Tips for Flying with an Emotional Support Animal or a Psychiatric Service Dog

If you’re planning to fly this holiday season with your emotional support animal or a psychiatric service dog, there are a few things to know before arriving at the airport that will greatly reduce the stress involved when flying with your animal. Thanks to all of the fakers who would say or do anything to take their non-service animal on a plane, airlines have tightened their policies, and this is now written into regulatory law.


Regulations require that the airline will accommodate reasonable requests to fly with an Emotional Service Animal (ESA) or Psychiatric Service Dog (PSD), but the airline must be contacted at least 48 hours prior to the scheduled departure time and a detailed letter is offered on request. This letter must

* not be more than one year old
* be on the professional’s letterhead
* be from a mental health professional and must state all of the following:

1. That the passenger has a mental health-related disability that appears in the DSM-IV. Note it is not just a mental illness diagnosis, but a mental illness which substantially limits one or more major life activities. Airlines are not permitted to require the documentation to specify the type of mental health disability or the specific diagnosis, but the letter must state that the diagnosis appears in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition.
2. That the presence of the animal is necessary to the passenger’s health or treatment during the flight and/or at the destination.
3. That the individual writing the letter is a licensed mental health professional and that the passenger is under his or her care. The individual writing the letter should clearly indicate what type of mental health care professional they are (psychiatrist, psychologist, clinical social worker, et cetera).

Be sure the date, type of mental health doctor and the state of the mental health professional’s license be included in the letter. Some airlines may call to verify information, thus the 48-hour prior notice policy. The purpose of this provision is to prevent abuse by passengers that do not have a medical need for an emotional support animal and to ensure that passengers who have a legitimate need for emotional support animals are permitted to travel with their service animals on the aircraft. More information on this is available under the Air Carrier Access Act of 1986.


Certification and identification mean nothing because people can buy official looking certification and identification fro the internet and the airlines know it.  What matters is having the letter and giving them 48 hours advanced notice. Other things to consider bringing include a health certificate and vaccine records. It is also recommended that your dog is well trained before flying. This will ensure that your dog is kept safe at the airport and that you are more likely to get on the plane with your dog.


You can purchase your ticket on Expedia or any other service, but you must contact the airline and notify them about the ESA. You also qualify for pre-boarding because you have your dog with you. Pre-boarding will allow your dog to get settled in ahead of time. Inform the airline at the time you book your flight that you would like to pre-board, then inform the person operating the gate that you’d like to pre-board.

It is the Enforcement Office’s view that section 382.93 requires carriers to board passengers with disabilities who self-identify at the gate as needing to preboard for one of the listed reasons to board the plane before all other passengers, including first class passengers, elite-level passengers, members of the military and passengers with small children.

As the owner of an ESA or PSD, you have a few responsibilities. You must assist with the inspection process by controlling the service animal while the Security Officer conducts the inspection. You are required to maintain control of the animal in a manner that ensures the animal cannot harm the Security Officer.

At no time during the screening process will you be required to be separated from your service animal. Security officers have been trained not to communicate, distract, interact, play, feed, or pet service animals. The security officer should ask permission before touching your service animal or its belongings.

If you must leave the screening area with your ESA or PSD, you will be required to go through the screening process again once you return. To minimize ‘potty breaks’ and to prevent accidents once onboard, it’s advised that you withhold food and water for several hours before the flight.

According to Cornell University Law School, an airline is never required to accommodate certain unusual service animals (e.g., snakes, other reptiles, ferrets, rodents, and spiders) as service animals in the cabin. Unusual or exotic ESA or PSD may or may not be allowed, depending on whether the animal would be a disruption to other passengers or the crew.

For your convenience, a sample letter is provided below:

“(on professional’s office letterhead)


(Patient’s name) is currently under my professional care for treatment for a mental illness defined by the DSM-IV. His/her mental impairment substantially limits one or more major life activities. I have prescribed an emotional support animal as part of the treatment program developed for (patient’s first name). The presence of this emotional support animal is necessary for (patient’s first name)’s mental health.

I am licensed by the state of (state) to practice (medicine/psychiatry/therapy–choose applicable). My license number is (license number).

Please allow (patient’s full name) to be accompanied by his/her emotional support animal in the cabin of the aircraft, in accordance with the Air Carrier Access Act (49 U.S.C. 41705 and 14 C.F.R. 382).

(doctor’s name and title)”

Happy Holidays to you and your pets!



Elisa Taylor

Elisa's articles have helped save thousands of the shelter pets she writes about, along with animal welfare and cruelty case articles which are published on as well as her personal website at (National Cat Reporter). Elisa lives with her daughter and a multitude of cats (including one cat­-dog named Cujo). As a writing "addict" Elisa enjoys sharing interesting stories with other animal lovers.