Taking your emotional support animal (or ESA for short) on an airplane with you is one of the major benefits provided to owners. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, ESA owners are allowed to bring their emotional support animals with them wherever they go, including into rented accommodation and onboard airplane cabins. This is because emotional support animals are viewed as a treatment tool for those patients suffering from a wide variety of common mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, and bipolar disorder. But many new ESA owners wonder exactly how the rules apply to them and their pets. As emotional support animals are a relatively new treatment form, and we are all still learning the ropes somewhat, it can be useful to be totally sure about taking a trip in the air with your new companion.
There are no restrictions on the species of ESA you can acquire. If your doctor or mental health professional approves you for one, then which animal you go for is up to you. All you need from your doctor is something called an ESA letter, which proves that you suffer from a mental disorder and require the presence of an ESA as part of your treatment plan. This letter is all the proof that you need, and allows you to bring your pet onto flights and into rented accommodation. Bear in mind that the letter won’t describe your specific condition, and it’s against the law for someone to ask about your personal specifics. As long as the letter is genuine and in date, then you and your ESA are totally legal.
The law that governs the provision for service animals to accompany their owners onboard an airplane is called the Air Carrier Access Act, or ACAA for short. In theory, as an ESA can be any species of animal, then any animal you choose should be allowed in the airplane cabin. However, in practice, this can be a tall order for many airlines, as accommodating larger animals can be problematic. In addition, emotional support animals require no specific training for their role, meaning that they might not be used to behaving correctly on busy, stressful flights. In this way, although they are covered under the same law as service and therapy dogs, they are a little different, and require a unique approach by both airlines and owners alike.
So which ESAs are allowed on planes? The answer isn’t so straightforward, and the laws and rules surrounding this question are changing constantly, and differ with every airline. Bear in mind this is not necessarily an attempt by airlines to move the goal posts, as it were; more correctly, they are adapting to relatively new legislation and surge in popularity for ESAs in general, while trying their best to accommodate all their passengers. Over the last twelve months or so, many airlines have tightened their rules when it comes to allowing emotional support animals onboard their flights. According to the airlines, the move was a necessary one, as many people were taking advantage of what they believe to be lax government rules regarding bringing emotional support animals on planes.
Delta Airlines has been one of the most vocal companies regarding bringing on ESAs as cabin passengers. The airline recently announced it was carrying over 700 service animals per day, and had seen a 84% upswing in the amount of incidents involving untrained emotional support animals on flights in 2016. Delta now requires passengers to submit flight data a minimum of 48 hours before a flight, so that the airline staff has adequate time to prepare. The airline stressed that it had reserved the right to remove any animal that was making a nuisance of itself or defecating in the cabin, claiming that it was unfair to other passengers. Also, animals such as reptiles, rodents, ferrets, and hedgehogs are not allowed to fly as ESAs on Delta flights.
United Airlines is another big player in the American aviation industry; they also updated their ESA regulations this year. Like Delta, United requires passengers to submit their documentation at least 48 hours before departure, and passengers may travel with only one emotional support animal. In addition, ESAs must be trained well and not annoy, frighten or disturb other passengers when traveling. American Airlines have also gone along with the 48-hour rule, and have also restricted many types of animal from flying on their aircraft, including amphibians, goats, snakes, and spiders.
Although this might seem unfair to ESA owners, it is in fact designed to weed out the people who are taking advantage of the system. Chances are that if you’re a legitimate ESA owner, then you know how to control your animal and keep it on its best behaviour in public. If you’re intending to take a trip anytime soon, the best policy is to consult with the airline far in advance, so that between you, you can work out the best way to accommodate your ESA. On top of that, always remember to keep your ESA letter in date and on-hand; without that, the airline are well within their rights to refuse you entry.