Airline Protection for ESAs

The federal law that allows psychiatric patients to bring their ESAs on commercial aircraft is the Air Carrier Access Act of 1986 (ACAA). The ACAA allows for the ESA to accompany their human in the cabin of the plane regardless of the animal’s size.

Airline travel is overwhelming for many people, especially for those who suffer from a psychiatric disorder. Emotional support animals are able to lower a person’s stress level and reduce their symptoms dramatically.

The ACAA has made airline travel possible for many people with mental illness–for many, the animals have an amazing calming effect that works better than any drug or therapy. Even people with extreme anxiety around flying are able to fly comfortably when their emotional support animal is accompanying them.

In order to have your dog or cat designated as your emotional support animal, you need to get a letter from your psychotherapist or physician recommending the emotional support animal to help with your psychiatric disability, and the animal has to be able to get along with people without being a danger or nuisance.

Airlines are accustomed to people bringing their emotional support animals and have policies in place. Airlines don’t charge an extra fee for emotional support animals, but this may be different for international flights. Airlines do, however, require the proper documentation and 48 hours’ notice prior to the flight. The airlines require that the psychotherapist or physician recommendation letter is current (less than 12 months old) or they have forms that the psychotherapist or physician can fill out. It’s important to carry a copy of the letter on your person, even if you already faxed it 48 hours prior. Service animal vests or service tags are not required, but they are helpful in identifying the animal as being an ESA. For those with small animals, most people bring their animal in a pet travel crate that can fit under the seat in front of them, although not required.

The ESA’s human is solely responsible for the behavior and control of the animal. The airline has no obligation for caring for the animal. The ESA must act appropriately and be well-behaved for the duration of the flight. The human will need to provide means, like a pad, for the animal to go to the bathroom. This will obviously be more necessary on longer trips. The airline has a right to deny your animal if it is misbehaving or out of control.

All year round, many people with mental health conditions travel with their emotional support animals on airplanes headed to destinations across the country.

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Michael Halyard, LPCC, LMFT

Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor & Marriage and Family Therapist

Psychotherapy & Referrals

Emotional Support Animal Letters

533-A Castro Street
San Francisco, CA 94114

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