Traveling With Your ESA This Holiday Season

Dog on plane
As of January 2021, only trained service animals are permitted in the cabin on flights for most airlines.

Billy Hustace/Getty Images

With the holidays fast approaching, many people are getting ready to travel to visit family and friends. If you’re planning to bring your furry companion back home with you this holiday season, there are a few things you’ll want to consider. 

Most notably, several travel restrictions have gone into place within the last year regarding Emotional Support Animals, meaning that what worked for you last year might no longer be the case.

Many airlines, bus lines, and train lines no longer allow ESAs to travel without charge and without a carrier. In addition, many organizations have different rules for ESAs and Psychiatric Service Dogs. While both ESAs and PSDs provide assistance to individuals with disabilities, PSDs are dogs that have undergone training to perform specific tasks to assist their owner, such as putting a paw on the owner’s chest to ease anxiety or reminding them to take medication.

The best way to prepare for traveling with your pet this holiday season is to plan ahead. Regardless of whether your pet has a certification, many transportation providers have strict, specific regulations, so you could find yourself in a predicament if you do not thoroughly do your research in advance.

What You Need to Know About Airlines' ESA Restrictions

In early 2021, the Department of Transportation (DOT) revised its rules regarding air travel with ESAs. These animals are no longer considered service animals under the Air Carrier Access Act, so it is up to airlines whether they allow them to fly in the airplane cabin. 

Shortly after the Department of Transportation announcement, most major domestic airlines, including Alaska, American, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, United, Southwest, and Spirit, announced they would no longer accept ESAs without charge and without a carrier. ESAs are still allowed on several international airlines.

All airlines remain required to accept animals that are “trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability,” according to the DOT. This includes PSDs.

While ESAs are banned from flying without charge on several airlines, there are ways to fly with your pet for a fee, as long as they meet the airline’s requirements. Many airlines allow small animals to fly as “carry-ons” for a fee; however there is often a limit on how many pets can fly per flight. In addition, certain airlines allow large pets to fly as cargo.

What You Should Know About Car Travel With Your ESA

When traveling by car with an ESA, or any pet, it is important to plan out seating arrangements and pitstops. 

You might want to consider transporting your pet safely with a harness or crate, especially since some states require it by law, including Minnesota, Maine, and several other states in the Northeast. Other states have laws prohibiting dogs from front seats and truck beds. Research the laws in the states along your route to ensure you’re obeying the appropriate regulations. 

It’s also important to research any hotels or restaurants you plan to visit along the way. Hotels and restaurants are not legally required to allow ESAs so it can be beneficial to research pet policies ahead of time.

What You Should Know About Train or Bus Travel With Your ESA

When traveling by bus or train, several major companies, such as Amtrak and Greyhound, have mirrored airlines in restricting ESAs.

Amtrak allows service dogs, including PSDs, in all areas of the train that passengers are allowed, provided that they stay seated on the floor and remain under control. For a $26 fee, Amtrak allows non-service cats and dogs under 20 pounds in a pet carrier.

If you do plan to bring a pet on a train–or any other transportation provider–it can be helpful to inform the provider ahead of time to avoid last-minute complications.

Greyhound also allows trained service animals to travel with passengers. However, those are the only animals allowed on Greyhound buses. All other pets, including ESAs, are prohibited.

Changing definitions of “service animals” has made traveling with ESAs more complicated in the last year, but with the appropriate preparation, you can still enjoy the holidays with your pet.

Article Sources
The Spruce Pets uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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