An emotional support animal (ESA) is a dog, miniature horse, or other animal that is owned by a person with a mental disability, and that can provide emotional support to the owner. An emotional support animal may be necessary for some people with autism or other conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or severe anxiety.
Some people presume that emotional support animals and service animals are the same. However, an emotional support animal does not have to be a dog, and may include a cat, bird, rabbit, or any other pet. A service animal must also be trained to perform a specific task, such as guiding a person who is blind or has low vision, alerting a person who is deaf or hard of hearing to sounds, or pulling a wheelchair or fetching items for individuals with mental disabilities. Meanwhile, emotional support animals are not trained.
Because of this, the two types of assistance animals also are not equally protected by federal and state laws. If you own an emotional support animal and you travel often, you may wonder what the laws are regarding taking emotional support animals onto airlines.
Airline Laws for Emotional Support Animals
To keep in short, some states allow people to travel with their ESA on an airplane if it fits in the cabin’s size guidelines. However, airlines are not required to allow this and some do not allow animals at all.
Unfortunately, as most laws do not recognize emotional support animals as being as “important” as service animals, they do not get the same rights. They do not get to ride for free, nor are airlines obligated to allow them access, unlike service animals.
Some airlines have policies regarding emotional support animals that limit them to a certain number of animals or have additional fees associated with them. Other airlines allow all pets on board, but may require that they be put in a kennel or cage during takeoff and landing. These policies are often written into the contract that passengers must agree to when purchasing their tickets.
What to Keep in Mind
To travel with an emotional support animal, a person must have a letter from a licensed mental health professional stating that the person needs the animal to provide emotional support. The letter must include specific details about the individual’s disability and how their disability impacts their life, as well as how an emotional support animal helps their condition. A copy of this letter must be provided to airline personnel at check-in. Some airlines may require you to notify them hours or days prior to the flight.
Furthermore, airlines are allowed to request more documentation, such as medical records, proof of the animal’s vaccination history, and other papers. Essentially, they’re allowed to take measurements to ensure that your pet would not cause damage to the plane or its passengers. If your pet does cause damage, airlines may ask you to pay for it. Finally, most airlines, particularly domestic carriers, will limit the size of an animal you can take along with you to those under 20 lbs.
KyokoKyoko is from a family of 3 and moved to New York with her parents and siblings when she was 13. Kyoko is fond of spending a great amount of time with pets, specifically her beagle Luna and cat Missy. Her boyfriend often complains that she spends too much time giving attention to their animals. Kyoko has written dozens of articles concerning pets and is aiming at owning a pet shop one day!
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