There tend to be two types of people who own emotional support animals. The first type is overly confident. They bring their ESA animal absolutely everywhere, shooting down any inquiries or questions and assuming they have every right to do whatever they want. The second more common type is the ESA owner who feels a little unsure about their rights. They are nervous traveling with their emotional support animal and worried about bringing them into private establishments. If you’re planning on bringing your ESA onto a flight soon, knowing how the Air Carrier Access Act could affect you and your ESA animal will prevent needless stress and alleviate the tension of an already arduous experience.
What Is the Air Carrier Access Act?
The Air Carrier Access Act is a law that was passed in 1973. It prevents any commercial airline from discriminating against any passenger with a disability, be it physical, mental or otherwise. Air carriers must make allowances and concessions to ensure that all passengers traveling with them do not face unnecessary challenges because of any disability. The Air Carrier Access Act covers emotional support animals as well as service animals.
All public airlines in the United States are required to allow emotional support animals to travel on airplanes. You just should be prepared to ensure that you won’t run into any hassle.
What Do You Need to be Prepared to Fly with your ESA Animal?
All emotional support animals are required to have the proper paperwork to qualify them for travel. An emotional support animal requires what is known as an emotional support letter. This letter is obtained from a medical professional who can attest to the fact that you require your ESA animal to alleviate and treat symptoms relating to your mental illness.
A simple trip to your physician or an online consultation will allow you to obtain an emotional support letter, but it is important to remember that your letter only has a validity of one year. If your emotional support letter is due to expire by the time you travel, you will have to get a new one.
Your animal should be in good health and have up-to-date vaccines.
Usually, an emotional support animal will sit on its owner’s lap, but if it is slightly larger, it will have to be accommodated on the floor by your legs. Keep this in mind when selecting an emotional support animal, particularly as airplanes are not known for having ample leg room!
It is also good practice to let your airline know well ahead of time that you plan on bringing your emotional support animal with you. Airlines are not allowed to charge you a fee for bringing your emotional support animal on board, but it is still good to work with airlines to ensure your travel is as stress-free as possible. Although some airlines may prove reluctant, if you remain polite yet aware of your rights, you will be able to fly comfortably and with your ESA animal in tow.
Remember, getting angry and/or violent will help no one and will make airline employees even more reluctant to help you.
What Do You Do If You Encounter Issues?
Despite your good intentions, you may encounter issues at the airport terminal or the gate while you’re trying to board the flight. Airlines are legally obliged to employ customer resolution officials (CROs), who are trained to deal with complaints relating to customers with disabilities. If you feel that you are not being listened to or if your legal rights are being infringed on, you can calmly ask to speak to the airline’s CRO, who can hopefully allow you to travel and resolve your complaint.
Even though your emotional support animal has legal protection under the Air Carrier Access Act, they also must be well-behaved to be allowed onto an airplane. If your emotional support animal is threatening or behaving in any way that is deemed to be a danger to other passengers, you will not be allowed to fly with them. This is judged at the discretion of the airline, so make sure that your fluffy friend is on its best behavior. No one wants to get kicked off a flight for acting badly!
There is definite discrimination that exists against those with invisible disabilities, such as mental illness. It is very important to remember that these illnesses are given the exact same coverage and protection under the Air Carrier Access Act as any other disability or illness. Your emotional support animal is an important part of your treatment, which is why you will have legal documentation attesting this fact in the form of your emotional support letter.
Although some airlines and their employees may not be as understanding as your physician, if passengers know their rights, flying with an ESA should be easy and stress-free. If you’re prepared, the Air Carrier Access Act allows you to enjoy your travel in peace, with the added comfort of your ESA animal.