Moosh - woman and train

As emotional support animals (ESAs) are becoming more commonplace with Americans, it’s getting easier to travel with your furry friends. However, there are still some restrictions in place that might make it difficult for you to have your emotional support animal with you at all times. If you’re commuting or taking a trip by train, here are some things you should know ahead of time.

Your emotional support animal is not protected under any laws when traveling on a train.

The most important thing to remember is that your ESA is not considered a licensed service animal. Because your ESA likely hasn’t been given specific training to do work or perform tasks for you (as a service animal would), you are not protected by any laws when traveling with them on a train. Even if your pet is a certified ESA, you won’t receive the same protections under the law that a service animal would. This means that you need to be aware of the fact that you can’t board a train with your emotional support animal without taking specific steps first (detailed below).

Time to hit the road (or the tracks) with your emotional support animal!

Emotional support animals are only permitted to travel as pets on most train lines.

Because ESAs aren’t considered service animals, they are deemed pets by Amtrak (the nation’s largest commuter train company) – so you’ll typically pay around $26 for them to ride with you. Dogs and cats up to 20 pounds are permitted on trips (up to seven hours) on most routes. There are some restrictions with specific routes, so check the Amtrak website before you book your trip. You must make a reservation for your pet before your trip; these are made on a first come, first serve basis and can potentially sell out quickly. You may only travel with one pet, and you are restricted to Coach Class only (no pets in Business Class or in sleeping cars). You also must have a pet carrier (19” long x 14” wide x 10.5” high), and the carrier does count as one piece of carry-on baggage. Your emotional support animal must stay in their carrier while in the train station and while on board the train. They can be placed under your seat (not under the seat in front of you).

Additionally, you need to read and sign a Pet Release and Indemnification Agreement for every travel segment of your trip. This certifies that your ESA is up-to-date on their vaccinations and that you accept all liability for your pet. This paperwork needs to be presented to the ticket office no later than 30 minutes before your departure. In order to be approved, your ESA must be at least eight weeks old and be odorless and harmless. They also can’t be disruptive in any way. Amtrak maintains the right to refuse acceptance for any emotional support animal that breaks these rules, and they can remove any pet from a station or train if they see fit.

You might be able to discuss options with train employees.

For train lines other than Amtrak (such as smaller, regional companies), it’s possible for you to discuss your needs with a train employee before you board. Some conductors or operators might not mind your ESA coming with you, as long as they’re well-behaved and in a carrier. It’s always a good idea to approach train employees to talk through why you need your emotional support animal with you. If you have proper documentation on hand, like your ESA letter, this can also be helpful in convincing train employees to allow you entrance with your ESA. Just continue to be prepared that they still might not be able to let your emotional support animal on board if they have to stick to pre-set regulations.

Moosh - Cat in Suitcase
Be sure to bring your ESA letter and other relevant paperwork when traveling with your animal.

You need legitimate paperwork if you’re traveling with your ESA.

To increase your chances of having your ESA allowed onboard the train, make sure you always carry proper documentation with you at all times. Having a valid ESA letter, as well as an ID card or vest for your emotional support animal, can go a long way by showing that you’ve taken all necessary steps to travel with your ESA. It helps to have this paperwork to present to train employees since it demonstrates that you take your ESA ownership seriously and will be a respectful passenger who is capable of traveling responsibly with your animal.

Be prepared for any outcome when you try to bring your ESA with you.

While you can prepare ahead of time for traveling with emotional support animals, you should keep in mind that any outcome is possible (including not being allowed entry onto the train). If you’re traveling on a big line like Amtrak, just be sure to follow the guidelines for traveling with your pet and complete all of the necessary steps ahead of time. Your best bet is to research the line you’ll be traveling on before you book your tickets so that you can be prepared for what’s expected of you and your ESA. Do your research, and you’ll know before you travel what is permitted by that particular company.

It is possible for emotional support animals to travel by train. Just keep in mind that they are not considered service animals and will not be protected by any laws during your trip. Try to follow the regulations laid out by the train’s employees, and be prepared for some pushback by lines that do not permit ESAs on board at all. If you follow these steps, you’ll be able to plan better for your next train trip with your ESA!