It is estimated that tens of thousands of service and emotional support animals board planes on a yearly basis. This is a lot of uncaged critters. It’s most likely obvious to those aboard the aircraft why a specially trained service dog is accompanying the person, but what about the emotional support animals?
Many individuals who suffer from emotional or mental disabilities do not exhibit any outwardly visible symptoms. For this reason, it may cause some of the passengers to wonder, why are emotional support animals allowed inside an airplane? Aren’t they just “glorified” pets?
If you need an ESA and want (or have) to fly, you do have rights under the Air Carrier Access Act or the ACAA.
What is the ACAA?
The Air Carrier Access Act was put in place by Federal Law to protect those people with physical or mental disabilities from being discriminated against in regards to their service and emotional support animals.
Under the ACAA if you have a mental or emotional disability with a letter stating so from a mental health professional, then you can travel with your ESA in the cabin of the airplane. Under the ACAA, you also cannot be charged an additional fee for your emotional support animal.
What Do You Need to Provide the Airlines When Flying With an ESA?
Although you legally cannot be discriminated against for having to bring your ESA onboard the aircraft, it’s not as simple as just showing up and calling any animal an ESA. Here’s what you will need to have to comply with the airlines’ regulations;
- A documented/signed letter from a licensed mental health professional (on a therapist’s letterhead) endorsing your need for the animal
- Airline’s assistance animal document (not all airlines require this).
- Your emotional disability must comply with those listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V).
How Do You Get an ESA Travel Letter?
1 in 5 Americans has a mental disability. If you are one of the many Americans suffering from depression, anxiety, panic attacks, PTSD, etc. you may qualify for an emotional support animal. You must first get evaluated by a licensed mental health professional and get an ESA travel letter from the therapist. If you do not have access to a therapist, you are legally allowed to use an online therapist service to assist you.
Things to Keep in Mind When Travelling With An ESA
To help your check-in at the airport go more smoothly, here are some tips to follow;
- Call the airline at least 48 hours ahead of time. Calling ahead is of particular importance if you are traveling with a large emotional support animal such as a Great Dane or Golden Retriever that may need special seating.
- Have your current documentation from your doctor ready to give to the ticket agent. This document cannot be older than one year from the date of when your doctor issued it. If your letter has expired, you can be denied the rights under the ACAA and the ADA.
- If your pet is unruly, noisy, vicious or is causing undue distress to the other flyers, you can be denied access to the flight.
- Small animals are usually permitted to stay in the owner’s lap, while bigger animals may be requested to sit on the floor.
- Keep your cool. Flying with an emotional support animal may not be understood by those less informed folks, so remain calm and be respectful of those who don’t understand your need for an ESA.
Flying With Your Emotional Support Animal
You do have rights under the Air Carrier Access Act and the American Disability Act to fly with your emotional support animal. If an airline tries to deny you access to the flight (even with your paperwork in order) you should request a meeting with their Customer Resolution Official. This person is highly trained for handling disability-related disputes and may be able to help you come to a fair and reasonable solution in this situation.
Need an ESA travel letter from a licensed therapist?
See if you qualify by clicking the link below.