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How to Fly With an Emotional Support Animal—Legitimately

Condé Nast Traveler logo Condé Nast Traveler 2/14/2018 Tyler Moss

a dog sitting on top of a car © Getty In mid-January, Delta announced it would be enforcing tighter restrictions on support animals, citing an “84 percent increase in reported animal incidents since 2016, including urination/defecation, biting, and even a widely reported attack by a 70-pound dog.” United soon joined Delta in cracking down, and American Airlines and JetBlue are expected to follow suit.

Why? In part, because more and more passengers are taking advantage of airlines’ lax rules to bestow phony “emotional support” titles on animals, helping them to skirt the stipulations and fees typically required of pets traveling the proper way (on average, $125). The surge of online companies selling unofficial service vests, collar tags, and fake certificates doesn’t help, either. And, as a result, the untrained animals you see in the news give a bad rap to those individuals who genuinely require an emotional support animal—such as those suffering from debilitating anxiety provoked by flying—since their authentic need is no longer easily distinguishable from the imposters.

For now, the Department of Transportation has no uniform standards for emotional support animals. So in the meantime, as airlines continue to tighten their individual requirements, here’s what you’ll need if you need to travel domestically with a support animal—legitimately:

Signed Medical or Mental Health Professional Document

This piece of documentation is the only one you’re required to obtain for all domestic air carriers. Delta, United, and American each provide a downloadable form to have completed by your medical doctor or mental health professional. Fields include proof of license, assurance that you have a psychological need for the animal, contact information, and a signature. JetBlue, Southwest, and Alaska ask for similar information submitted on an official letterhead.

Veterinary Certification of Animal’s Health

In general, you should carry a copy of your animal’s most recent vaccination records with you at all times when traveling, as a precaution. As of this writing, however, Delta is the only airline that formally calls for you to fill out a Veterinary Health Form (the United website says vaccination forms will be available soon, probably by March 1, when their new policies take effect.) The Delta documentation requires that your veterinarian provide their license and contact information, as well as the specific dates when your animal was given vaccinations for rabies and distemper.

Signed Confirmation of Training Form

Most air carriers have a somewhat amorphous policy that, in lieu of requiring physical documentation, suggests they will assess the animal’s behavior upon check-in to determine if your pet is well-trained enough to fly. This evaluation is vague and can vary not just from airline to airline, but from employee to employee. That said, Delta is now asking for a more concrete statement: a form that affirms your pet has been trained to behave in a public setting and takes direction upon command. (We’d like to see an emu roll over or play dead.) Though they don't ask for an actual certificate or the name of a licensed trainer, the form does push you as a passenger to take on more personal responsibility. As with the Veterinary Health Form, all signs indicate United will soon follow with a similar procedure.

You’ll need to submit all appropriate paperwork at least 48 hours before a flight through online upload, fax, or email (and everything must be dated no more than a year old). As always, your animal must fit under the seat, at your feet, or in your lap, and cannot block the aisle—nor can you book an exit row. Visit airline websites for specific restrictions on which animals are allowed (e.g. no emotional support ferrets on Alaska, JetBlue, or Delta).

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