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Airlines now required to allow emotional support animals on flights

Posted December 16, 2019 6:46 a.m. EST
Updated December 17, 2019 4:24 a.m. EST

New regulations state that airlines have to allow emotional support animals on flights along with trained service animals.

The only job of an emotional support animal, or ESA, is to calm its owner's nerves.

According to Cary veterinarian Dr. Jennifer Shults, a member of the North Carolina Veterinary Medical Association, if a person's doctor recommends an ESA, airlines must allow them. Since the new rule went into effect, more animals are riding on planes.

"That emotional support designation really exploded the number of animals that are traveling on planes," Shults said.

Certain Federal Aviation Administration guidelines remain in place when animals travel. Shults recommends planning ahead with your veterinarian to make sure vaccinations are up to date and there are no other health concerns.

"Usually they're going to require a certificate of veterinarian inspection -- sometimes called a health certificate," Shults said.

Make sure your pet has a microchip ID or a collar ID with a phone number listed in case he or she gets lost.

Experts say different airlines may have size and breed restrictions. Generally, the animal should be at least 8 weeks old and weaned for at least five days.

It's also helpful to plan the trip well ahead of time. "You definitely want to book your ticket at the same time you reserve space for your animal," Shults said. "You want to be up front with the airline about the size of your pet."

Try to pick a seat near in the back of the plane.

According to Shults, this means less people will walk by you, and there's a better chance that there will be an open seat next to you.

Anyone traveling with large animals, like a German Shepherd, should plan on reserving a second seat for that pet. And, whether your pet is in an airport or on a plane, always keep them inside a carrier or on a leash.

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