frontier, review their requirements here:
Frontier requests passengers traveling with Trained Service Animals to notify the airline in advance of their desire to do so. The do not require any special paperwork, but do reserve the right to deny boarding to any animal they deem unfit based on disruptive behavior. To understand Frontier’s Trained Service Animal policies, check out their website
Pets are welcomed onboard Frontier in the cabin for a pet fee of $75 each way. Frontier permits dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters or small, household birds. No reptiles or arachnids are allowed. All of their policies can be found here. https://www.flyfrontier.com/travel/travel-info/family-pets/
JetBlue plainly states that the policies and requirements are different for ESA’s than they are for pets. They also require notification in advance of travel and that specific veterinary and healthcare forms be filled out for verification. Jet Blue’s documents are here.
JetBlue strictly prohibits the following animals as ESA’s or Service Animals:
- Animals improperly cleaned and/or with a foul odor
- Animals who appear to be in poor health
- Animals who display aggression
- Animals with tusks
- Sugar gliders
Trained Service Animals seems to be a little bit of a gray area for JetBlue. Their website does not state that additional documentation is required, but it does state that “JetBlue may request documentation of your animal’s status”. I’m not sure what that means, so be prepared with your pet’s vaccination records, or other documents that show your pet has been trained to assist you with your specialized needs.
Pets are welcome on JetBlue as long as the pet and it’s carrier weigh less than 20 pounds combined- and meet their dimension requirements. It’s $125 to bring your pet on board, and space is limited on each flight. For all of their policies go here: https://www.jetblue.com/traveling-together/traveling-with-pets
JetBlue does not offer an option for your pet to travel in Cargo.
Southwest breaks the mold in some ways when it comes to ESA’s. They do not provide forms on their website like many of the other carriers- but they do list a list of documents you will be required to provide from a mental health professional.
From the Southwest website: The Customer must provide to a Southwest Airlines Employee documentation (not more than one year old) on letterhead from a licensed mental health professional or medical doctor who is treating the Customer’s mental health-related disability. The letter must state all four items below:
1. The Passenger has a mental or emotional disability recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
2. The Passenger needs the emotional support animal as an accommodation for air travel and/or for activity at the Passenger’s destination
3. The individual providing the assessment is a licensed mental health professional or medical doctor, and the Passenger is under his or her professional care
4. The date and type of the mental health professional’s or medical doctor’s license and the state or other jurisdiction in which it was issued
It is the traveler’s responsibility to request and receive this from their licensed health professional. For Southwest’s entire ESA policy- you can read it here.
If you’re traveling with a Trained Service animal, no forms are required. Southwest’s entire service animal policy can be found here.
Pets are allowed on Southwest, but limited to dogs and cats- for a $95 fee each way. Each flight is limited to a total number of 6 pets, so secure your pet’s spot on board as early as possible. Pets cannot fly cargo on Southwest. For all of Southwest’s pet policy, go to their website.
Like the other major carriers, United also requires a sundry of forms to be downloaded, filled out and returned to them no later than 48 hours prior to departure for ESA’s. They are similar to the other airline’s forms and can be downloaded here: https://www.united.com/web/format/support-animal-form.html?POS=US
One unique item I spotted in their forms is that the ESA can have a maximum weight of 65 pounds. Keep this in mind if your ESA is large.
Trained Service Animals require no additional paperwork to travel on United, but there are a number of requirements which must be adhered to. For all of United policies, please refer to their website. https://www.united.com/ual/en/us/fly/travel/special-needs/disabilities/assistance-animals.html
Pets are welcome in the cabin on United, and you can take your dog, cat, rabbit and household birds (Sorry, cockatoos are not accommodated). No documentation is required for household pets, but a $125 service charge applies. For their list of requirements for in-cabin pets, review their website here. https://www.united.com/ual/en/us/fly/travel/animals/in-cabin.html
United does allow for pets to travel to certain destinations in cargo, and they have partnered with PetSafe to handle these arrangements. Like Delta, the fares for cargo are significantly higher than some airlines and have different requirements. Fees will vary based on origin and destination- and may not be available in all destinations year round due to extreme heat or cold at the destination or layover airport. To learn more about United’s cargo procedures- go here. https://www.united.com/ual/en/us/fly/travel/animals/petsafe.html
There’s lots of other rules out there, too- but way too much to cover in just one blog. If you’re traveling with your pet, do your research on each airline’s policies. There may be other restrictions based on your destination, as each state may have different entry requirements. Hawaii for instance may require a quarantine period for dogs and cats. We’ll do our best to keep this blog updated as the rules are constantly changing. In the meantime, I wish you and your pets the best of health and safe travels.