For many people, an emotional support animal (ESA) can be the difference between living a rich, varied and active life and being shut indoors, a slave to anxiety, depression or any other kind of mental or emotional disorder. ESAs offer a lifeline to many people who would otherwise struggle and are nothing short of a miracle.
However, many people are not aware of the power of emotional support animals and are very judgmental of people who need animals to travel with. Invisible disabilities are often subject to prejudice, and while it may be physically obvious why a blind person requires a guide dog, it is not so easy to know that someone is suffering from depression and requires an ESA to travel.
Prejudice can often be handed out by individuals in positions of power, such as airline staff and landlords, who will try to stop people with ESAs from using their animals to make their lives a bit easier.
Why Get an Emotional Support Animal?
An emotional support animal can be defined as a companion animal that assists and/or benefits someone who has a disability. With ESAs, this disability is usually an emotional or mental disorder like anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), panic attacks or bipolar disorder. Emotional support animals offer important companionship and can help calm their owners to allow them to function at a higher level than they would without their ESA.
ESAs are usually valued pets who have a deep emotional bond with their owners. While it is very common for ESAs to be dogs, they can actually be any animal, including but not limited to cats, rodents, ferrets, snakes and birds.
All About the Air Carrier Access Act
Thankfully, legislation is on the side of people who require emotional support animals. The Air Carrier Access Act of 1986 protects all service animals and emotional support animals, giving them and their owners certain rights and protections under the law. These rights and protections are especially necessary for people who require ESAs, but who do not appear to be physically disabled and are thus open to further judgement. The Air Carrier Access Act serves to empower and enable disabled people to travel freely on air carriers and to have the accommodations made for them that are necessary for this to happen.
The Air Carrier Access Act means that anyone who requires an ESA can travel freely on air travel, once certain conditions are met. To fly, you will need documentation to prove that your pet is classified as an emotional support animal. This is an official letter from a qualified medical professional, outlining that you require your ESA with you for medical reasons.
How to Get Your ESA Letter
To get this letter, you must undergo a consultation with a medical professional that can be done online. They will then send you a letter that will show that you need your ESA to accompany you on flights. Your letter will be valid for a year, but it is possible to undergo another consultation when your letter expires to ensure that you are always able to fly with your ESA.
Preparing to Travel with Your Emotional Support Pet
While the legal protection for ESA owners is there from the Air Carrier Access Act, there are things that you can do to make your travel plans smoother. Make sure that you inform your flight carrier in advance that you will be traveling with your ESA so that they can make the necessary accommodations for you. You must also ensure that you have your ESA letter available for inspection and that it is valid so that you don’t run into any trouble while you’re traveling.
Having said that, you can be as prepared as needed but sometimes you can encounter someone who wants to stop you from flying with your ESA. Just remain calm and confident and remember that the law is on your side. Keep all correspondence with the air carrier in writing so that you can prove that you have informed them ahead of time.
All airline staff are legally required to be trained in assisting and accommodating passengers with disabilities, and all air carriers are required to employ a complaint resolution official, who can be your official contact for the airline if another member of staff is behaving in a prejudicial or obstructive manner.
The most important thing about the Air Carrier Access Act is that is has empowered people with disabilities to take control of their lives. You do not have to live in fear of flying or traveling, and can rest assured that the law will back you up if you run into trouble.
While having an ESA is a really rewarding experience and makes life much more manageable, little things can prove challenging, as people are not as socially aware as they should be. At least with the Air Carrier Access Act in force, you can focus on what really matters, which is enjoying your travels!