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Emotional support animals were more important than ever in 2020, and will undoubtedly continue to be vital for many people in 2021. But what’s changing with emotional support animals in 2021?

Well, for one thing, travel might be different. In December 2020, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued a decision that changes the rules concerning ESAs on airplanes. There are several ways things may change for ESA owners going forward – but don’t worry! Here’s what you can expect for emotional support animals in 2021.

What Are ESAs?

An emotional support animal is an animal that serves as a companion to a person with some sort of disability. They differ from a service animal because service animals are trained to perform specific tasks for their humans, such as leading someone who is blind. ESAs, on the other hand, aren’t trained for specific tasks and instead are used for comfort and emotional support. Any domesticated animal can be an ESA.

Traveling With Emotional Support Animals

In recent years, traveling with emotional support animals has caused some problems, as people have attempted to travel on airlines with particularly exotic ESAs (such as peacocks). Up until the most recent rule change, airlines were not allowed to charge for ESAs, and restrictions on the size of the animal were not enforced per normal airline policy for ESAs.

Moosh - airplane travel
Image by Kovah on Unsplash: Are ESA laws changing? They might be, but the benefits of getting an ESA are the same.

The Laws That Protect ESAs

There are two laws that ESA owners should know all about: the Air Carrier Access Act and the Fair Housing Act.

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) requires housing communities and apartments that restrict pets to make an reasonable accommodations for an emotional support animal. This simply refers to allowing your ESA to live with you as long as it is not a threat to others.

Under the FHA, you will still need an ESA letter from a licensed mental health professional to cover your ESA when it comes to housing, but there have been no changes under that law in 2020 that will impact how ESA owners should proceed in 2021.

However, the Air Carrier Access Act (ACCA), which previously allowed those with ESAs to ride in the cabin with their owner, has changed in 2021 – and these are important changes you need to know about.

Changes To The ACAA

The Air Carrier Access Act allows service animals to travel with their human companions on airplanes. Up until December of 2020, the term service animal included an ESA. However, the changes to the law no longer consider an ESA a service animal and define a service animal as an animal that performs a task for the person with a disability. The changes include:


This change reclassifies emotional support animals as pets instead of a service animal. While your ESA may still travel with you, you may now have to pay an additional fee, and they may need to travel in the cargo hold for the duration of the flight.

Service animal changes

For passengers with a service animal, the law also now requires a form to be filled out through the Department of Transportation that provides information about the animal’s training, health, and behavior. This form will need to be submitted to the airline 48 hours before travel. Travelers with service animals will also be limited to two animals and the animals permitted on planes may be limited to dogs.

Essentially, as far as ESAs are concerned, these rule changes have given the airlines discretion when it comes to animals allowed on planes. The concept of ESAs as they’ve been known thus far when it comes to air travel has changed.

Will This Lead To Better Policies Overall?

If you want to look on the bright side of these changes to the policy of flying with an ESA, it may be that airlines will now need to come up with better options for those who want to travel with pets.

Some airlines may want to increase their revenue by rebranding themselves as a dog- or animal-friendly airline that will provide your ESA with a top-notch experience. Some airlines may also still allow ESAs, but charge pet fees for them to ride in the cabin during the flight.

Moosh - dogs
Image by Alvan Nee on Unsplash: Can you bring emotional support animals into stores? Generally, no – this right is reserved for service animals.

You Should Still Get An ESA Letter

If feel you need an ESA, the 2021 changes to rules around travel shouldn’t stop you from getting an ESA letter. The rules around who qualifies for emotional support animals haven’t changed, and you can still take advantage of all the benefits an ESA letter will afford you, such as allowing your ESA in housing and some hotels or vacation homes.

See your mental health care professional and request an ESA letter (or contact Moosh for more help in getting the process started). Even if your ESA can’t fly with you for free any longer, they can still provide a plethora of benefits to your mental health.

The Final Word

While the Department of Transportation has decided to crack down on ESAs aboard airplanes, it’s fair to say that more time is needed to say how this will all shake out. Until January 11, 2021, you can still fly as normal with your ESA before the new rules kick in. If you plan to travel between now and then, don’t deviate from your normal plans. However, traveling after that will require a different sort of planning.

Hopefully, some airlines will use this as an opportunity to provide for the ESA market and allow people to keep traveling with their beloved emotional support animals.

Featured image by Cassiano Psomas on Unsplash