How to Travel with an Emotional Support Animal

Mar 21, 2022 | Tips & Resources

If you are someone who relies on an emotional support animal to help you manage your mental health, it’s important to understand rules regarding bringing your animal on an airplane. Federal disability laws, as well as airline restrictions, limit your ability to bring some animals on board. To avoid disappointment and stress, begin research and planning as soon as you know that you have to travel. You may find that you cannot fly with your support animal and may need to make other arrangements.

What exactly is an emotional support animal

Emotional support animals are pets that provide comfort and support to individuals. They do not necessarily have any special training to provide support, they do not have service animal certification, and they are not considered to be service animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Only dogs that have received training and are certified as service dogs meet these standards. Individuals with emotional support animals may ask their physician or a licensed mental health practitioner to “prescribe” an emotional support or comfort animal in a letter that describes the patient’s condition and need for the animal. This is known as an “ESA Letter.”

Under federal law, service dogs are generally permitted to access public spaces in which animals are not normally permitted as long as the service dog is with the person that it is guiding or caring for. There are no federal protections for emotional support animals, although individual businesses may allow customers or clients to be accompanied by an emotional support animal.

Can cats be emotional support animals?

Technically, any animal can be designated an emotional support animal. Whether the animal will be accommodated on an airplane, in an airport or any other building or area will depend on the policies of the airline or airport.

Know the rules of your particular airline

Because there is no federal law or regulation requiring airlines to accommodate emotional support animals, you will have to contact your airline to find out about its policy. You may find, for example, that your airline will only accept dogs as emotional support animals or that you may be expected to purchase a ticket for the animal if its carrier doesn’t fit under your seat.

Keep your ESA Letter close

You will want to have your ESA letter with you when you go to the airport. Don’t make the mistake of packing it into your checked luggage. Have it in your wallet or purse so that you can access it as needed as you make your way through the airport and onto the plane. If you are concerned about the speed of getting through security, consider TSA Pre-Check, which can expedite this process.

Health and vaccination certifications

In addition to your ESA letter, you will want to be able to document that your support animal is healthy and has any necessary vaccinations. Your vet’s office can provide you with vaccination documentation. If you are traveling internationally, the country that you are traveling to may require your pet to have a microchip with this information.

Prepare for fees

Your airline may require you to pay a fee or pay for a ticket for your pet. In addition, your pet may be required to be in an approved carrier. One thing that you should be aware of is that if the plane is fully booked, you may be asked to either allow your pet to fly in the cargo hold or you may have to be rebooked to a less full flight. You should budget both time and money for these possibilities.

Animal behavior is important

One reason why many airlines have developed strict emotional support animal policies is that some animals have been known to engage in disruptive or even potentially dangerous behavior on airplanes. Because emotional support animals do not have the kind of structured training that a service dog does, it may be unreasonable to expect your comfort animal to behave well in what is an unfamiliar and potentially stressful environment.

Destination Restrictions

Airports in some countries have restrictions on animals that are being flown in. If you are flying to a country that has these restrictions, you may not be able to bring your emotional support animal with you in the cabin. Instead, the animal will have to remain in the cargo hold during the flight. You will be able to collect your pet at the airport.

Consider the weather and travel conditions

Another consideration is weather and general travel conditions. Airlines have the right to make a final determination at the airport as to whether your animal will be able to fly with you in the cabin. If flying conditions are difficult or the weather is particularly cold or hot, you may decide that you don’t want to risk having your animal in the cargo hold.

Finally, you should be aware of restrictions placed by other travel vendors, such as rental car companies and hotels: Some may require you to book specific vehicles or rooms approved for pets, and others may require a special fee. As with airlines, these vendors are not necessarily required to give an emotional support animal special consideration. Contact the vendor to find out about its policies to avoid hassles when you arrive.

CLC Lodging can be a real help during your travel planning, particularly if you learn that you can’t fly to your destination with your service animal and will need to drive a long distance to get to your destination. You’ll be able to research and book hotels for your trip, all at CLC’s pre-arranged pricing. Sign up today!

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