In December 2020, the US Department of Transportation made the announcement that they no longer classify emotional support animals as essential service animals and therefore, airlines are no longer required to accept them to travel in-cabin with their owners, for little to no charge. This ruling was posted and then went into effect on January 11th, 2021. 

This has caused quite a stir in the world of pet travel with hundreds of pet owners having to reevaluate how their pets can travel. The DoT has made this call in response to many taking advantage of the previous regulations and claiming fraudulently that their animal is for emotional support when often this was not the case. Most famously was the widely shared story of the emotional support peacock.

Luckily, you have options and PetRelocation is here to make sure you’re in the know when it comes to making the best decision for your pet’s travel plans.

What is an Emotional Support Animal?

An emotional support animal, or an ESA, is an animal that offers a person with a disability comfort in stressful situations. Previously, ESAs were allowed to travel in-cabin and not in a crate with their owner so long as the passenger could provide an ESA letter. An emotional support animal is different from a service animal, such as a seeing-eye dog. Service animals with the proper documentation are not affected by the Department of Transportation’s new ruling.

What Are My Options for Flying My Pet?

This may depend on where you are traveling to and what kind of pet you have. Below are the options available to you for flying with your pets!

Manifest Cargo 

Manifest cargo is PetRelocation's preferred method of moving your pet. Your pet will fly in the belly of the plane in an area that is safe and temperature-controlled. This is also an excellent option if you would like to fly ahead of your pet and receive them after you are settled into your new home. 

If you are traveling internationally, check your destination’s regulations. Many countries require all pets to arrive as manifest cargo. Luckily, we are incredibly familiar with this option and will make sure your pet meets all the requirements and has the correct paperwork for entry into your new homeland!

Excess Baggage 

Another option is to fly your pet as excess baggage. Just like manifest cargo, your pets will travel safely in the belly of the plane. The difference is the pet is tied to their owner’s ticket and the owner will pay for their pet’s space much like you may pay to check extra luggage. This might be a good option if your pet is traveling on the same flight as you. However, when a pet flies as excess baggage, the ticket-holding owner takes on an extra level of responsibility. Professionals like PetRelocation would not be able to assist with any logistics such as flight booking, check-in, or handling transits during any layovers. These tasks must be performed by the pet owner and will vary from airline to airline. 

shipping pets as excess baggage to singapore
Banjo flew as excess baggage on his journey to Singapore


Smaller Pets for In-Cabin Travel

Some airlines will allow pets to travel in the cabin with their owners, but only if they meet certain requirements. Typically, your pet will be accepted as a carry-on item if he or she can fit in a travel carrier underneath the seat in front of you. This may be an option for you if you have a cat or a small dog like a chihuahua and your destination allows pets to arrive this way. Most airlines will charge an additional fee for a pet to travel as carry-on luggage. PetRelocation cannot advise on any of the airline regulations and meeting these requirements is the full responsibility of the pet owner.

How Can PetRelocation Help?

Here is how PetRelocation can help with each method of travel: Scooter flew in-cabin to Malaysia

  • Manifest cargo: If PetRelocation is managing your move, your relocation coordinator can book your pet’s flight, manage the check-in and customs clearance as well as track your pet on their journey with the use of their individual air waybill number. 
  • Excess baggage/ in-cabin: If your pet is traveling as excess baggage or in-cabin under the seat, PetRelocation can still assist, but in a more limited capacity. Depending on your destination, we can help with vet consultations, obtaining any import permits or government endorsements. 
  • Ground transportation: If you are traveling across the United States and your pet is a snub-nosed breed or in need of an extra-large crate, flying may not be an option. PetRelocation offers long-distance drives for pets that are not accepted to travel by air, like Guinivere who recently moved by ground from Wisconsin to Florida.

While we understand the disappointment following recent changes surrounding service animals in-cabin, there are still several options that will ensure your pet travels safely!

Regardless of your chosen method of travel, PetRelocation is happy to help or point you to the right resource. If you're starting to plan your journey and would like assistance, contact us today and we can help determine the right choice for you.


PetRelocation Team


Air Travel, News



United States
Back to top