How to get a dog on a plane for free

How to Get a Dog on a Plane for Free

How to get a dog on a plane for free? Ever gazed into your dog’s eyes as you packed your suitcase and thought, “If only you could come along?” Good news – they can! But navigating the rules around dogs on planes can be a tricky task.

So, when and how to get a dog on a plane for free? Let’s find out!

Types of Dogs Eligible for Plane Travel

Navigating the skies with your furry friend isn’t quite as simple as snapping on a leash and hopping on a plane. The aviation world differentiates dogs (and other pets) into specific categories, each with its own set of rules and regulations.

Primarily, there are two types of dogs that are eligible to accompany their owners on an airplane: service dogs and emotional support animals (ESAs). Understanding the difference between these two can help make your trip smoother and more enjoyable for both you and your pet.

  1. Service Dogs

Service dogs are more than just pets; they are specially trained to perform specific tasks that assist individuals with disabilities. These tasks could include guiding visually impaired individuals, alerting hearing-impaired people to sounds, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties.

Service Dog
Service Dog

Legally recognized as working animals, not pets, service dogs have access to areas where pets aren’t typically allowed, such as restaurants, stores, and, crucially for our topic, the cabins of airplanes. The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) permits service dogs to accompany their handlers in the cabin of an aircraft, and they typically fly for free.

  1. Emotional Support Animals (ESAs)

Emotional support animals (ESAs), which often include dogs, play a different but equally important role. Unlike service dogs, they are not required to perform specific tasks. Instead, their primary function is to provide emotional comfort and companionship, particularly to individuals suffering from mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, or certain phobias. ESAs can be instrumental in the recovery or management of these conditions, offering support simply through their presence.

Emotional Support Dog
Emotional Support Dog

However, the rules regarding ESAs on planes are different. In the past, the ACAA also covered ESAs, but the law has been revised. As of 2021, each airline can decide whether to allow ESAs on their planes and under what conditions. Some airlines continue to allow ESAs to fly free in the cabin, while others may charge a fee or may not allow ESAs in the cabin at all. Therefore, it is crucial to check with the specific airline for their ESA policies before planning your trip.

Each of these dog types plays a unique and important role for their handlers. Understanding these distinctions and the related regulations can help ensure a successful travel experience with your canine companion.

How Can a Service Dog Ride for Free?

Service dogs are trained professionals, helping their owners in day-to-day life by performing specific tasks related to their handler’s disability. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), airlines are not allowed to refuse transport, limit, or require advanced notice before offering service to individuals traveling with service animals under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA). This law applies to service dogs of all breeds and sizes.

In terms of the booking process, it’s generally simple. When booking a flight, you’ll need to indicate that you’re traveling with a service animal. The airline may ask you what tasks your service dog performs for you, but it’s unlawful for them to demand proof of certification or training documents.

Before the journey, make sure your service dog is clean, well-behaved, and under your control at all times. Misbehavior such as growling, biting or jumping on people may give the airline cause to refuse to transport the dog.

To ensure your service dog can travel with you in the cabin for free, you’ll want to:

  1. Book your flight and inform the airline that you will be accompanied by a service dog.
  2. Make sure your dog is trained to behave properly in public settings.
  3. Keep your dog under control at all times at the airport and during the flight.
  4. Be ready to answer inquiries about the task your dog performs for you.

How Can an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) Ride for Free?

While service dogs perform specific tasks to help people with disabilities, emotional support animals (ESAs) provide comfort and support to people, particularly those with mental health conditions. However, ESAs don’t have the same extensive legal rights as service dogs.

Under the revised Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) as of 2021, airlines are no longer required to allow ESAs to fly in the cabin for free. Airlines can classify ESAs as pets and can require pet fees and carrier use. Some airlines, however, may still allow ESAs in the cabin for free or for a reduced fee under certain conditions.

It’s crucial to check with the specific airline regarding their ESA policy before you travel. Here are general steps to follow if your airline allows ESAs:

  1. Confirm the ESA policy with your chosen airline.
  2. Have your mental health professional provide a letter stating your need for an ESA. This letter should be recent (usually no more than one year old) and on official letterhead.
  3. Make sure your ESA is well-behaved in public and can remain calm during the flight.
  4. Follow any additional requirements provided by the airline, such as advance notice or specific carrier types.

Always remember that the key to a successful journey with your service dog or ESA is proper preparation, understanding the requirements, and ensuring your dog is well-behaved and under control at all times.

Airlines That Allow Dogs To Board For Free

Airlines’ policies regarding traveling with dogs, particularly service dogs and emotional support animals (ESAs), vary greatly. Some airlines allow dogs to travel for free under certain conditions, but many have restrictions or specific guidelines that need to be followed. I’ll provide some general information, but please note that it’s crucial to check the current pet policy of your specific airline before making travel plans.

  1. American Airlines: At the time, American Airlines permitted service dogs to fly for free in the cabin, provided they met certain criteria. The owner needed to complete a form attesting that the dog is a trained service animal. Emotional support animals, however, were considered pets and would need to follow the airline’s pet policy, which could include fees.
  2. Delta Airlines: Delta Airlines allowed trained service dogs in the cabin at no extra cost. The owners were required to submit a form confirming that their dog is a service animal trained to behave in public settings. Emotional support animals were no longer recognized as service animals and were treated as pets with associated fees.
  3. Southwest Airlines: Southwest Airlines allowed service animals trained to assist individuals with a disability to travel in the cabin at no charge. The owner must provide credible verbal assurance about the dog’s trained status. ESAs were recognized only as pets and applicable fees were charged for them.
  4. United Airlines: United Airlines allowed trained service dogs to travel in the cabin for free. Owners were required to complete a form attesting to the dog’s training and behavior. United no longer recognized emotional support animals; they were considered pets and appropriate fees applied.
  5. Alaska Airlines: Alaska Airlines allowed trained service dogs to travel in the cabin at no charge, but the owner needed to complete a service animal travel form. ESAs were classified as pets and had to follow the pet travel policy, including applicable fees.

Remember, airlines can and do change their policies, so it’s always best to confirm with the specific airline before you plan to travel. Always check the current pet policy of the airline you are planning to use to ensure a smooth journey for both you and your furry friend.

Preparing Your Dog for the Flight

Before jet-setting with your dog, it’s essential to ensure they’re comfortable with the journey. From acclimating to the noise and bustle of airports to being comfortable in a crate, a little training can go a long way.

Health is another important factor to consider. Always check with your vet before you plan to travel with your dog. No one wants a mid-air tummy trouble, least of all your four-legged friend!

Key Pre-flight Preparations

What does your dog need for a hassle-free journey? Having the right documentation is crucial. This includes proof of your dog’s status as a service dog or ESA, and any relevant health certificates.

When it comes to packing, include all the essentials. A leash, food, a water bowl, and maybe a comforting toy will make your dog’s journey more comfortable.

In-transit: Navigating the Airport and Flight with Your Dog

Navigating security can be stressful for dogs. Remember to comfort them and let them know they’re safe. On the flight, ensure your dog doesn’t obstruct the aisle or other passengers.

Arrival and Adjustment

Upon arrival, give your dog time to adjust. Make the new environment as familiar as possible to help them settle.

Challenges and Their Solutions

Traveling with a dog comes with its challenges. From dealing with an anxious pet to managing potential allergies from other passengers, be prepared for any scenario.


Traveling with a dog, whether a service dog or an ESA, can be a joyous experience if done right. And the best part? It can be free!

Keep in mind the rights and responsibilities that come with it, and enjoy the journey.

Dennis & Becca
Authored by Dennis & Becca

Dennis and Becca, have always shared a passion for man’s best friend. As dog enthusiasts, they put together articles that inform, engage, and captivate fellow dog lovers.

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