Where Your Emotional Support Animal Is Allowed to Sit on a Plane

Photo: Manny Ceneta (Getty Images)

In May, a man was attacked by an emotional support animal while flying on Delta; according to a lawsuit filed by the passenger, the animal tried repeatedly to sit on its owner’s lap before the attack—though ESAs are required to remain on the floor per Delta’s rules—while attendants ignored the airline’s policy.

Over on the Points Guy, one reader also shared her experience with a passenger’s animal on an American Airlines flight which was (thankfully) a lot less traumatic. Upon boarding, the traveler discovered her first-class seat was taken by a seatmate’s dog.

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“The passenger sitting next to the dog—the dog’s owner—was on his cellphone, so it took some time for me to catch his attention and convey that his dog was in my seat,” Katie Genter, the passenger in question, wrote on TPG. “… The dog laid on the floor between our seats for the first half of the flight, which meant I had to be careful when I moved my legs or got items from my bag. The man held the dog in his lap for the second half of the short flight.”

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According to Genter, it wasn’t immediately clear if the animal was an emotional support animal; still, by the airline’s rules, the pet wasn’t allowed to sit in her seat.

Research your airline’s policies

Questions of the authenticity of some emotional support animals aside, if you ever plan to fly with an ESA, always be sure to research your airline’s policies in advance. It’s helpful to know your rights and to invoke them if ever you’re put in the position to defend your ESA’s presence on a flight.

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Photo: Stephen Chernin (Getty Images)

Most airlines have language on their websites that detail behavioral requirements. Fortunately, most airlines offer the option to purchase an additional seat to make room for an emotional support animal. Below you’ll find important seating policies for a few major U.S. airlines:

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  • American Airlines: Animals must be able to fit at your feet, under your seat or in your lap. (According to AA’s website, lap animals must be smaller than a 2-year old child). If the animal is in a kennel, it must fit under the seat in front of you with the animal in it. They cannot be seated in an exit row, block aisles, occupy seats or eat from tray tables. If your animal doesn’t fit, you can buy a ticket for the animal or check the pet in cargo.
  • Delta: Animals must be seated below the passenger’s seat or in your lap and their size must not exceed the “footprint” of the seat. They cannot occupy a seat or eat from tray tables. On its website, Delta also says that it does not accept emotional support animals on flights that are eight hours or longer, or pit bulls, specifically. If you have an animal that exceeds the space allowed, you may have to purchase an additional seat.
  • JetBlue: Animals must remain on the floor unless they are small enough to “fit fully on the customer’s lap without touching any part of the seat or adjacent customers.” They also cannot occupy a seat or exit row. If you fly via JetBlue’s Mint service, you cannot fully recline your seat, so that you can accommodate your animal. Animals carriers are allowed in Mint during take-off or landing, so they must be stowed in the overhead compartment bin.
  • United: Animals must be seated in the floor space below the passenger’s seat and cannot block an aisle or occupy a seat. Exit row seating is also not allowed. Like Delta, emotional support animals are not allowed on flights of eight hours or longer. Animals also cannot weigh more than 65 pounds or be younger than four months. They will also have to remain leashed throughout the flight.

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If you still have concerns about your particular animal—or are traveling internationally—look at your airline’s website for exact requirements, and contact them to confirm. American, Delta, JetBlue, and United each have accessibility assistance lines so you can phone them directly with any concerns.

And if you’re flying with a pet that isn’t an ESA (or service animal), depending on the airline, they can usually fly in-cabin for an additional fee. However, they generally must remain in the kennel throughout the flight, and under the seat in front of you, which means you can’t bring an especially large pet. Airlines like American also require that the kennel is large enough to allow your pet to comfortably stand, turn, and sit.

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Otherwise, larger pets can fly in the cargo section of several major airlines (except JetBlue). You should know you cannot purchase a seat for your pet that isn’t an ESA or service animal, either. Again, research your airline’s policies and be sure to begin the pet-reservation process early, as you’ll likely need to consider strict kennel requirements and essential safety travel tips for your doggo in the meantime.