Traveling with a Comfort Animal

Comfort DogComfort animals (emotional support animals or ESAs) assist their owners with mental disabilities as defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. These pet animals are now recognized as providing a valuable service and have attained the protection of the Airline Carrier Access Act (ACAA) which also protects service animals when flying.

Therefore, comfort animals are allowed to fly at no charge in the cabin of airlines that permit them similar to service animals.

Recent research suggests that people with psychiatric disabilities can benefit significantly from comfort animals. ESAs have been proven extremely effective at ameliorating the symptoms of these disabilities, such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, by providing therapeutic nurture and support.

As all US-based airlines are subject to ACAA regulations, both comfort and service animals are accepted. Requirements for notification and documentation differs greatly between service animals and comfort animals. While owners of service animals may need to provide proof of certification, owners of comfort animals will need a letter from a licensed medical professional stating the need for the comfort animal, that the owner is an active patient and providing licensing information. Find more information on airline pet policies for comfort animals.

The key to acceptance is a strongly worded letter from a medical professional stating that the well being of the pet’s owner is at risk if they are separated from their pet. The most common reason is mental anxiety or depression and a letter from a psychiatrist will generally suffice. However, individuals with a heart condition may get a letter from their physician stating that the pet calms the pet owner and therefore reduces the risk of a stroke or heart attack. Those who suffer affects from diabetes can also procure a letter from a medical professional.

If you need additional information on comfort and service animals, we offer a 26 page document that fully explains the rules regarding both Service and Comfort Animals. It also explains the rules for taking a service or comfort animal into a rabies free country such as the UK or Hawaii. Click here for additional information on Traveling with Service Animals and Comfort Animals.


Traveling with a Comfort Animal — 11 Comments

  1. Joan – the pets you are seeing are undoubtedly emotional support animals. I agree that owners of these animals should keep them on their laps whenever possible. Pets are not allowed on vacant seats, no matter if they are ESAs or regular dogs traveling in a carrier with their owner. Six pets are allowed per flight on Southwest which is a very generous policy. Southwest also has one of the lowest pet fees. Due to events as of late, flight attendants may have softened their enforcement; however, when other passengers are inconvenienced, the rules should be enforced.

  2. I travel almost weekly for business (x 2 years) and have noted an increase in the number of dogs on SW flights. 3 times in the last 6 months: 3 dogs not in carriers, 2 dogs not in carrier sitting on plane seat and Flgt attendant only gave gentle reprimand and walked off; one dog in carrier also placed on middle seat, one large dog entered priority boarding and sat in back of plane.
    I actually like both dogs and cats and have owned both but just don’t get the increasing numbers of people traveling w/pets and total lack of enforcement of airline policy.
    Why should animals sit on ‘furniture’ and why can’t/won’t SW enforce their own rules (for the sake of the 99% who don’t bring their pets).

  3. I’m interested in traveling to some places I haven’t been at and this article is informative regarding which airlines could be preferred. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Does anyone have any consideration they are people out there that are allergic to dogs and cats? So we can have animals that make people ill and can’t breath on a flight in the cabin now? What about their rights. This is going too far.

  5. Southwest airline allows comfort animals and does
    not charge, they do check your document.

  6. This information is in error. The DOT requires airlines to permit emotional support animals with proper documentation to fly in cabin with their disabled owners. A therapy animal is a pet that visits hospitals and nursing homes to cheer up the residents. The owner is not necessarily disabled. The Air Carrier Access Act, which gives these rights applies only to disabled people who need the presence of their emotional support animals in order to fly. It does not apply to therapy animals. Read more here: That article includes information on the documentation required from a mental health provider and a link to the actual regulations that explain how it all works.
    The above comment is correct. The ADA rules only apply to Service Animals, Emotional Support Animals and psychiatric service animals. You will need proper documentation and it is adviseable to notify the airline well in advance as they may require advance proof of the need. You should also remember that foriegn flagged airlines may or may not observe the rules as stated above.

  7. thank you. now i know which airlines to avoid. I am very happy to see the World’s Least Favourite Airline on the list.

  8. I called Hawaiian Airlines and made arrangements to fly with my comfort pet from HI To WA. I had a letter with me, and I had told them my comfort pet is a bird. When I arrived, they told me that they accepted only dogs and cats as comfort pets and were not going to allow me to board. When I pretty much had a mental meltdown at the airport and had to be escorted to the security gate, they finally allowed me on board. I was the last one on the plane. I wound up having to leave my bird in WA, because they 100% would not allow me to take him back to HI with me in cabin. I have been trying and trying to get him back here. When I first moved to HI, I was able to bring him in cabin when I found a mistake in their contract of carriage. They have since changed that.
    I am not surprised as I am not aware of any airline that recognizes birds as comfort animals. You can probably make arrangements to transport the bird as air cargo.

  9. We get our information from ADA Americans with Disabilities Act. In order to qualify, you must have a prescription from a medical doctor on that doctor’s letterhead stating your pet is vital to your health.

  10. Please show me exactly where you got your information, I looked in FAA/DOT and could not find anything. I am going to my Doctors on Monday and I would like to show him valid proof not hear-say. I will be traveling to Hawaii and believe me it takes a lot to get service animal on the plane especially when it is a Psychiatric therapy dog. I am hoping for Heart Attack documentation but I still need to be able to show him exactly what it says and where it says it. Thanks email me at

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