Because more and more people are traveling with their emotional support animals (ESAs), airlines are having to develop regulations that protect both the rights of ESA owners and those of other passengers and crew members. Recently, the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) came up with some regulations to be enforced going forward, including eliminating the ban of specific ESA dog breeds from flying. So, how will these new regulations affect ESA owners? Keep reading for more information on current ESA travel laws.
What are the travel laws for ESAs?
The Air Carrier Access Act means that as an ESA owner, you do have some protection under federal law. The ACAA states that you are legally allowed to fly with your ESA, which includes having them travel with you inside the cabin of the aircraft. Airlines are prohibited from discriminating against you just because you have an ESA. You’re also not obligated to pay any other boarding fees for having your ESA with you onboard.
Although you have these protections, you’re not completely covered like you would be if you had a service animal. Traveling with an ESA still requires you to alert the airline you’ll be flying with at least 48 hours in advance that you’ll be bringing your ESA with you. Each airline has a specific process they need you to go through in order to fly with your ESA, which can include providing the airline with the proper paperwork in advance of your flight. Some airlines require you to provide a certification that your animal is a legitimate ESA, a health report from your veterinarian, records of vaccinations and shots, confirmation of training or good behavior, and more. To ensure you’re following all ESA travel laws and special requirements, check with the specific airline you’re flying with ahead of time to find out what you need to do in order to fly with your ESA.
Does the length of a flight matter?
There have been some changes regarding the length of flight ESAs can travel by plane. The recent ruling by the DOT did state that airlines are allowed to ask passengers with ESAs on flights of eight hours or more to provide documentation that their animal will not need to relieve itself on the flight (or that they can do this in a way that does not create a health or sanitation issue). However, the DOT and the airline industry has not offered specific suggestions to exactly what this documentation could entail, or what they recommend for how to travel on a long flight with an ESA.
How does this work with international flights?
It can be tricky to fly with an ESA on an international flight, so it’s best to check with your airline to confirm that they’ll permit an ESA on board for longer than eight hours (and to see if they have any recommendations on how to let your ESA relieve themselves on board in a safe way).
Here’s the way it works for some airlines:
American Airlines permit ESAs onboard for flights longer than eight hours, but you are required to submit an Animal Sanitation Form up to 48 hours before your flight. You must detail on the form what steps you have taken to prevent your ESA from relieving itself during the flight, and if your ESA does need to relieve itself, how you would handle this without causing a health or sanitation issue.
This airline provides a detailed list of various vaccination requirements for animals traveling internationally. They also require you to notify JetBlue 48 hours in advance if you’ll be traveling for longer than eight hours with your ESA.
ESAs are allowed onboard Southwest international flights; Southwest suggests checking their website for any specific vaccinations you may need for your ESA when traveling out of the country.
This airline reserves the right to determine on a case-by-case basis if an ESA is permitted to travel on a flight lasting longer than eight hours. So it’s recommended you check with a United associate well in advance of your flight to see if your ESA will be approved.
Just recently, Delta has lifted its ban on ESAs on long-haul flights. ESA owners must simply comply with all other Delta requirements in order to travel with their ESAs on flights longer than eight hours.
How can you ensure you will get on the flight?
To make sure you get on your flight with your ESA, above all else, be prepared. Notify your airline in advance that you’ll be flying with your ESA and provide them with any paperwork they require, including any forms, vaccination records, and an up-to-date ESA certification letter. When you travel, have copies of all the necessary paperwork with you so you can provide it at the gate or onboard the airplane if it’s requested. Make sure your ESA is well-trained and well-behaved and that you’re treating other passengers and crew members with respect in order to avoid any issues with airline staff.
How may the travel laws change next year?
It’s possible that there will be more changes to the ESA travel laws in 2020. The best thing you can do is to keep updated on any changes the DOT makes in the future or changes that specific airlines make to their policies.
As long as you stay informed on all ESA news, you’ll be able to travel comfortably with your emotional support animal on your next adventure. Your ESA is there to help support you and ease any anxiety you feel, so be responsible about meeting the requirements of the airline you’re flying with, and you shouldn’t face any problems when traveling on a long flight.