Flying with Emotional Support Animals
Traveling by air with pets is always a complicated task due to the numerous rules and regulations that apply. However, if you have an ESA, the approval process will certainly be easier and take less time, if you have all the required documents to prove that your pet is an ESA.
The Air Carrier Access Act
This is the federal law that allows emotional support animals to accompany their owners in the cabin. To be able to enjoy the company of your ESA during your flight, you need to make sure you comply with the following requirements:
1. Present the requested documents
A letter issued by a licensed mental health physician that mentions the following:
The traveler has a mental-health related disability
Note! Although airlines are not allowed to require specific documents that indicate the mental health disability, some airlines require for the mental or emotional disability to be included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth or Fifth Edition.
The presence of the traveler’s animal is required as part of the treatment
The traveler is under the professional care of the physician providing the traveler’s evaluation
In some cases, the airline companies require documents related to the number and type of animal(s) considered ESAs.
Important! The documents presented should not be older than one year. The letter should also include a mention regarding to the physician’s exact specialty (psychologist, psychiatrist, licensed clinical social worker). Some airline companies also require details about the physician’s type of license, issue date and the state where it was issued.
2. Notify the airline in advance
The law requires for persons having an ESA to notify the airline with at least 48 hours before the travel date. This interval of time is used to assess the traveler’s documentation. If you fail to respect this provision, the airline company can decline your request to travel accompanied by an ESA. The documentation can be send online or via fax.
3. Comply with the training requirements
Although an ESA doesn’t need special training, it should at least behave properly when in public without disturbing the other passengers or the airline’s personnel. According to the Department of Department of Transportation’s “Guidance Concerning Service Animals in Air Transportation,” if an animal engages in disruptive behavior, such as running around an aircraft or an airport gate area, growling or barking at other people on an airplane, biting or jumping on people, or urinating in the cabin or gate area, an airline is not forced to allow that animal to travel as an ESA, even if the animal is necessary for a passenger’s emotional well-being.
Species, breed and size restrictions
Restrictions regarding the size, species and breed of emotional support animals are left to the airlines’ discretion. However, most airlines allow any size and breed of dogs or cats, since many ESA breeds are prescribed specifically to the patient for therapeutic purposes.
ESAs are not allowed to sit in the exit rows of an aircraft. If no other accommodation can be made and the animal is too large to fit in the cabin, airlines will require for the ESA to be checked as baggage. Airlines are not required to allow exotic or dangerous species or breeds to travel on their flights. Generally, any domesticated species or breed of animal may qualify as an ESA, provided that it is accompanied by the appropriate documentation.
Many airlines do not categorically exclude specific species or breeds from ESA access to their flights. Carriers determine whether or not they’ll give an ESA travel privileges by evaluating each individual request. Some airlines have exercised their discretion to grant ESA access to various species. Major carriers, such as American Airlines and Delta, have said that they’ve allowed a miniature horse, pot-bellied pig, goat and duck to fly as ESAs on their aircrafts. However, an airline may exclude an ESA of any species or breed from its flights, if the animal displays disruptive behavior.
Vaccination and health documentation required for domestic travel
There are currently no vaccination or health certification requirements for Emotional Support Animals on domestic flights within the United States, except for travels to Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Hawaii has health documentation and quarantine requirements for inbound animals to maintain its status as a rabies-free state. If you are traveling to Hawaii with an Emotional Support Animal, you must have the following documents:
a health certificate issued within 14 days of travel
a Neighborhood Island Permit, if you travel between certain islands within Hawaii
For information on permits and requirements for allowing ESAs to enter the state of Hawaii without quarantine, contact the Hawaii Department of Agriculture.
ESAs traveling between the Continental United States and Puerto Rico are required to have the following:
• a veterinary health certificate stating that the animals do not originate in an area quarantined for rabies.
• a certificate of vaccination against rabies dated within six months prior to travel for pets that are over four months old.
• two identification tags and a collar; the tags should include your permanent address and telephone number, along with an address and telephone number where you can be reached while traveling.
If you travel to the U.S. Virgin Islands, the animal import regulations there require:
a rabies vaccination dated within six months of travel date
a health certificate for dogs and cats coming from the U.S. Mainland and Puerto Rico.
Vaccination and health documentation required for international travel
The documentation and requirements regarding traveling with Emotional Support Animals vary from country to country. It’s best to contact your airline company in advance and ask them about the ESA requirements for your destination. You should also find out details about the authorities you need to consult in regard to this matter.
Airlines that allow emotional support animals on board expect for the passenger to assume full responsibility for the safety, well-being and conduct of the animal, and for compliance with all legal requirements.
Important! It is prudent to contact your airline well in advance of your travel dates and ask them about their ESA requirements and restrictions. If you travel outside of the continental United States, it is wise to contact in advance the appropriate authorities in the country or jurisdiction to which you are traveling to, and inquire about additional documentation or vaccination requirements.
As long as you have the necessary documentation requested for traveling with your ESA by air, no fee is required, whether you transport your ESA with you in the aircraft cabin or as a checked baggage.