Emotional support animals, aka ESAs, are an integral part of many people’s mental health regimes. They provide invaluable support for people suffering from various conditions or emotional disorders, including depression and anxiety. ESAs generally accompany their owners wherever they go, but when it comes to air travel, it can get a little tricky. Here’s what you need to know about ESA travel laws in 2019 if you’re wondering, “What type of emotional support animal can I bring on a flight?”
2019 ESA Travel Laws: A Breakdown
The overall laws that govern ESAs on flights within the United States come under the Air Carrier Access Act. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, this act protects “any animal that assists persons with disabilities by providing emotional support.” However, this is not coverall legislation, and ESA owners must still follow strict rules regarding the type of animal they own, the documentation required, and the level of training the animal has.
Under the ACAA, the most common ESAs are cats and dogs, and as such they are far more likely to be accepted by a variety of institutions and airlines. However, the DOT does state that a “wide variety of service animals are permitted in the cabin portion of the aircraft flying to and within the United States,” so long as they fall within certain guidelines.
Under the ACAA, airlines can still refuse an ESA access to an aircraft if they are deemed to large or heavy; pose a threat to the health and safety of others on the plane; cause a disruption; or are banned from the destination country/state.
Furthermore, there are guidelines that allow airlines to “request specific documentation and/or 48-hours advanced notice for service animals that are emotional support animals and psychiatric service animals.” This is something that most airlines require, so it is very important to contact your travel provider well in advance of your flight.
The documentation outlined by the ACAA must be no more than a year old; come from a licensed health care professional (with their details included); and make it explicit that you suffer from a condition recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, and are in need of an ESA. Essentially, you need to make sure you have a valid ESA letter.
Finally, it is worth noting that the ACAA only covers domestic flights within the US. If you wish to fly internationally with your ESA, there are many more rules to consider, mainly dependent on the airline and the destination country. That said, let’s answer the question “Can I fly with my ESA in 2019?” by taking a look at which emotional support animals are best to fly with.
What ESAs Can I Bring on a Flight?
Dogs are by far the most common ESAs and, as such, the most easily accepted by airlines. People associate service animals with dogs, whereas parrots or guinea pigs might get some funny looks. The important thing to remember is that when flying, an ESA is often required to be under the seat in front of you or on your lap. This means that larger breeds of dog are out of the question. Here are some smaller breeds that can make perfect ESAs and great flying companions.
Not only are French Bulldogs relatively small, they also have wonderful temperaments that make them ideal ESAs. They are known for being patient and affectionate toward their owners and happy with other dogs, and for rarely barking – ideal for avoiding problems on flights.
Yorkshire Terriers grow to a maximum of seven pounds, which makes them ideal ESAs and well suited for air travel. What’s more, they are considered hypoallergenic due to their long, fine coats that don’t shed, meaning you’re unlikely to have problems with other passengers when flying.
King Charles Spaniel
Considered a “toy dog” by the American Kennel Club, and now ranking as the 19th most popular pure-breed in the United States, few people will take a second look when you board a plane with a King Charles Spaniel. What’s more, they’re affectionate, playful, and extremely patient, making them ideal ESAs.
Cats are already pretty small, and many airlines permit them in the cabin as compared with other, more unusual ESAs. In order to make it even easier for you to fly with your ESA cat and avoid breaking one of ACAA clauses, you can choose specific breeds that are less likely to cause health and safety issues with other passengers through allergic reactions.
Sphynx cats will probably draw attention for the exact same reason that they are ideal ESAs for frequent fliers: they have no fur! This means no allergies and no impact on the health of other passengers.
Cornish Rex / Devon Rex
Both these breeds of cat have only one of the three normal layers fur: the soft “down” fur. This not only makes them extremely cuddly, perfect for an ESA, but also far less likely to cause allergic reactions.
Unlike the other breeds mentioned here, Russian Blues have a more or less regular coat. However, they produce less Fel d 1, which is the protein produced by cats that many people are allergic to.
How to Talk to the Flight Crew if They Challenge You
First, remain respectful and realize it’s their job to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all passengers. Make certain you have all the relevant documentation, and if the member of staff you’re talking to is not familiar with 2019 ESA travel laws, request to speak to the Complaints Resolution Official (CRO). This is the person responsible for disability accommodation issues at an airline, and all airlines are “required to make one available to you, at no cost, in person at the airport or by telephone during the times they are operating,” according to the DoT.
Overall, there are no truly set rules about which ESAs you can fly with, and it is mainly up to the discretion of the airline. The animals outlined here will give you a good chance, but the best thing to do to avoid any problems is to ensure you follow all ESA travel laws in 2019, as well as having the correct documentation and contacting the airline well in advance.