Ironically, a vacation is a stressful time for a lot of people; not the actual holiday, but more the build-up to it. Traveling can be the source of much anxiety; even negotiating an airport can be a whole bag of hassle, never mind the actual traveling. If you add an emotional support animal into that mix, things get a whole lot more complicated.
However, if you’re one of the people who’s dependent on an emotional support animal (or ESA for short), not only do you need your pet to accompany you on vacation, it is in fact your right by law to have it do so.
Under the Air Carrier Access Act of 1986, it is illegal for airlines to discriminate against people with disabilities, which includes those with ESAs. Note that it is the person with the disability that triggers the protection afforded by the ACAA, not the animal itself; it doesn’t matter what from an ESA might take, if the person presents a genuine emotional support letter from a verified practitioner, then they, and not the animal, are protected by the law.
Even so, ESAs are a relatively new form of treatment in the mental health arena, which means that not everyone is fully up-to-date with the laws surrounding them. Unfortunately, that can include airline staff. So, for peace of mind, here are five top tips for making your vacation with your ESA as convenient and hassle-free as possible!
Notify the Airline Well in Advance
Most airlines require a minimum of 24 hours notice if you plan to bring your ESA on board, but it can be helpful to inform them at the earliest possible opportunity, for two reasons: one, it gives them the most time possible to accommodate you, and two, if you happen to be challenged at any point on your journey, you can point to it as proof that you gave the airline every possible opportunity.
It’s rare that you’ll experience any issues however, as long as you detail your needs in advance. This especially applies if you happen to have a large emotional support animal that may require an extra seat.
Make Sure to Bring Your Emotional Support Animal Letter
This one’s crucial, as an emotional support animal letter from a verified practitioner is the all-important document to get you onboard with your ESA. Yes, you’ve got your passport and boarding passes to worry about as well, but make sure you don’t leave your ESA letter behind; if you do, the airline staff are well within their rights to refuse your animal boarding. The ACAA only kicks in if you present your letter.
Make Sure Your Emotional Support Letter is Up-to-Date
As a corollary to the above tip, make sure that your ESA letter is in date! The ACAA requires you to present a letter that is no older than a year, so make sure to keep an eye on that expiration date, and get it renewed well in advance if your journey is a few months ahead. It’s the kind of thing that can easily slip your mind, but again, your animal won’t be allowed on the plane if you don’t stay on top of it!
Stay Calm and Controlled if Challenged
While airlines are fairly up-to-date on ESAs in 2017, and are largely aware of their role in upholding the ACAA, you might come across the odd airline staffer who’ll challenge you. If you find yourself in this situation, remain calm and outline how the ACAA protects you and your ESA. It won’t help your cause to kick off and start making a scene.
The important thing to remember is that once you have a genuine, in-date ESA letter, the law is on your side, and the airline is in the wrong. If you can’t get through to one particular staff member at the check in desk, ask to see a manager.
And always remember: it’s illegal for staff to query you on the nature of your disability, so don’t feel like you have to explain yourself or your disorder to anyone.
On Board, Make Sure Your Animal Behaves Itself
While most of the onus to uphold the ACAA falls on the airline, it is totally your responsibility to keep your ESA in check once you hop on the aircraft. If an animal is acting aggressive or noisy, then the airline is well within their right to refuse boarding. Your ESA can’t disturb other passengers in any way whatsoever, and that includes when the plane is in the air; otherwise you can find yourself in trouble when you land at your vacation destination.
So there you have it. While vacations can be quite stressful sometimes, and particularly so if you happen to have an ESA with you, hopefully these tips can help you travel in comfort, and get on to the main reason you’re going – to have endless amounts of fun and adventures!