Emotional Support Animal Overview (ESA)
WANT TO LEGALLY BRING YOUR PET ANYWHERE YOU LIVE OR TRAVEL? You can with an ESA Approval
Your pet can be with you everywhere! What you need is an ESA Doctor’s approval which will:
- Enables you to fly with your pet on airplanes without additional fees.
- Rent & live with your pet anywhere, even if they have a “No Pets” policy.
- Have freedom when bringing your pet on trains, taxis and more
- Save money by eliminating costly pet deposits and waive fees
An Emotional Support Animal is more than a pet; they provide you with comfort and relief from stress, anxiety, depression, and other emotional ailments.
Federal laws protect your rights. The Fair Housing Amendments Act (FHA) protects your rights in having an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) in any housing without being forced to pay pet fees or deposits.
The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) allows your pet to remain with you, kept under the front of your seat while flying in the cabin of airplanes, at no-extra charge.
100% Money Back Guarantee
Feel secure knowing you won’t pay for services you don’t receive. If you’re not approved for an ESA from the doctor, you won’t be charged anything.
Licensed Doctor’s Letters
Support Pets works exclusively with licensed doctors. Your approved documentation will be signed by the doctor and include their registered license number.
24-48 Hour ESA Delivery
Need your ESA doctor’s approval sent super-fast for travel or housing? You’ll get your ESA documentation in 24-48 hours.
Take your ESA Doctor’s approval and documents anywhere you go with your pet. Feel comfortable knowing your pet will be accommodated as required by law.
Emotional Support Pets
A growing number of Americans are living with one or more mental, emotional, or psychological disabilities, and for many, seeking proper and effective treatment is an ongoing journey. Many people find that an emotional support pet (or ESA) can provide measurable comfort and aid, helping them regain a sense of independence and improve their overall quality of life. At Service Pet Verified, we are proud to provide to play a smart part in enabling so many people to change their lives for the better with an emotional support animal. If you’re interested in learning more about how an emotional support animal may help you enhance your quality of life, we’ve created a useful guide to provide everything you need to know about ESAs, including how to get an official ESA letter, your ESA rights, where you can take your ESA, and more.
What is an Emotional Support Animal?
An Emotional Support Animal (ESA), may also be referred to as an assistance animal or support animal. An ESA is a designated companion animal that fulfills an emotional need for a personal dealing with a diagnosed mental, emotional, or psychological disability. Typically, an emotional support animal alleviates the symptoms of a specific mental or emotional condition by providing comfort, companionship, and affection. Many people find that caring for their emotional support animal also provides the benefit of structure in their daily routine, further improving their wellbeing. In order to be considered an ESA, the owner and animal must have the proper documentation provided by a licensed mental health professional or doctor.
Types of Emotional Support Animals
The most common types of emotional support animals are dogs and cats, but there are no specific requirements outlined by ESA laws. However, it’s important to understand that in some situations, your emotional support animal may be excluded from legal protections if it is too large, a specific type of animal, or physically aggressive.
How is an Emotional Support Animal Different from a Service Animal?
Service animals and emotional support animals not only differ in definition but also the way they are categorized according to various laws and regulations.
A service animal undergoes specific training and certification and performs a specific set of duties and tasks for their owner. For example, a seeing eye dog provides physical guidance and other duties to a vision-impaired owner. Keep in mind, the cost of training can be very costly. Costs can be as high as $15,000 for training over a two-year period.
Emotional Support Animal
In contrast, an emotional support animal does not undergo any type of specific training and is not responsible for carrying out certain tasks. Instead, the animal provides support and comfort through simple companionship and affection.
Psychiatric Service Dogs
Many people confuse emotional support animals with psychiatric service dogs, which are trained to do certain tasks that help their owner effectively cope with a mental illness. For example, a psychiatric service dog might be responsible for reminding their owner to take their daily prescribed medication. Or, a person who suffers from dissociative episodes as a symptom of their mental illness may have a psychiatric service dog to prevent them from dangerous situations when they are disoriented. A psychiatric service dog may provide benefits through companionship, much like an emotional support animal, but it is also trained to do certain jobs as well.
What Qualifies You for an Emotional Support Animal?
If you have an emotional or mental condition that you believe would be improved with the companionship of an emotional support animal, you may qualify. Here are just a few examples of the many professionally-diagnosed conditions that may enable you to obtain an emotional support animal:
- Anxiety disorders
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Learning disabilities
- Intellectual disabilities
- Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)
- Mood disorders
- Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
- Panic disorders
You can ask a licensed mental health professional or doctor about recommending an emotional support animal for your needs, and he or she will evaluate your case and provide their professional opinion.
How to Get an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) Letter
An Emotional Support Animal (ESA) Letter will serve as the required documentation for protecting your rights under ESA laws. You may also hear it referred to as an emotional support animal prescription or comfort animal letter. If you’re interested in obtaining an ESA Letter, here’s what you need to know:
An approved ESA Letter can only be provided by a licensed mental health professional or doctor
An ESA Letter must be printed on the health provider’s official letterhead
The letter should state that you have a diagnosed mental condition, as well as explain that your emotional support animal is important to your well-being as related to your condition
The letter must be signed and dated by your mental health care professional or doctor, and include their license number and the date it was issued
An Emotional Support Animal (ESA) Letter is valid from one year of the date of issue, at which point it will need to be renewed. In certain situations, you might need to request specific information be included in your ESA Letter, such as the type, breed, and weight of your ESA animal.
Can My Pet Become an Emotional Support Animal?
Unlike certified service dogs, emotional support pets don’t require professional certification and training. This means that your future emotional support animal might just be a pet you already consider a furry family member. If your pet provides emotional support and comfort in a way that helps you deal with the symptoms of your mental, emotional, or psychological condition, they can become your emotional support animal. You’ll simply need an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) Letter. While your ESA does not need to complete specific training, it’s important that he or she can behave properly in public around people and animals.
How Do I Get an Emotional Support Animal?
If you don’t currently have a pet that you would like designated as an emotional support animal, there’s not necessarily a specific place to adopt an ESA. Because ESA Letters are issued to a specific human, in contrast to the service animal certifications that are provided to a certain animal, there aren’t places that provide ESA-specific adoptions. That being said, there are a few good characteristics to look for if you’re hoping to adopt an animal to become your ESA. Ideally, the animal will be friendly, easy to train, calm, and affectionate. Aggressive animals do not usually make good emotional support animals, because they can be challenging to handle in public environments.
Do I Need to Complete Emotional Support Animal Certification?
No. There is no specific comfort animal certification program or requirements for emotional support animals. You may see online advertisements for websites that claim to offer certification or entry into a government database. However, at this time, there is no such this as a national or state government database for emotional support animals, nor is there companion animal certification of any kind.
Do I Need a Vest for My Emotional Support Animal?
No, but they are helpful. It’s much easier and recognizable to have your pet wear a vest rather than continuously having to pull out your documentation. You do not need an ESA vest, harness, uniform, or identification card. However, you may find it helpful to keep some form of documentation on hand when you’re planning to bring your ESA to a public place. Note that in certain situations, such as air travel, you will need to supply an ESA Letter at minimum and, potentially, a specialized letter required by the airline company, signed by a healthcare professional or doctor.
Can I Have Multiple Emotional Support Animals?
Technically, there’s no regulation that limits you to only one emotional support animal. However, a licensed mental health professional or doctor will need to provide a valid recommendation that states that multiple ESAs are vital to your wellbeing. If you believe you need multiple emotional support animals, you should know that the requirements for each individual animal do not change. You will still need to complete the proper procedure and obtain documentation for each ESA.
Can I Take My Emotional Support Animal Anywhere?
Because emotional support animals are legally categorized differently than service animals, they do not necessarily have the same rights. Keep in mind that most business owners are going to be more accepting of well-behaved verified emotional support animals. But they still have the right to deny entry. This means that you may not be able to take your emotional support animal anywhere, including restaurants, hotels, and private businesses. However, if you clearly communicate with owners and managers of various establishments, you may find they are willing to do their best to accommodate you and your ESA. Despite the fact that you may encounter certain limits on where you can bring your ESA, there are laws that protect your rights in specific situations.
Understanding the Laws for Emotional Support Animals
Emotional support animals are covered by a variety of laws, including those pertaining to housing and travel. If you’re planning to have an emotional support animal, educating yourself on basic companion animal regulations is a good way to prepare. Here are the primary laws that address or include ESA rights in some way, shape, or form:
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act
Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act makes it unlawful for any program that receives federal financial assistance to discrimination against disabled persons. In 1988, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) passed specific regulations under this statute, which state that no disabled individual can be excluded from a program or activity that receives federal funding. Section 504 is typically applied in the context of public housing, prohibiting public housing authorities to deny housing to someone based only on their disability. Additionally, if a reasonable accommodation can be made in order to provide housing for a disabled person, then the landlord or property manager must do so. This means that an exception to any “no pets” policies is required if the person seeking the accommodation meets specific requirements. For ESA owners, this means that they cannot be denied public housing solely because of their emotional support animal.
Fair Housing Act Amendments
The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing for reasons of disability, race, religion, national origin, color, sex, or familial status. Under the FHA, anyone seeking to buy or rent a home, obtain a mortgage, or qualify for housing assistance cannot be discriminated against based on these factors. Both public and private housing is subject to the FHA, and additional protections are placed upon federally-assisted housing. Certain types of housing can be exempt from the FHA, such as owner-occupied buildings (with four or less units), private members-only clubs, religious housing, and single-family homes rented or sold without an agent. Interestingly, the original FHA did not include provisions for disabled persons, but a 1988 amendment made the important change. Today, the HUD is responsible for enforcing the FHA and all amendments. If you have an emotional support animal, you are included in the FHA protections. In addition to preventing you from renting or buying a property, these prohibit a landlord or property owner from imposing different terms or conditions based on a disability and possession of an ESA. The HUD requires a housing provider to ask the following two questions when faced with a request for housing that includes an emotional support animal:
Does the person have a disability?
Does the person have a need (related to their disability) for an emotional service animal?
If the answer to both questions is “yes,” then the FHA requires that the housing provider makes reasonable accommodations for the ESA, even if the property has a “no pets” policy. The concept of “reasonable accommodation” means that if allowing your ESA would put undue financial stress or administrative burden on the housing provider, they can deny the request. Additionally, if you are seeking approval for an exceptionally large ESA, such as a horse or llama, they can legally refuse as well.
Americans with Disabilities Act
The American with Disabilities Act (ADA) prevents discrimination against disabled individuals in all aspects of public life, such as employment, education, transportation, and both public and private places that are accessible by the general public. While the ADA does include provisions for service animals, it’s important to understand that emotional support animals do not currently fall under this category. Because ESAs are not specifically trained to perform a specific job for a disabled owner, they do not have the same rights as service animals. For example, unlike a service animal, and ESA can be denied admission to a public place. However, ESAs are included in some portions of the ADA, specifically those that address reasonable accommodation and housing. Under Title II of the ADA, EDA owners must be provided with reasonable housing accommodations (regardless of “no pet” policies), and are protected from pet policy deposits and fees.
Air Carrier Access Act
The Air Carrier Access Act was approved in 1990 and works in conjunction with Department of Transportation rules to ban any discrimination against disabled persons traveling by air. According to the ACAA, an airline cannot refuse or limit transportation based on your disability, which includes a requirement to accommodate emotional support animals that supply sufficient documentation. Under the ACAA, you have the right to bring your emotional support animal in the main airline cabin, without incurring additional charges. The airline cannot require you to sit in a specific seat or zone of the cabin unless your ESA is so large that they would block the aisle otherwise. Generally, your ESA will be able to sit on the floor of the plane (under your seat), on your lap, or on a seat next to you. However, there are limitations to what is permitted under the ACAA. Airlines are never required to allow reptiles, rodents, spiders, or sugar gliders on a plan, and they reserve the right to limit each passenger to one emotional support animal. Your ESA cannot be disruptive while on the plane and absolutely cannot pose a threat to the safety of other passengers and airline employees. It’s also important to understand that if you are planning to fly internationally with your ESA, you may be subject to specific regulations and laws surrounding foreign animals, regardless of ESA status.
Let Support Pets Help You with All Your ESA Needs
At Support Pets, we understand that an emotional support animal can be a life-changing addition to many people’s lives. That’s why we offer a simple, hassle-free route for getting your ESA Letter, and provide a growing library of resources to help you learn about ESAs. If you’re interested in learning more about how to qualify for a companion animal, we invite you to take our instant qualification quiz by clicking the button below!
Who Qualifies for an Emotional Support Animal?
Essentially anybody who feels that their pet is a key source of comfort and well-being can qualify for an emotional support animal. There may be certain levels of anxiety, depression and restlessness that are mitigated by the presence of a pet. Qualifying for an ESA essentially means that your pet helps you live a better life. Your pet improves your living situation and helps you travel more comfortably.
These conditions include:
🐾 ESA’s can help with serious mental issues such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as well as any form of mental disability such as anxiety, depression or even stress.
🐾 In many cases, pets help level their owners out. They give their owners a stronger sense of purpose and provide comfort and companionship in a way similar to a sibling, friend or loved one.
🐾 ESA’s aren’t a cure to one’s mental stresses and issues, but can certainly aid in treatment towards living a happier and more stress-free life.
Support Pets believes in the right to live and travel with your animal. We believe that people can feel better in the presence of their animals, and should not be forced to pay extra fees, or told they cannot live somewhere based on their animal. Nobody should have to choose between an apartment complex or living with their pet. Support Pets wants you to be happier, and we believe the presence of your animal can help.
Interacting with animals has been shown to decrease levels of cortisol (a stress-related hormone) and lower blood pressure. Other studies have found that animals can reduce loneliness, increase feelings of social support, and boost your mood. https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2018/02/power-pets
How to Ask a Doctor for an Emotional Support Animal Letter
Why Do I Need an ESA Letter?
Your pet may already be providing you with the affection, love, and support you need to relieve symptoms of stress, anxiety, and other common challenges – so why should you ask your doctor for an official Emotional Support Animal (ESA) letter? It’s not unusual for patients to assume that an ESA letter is not necessary if they already have a pet that can facilitate the compassionate care they need. However, it’s important to understand that an official Emotional Support Animal Letter from a licensed mental health professional or doctor is critical in protecting your rights and enabling you to continue managing your symptoms with the help of your ESA. There are two primary situations in which an Emotional Support Animal Letter is not only useful but highly necessary:
Fair Housing Act Emotional Support Animals
When you’re searching for housing, an ESA letter will ensure that you and your emotional support animal are not unfairly discriminated against by landlords, property managers, and other housing staff. According to the Fair Housing Act, it is illegal to discriminate due to a disability, race, religion, national origin, color, sex, or familial status in situations of housing. Anyone attempting to buy or rent a home, get a mortgage, or receive housing assistance is protected against discrimination resulting from any of these factors. Public and private housing are both subject to the FHA regulations, with only a few exceptions made for small, owner-occupied buildings, members-only club properties, religious housing, and single-family homes sold or rented without a licensed agent. With a registered emotional support animal, there are opportunities to avoid security deposits and save money. If you have a mental or emotional disability that qualifies you for an emotional support animal, you are also protected by the FHA. However, you must have an official ESA Letter to effectively communicate and defend your right to an emotional support animal, even at properties with a “no pets” policy. With an ESA Letter, a property owner or manager cannot prevent you from buying or renting a property due to your disability and ESA – they must make every attempt to make reasonable accommodation. Further, you cannot be required to pay additional fees or lose privileges because of your ESA. In these situations, an official ESA Letter is highly valuable and necessary to protect your rights.
Emotional Support Animal Letter for Flying
When you’re planning to travel by airplane with your emotional support animal, you will be required to provide the airline with a copy of your ESA Letter. Without the proper documentation, most airlines will require you to place your pet in the cargo hold of the plane. However, because of the guidelines outlined in the Air Carrier Access Act, you cannot be discriminated against because of your disability. Simply provide your ESA Letter and any additional information needed, and the airline will allow your emotional support animal to sit with you in the main cabin. It is important to know that there are a few restrictions on ESA air travel, including the types of animals permitted as well as specific regulations for foreign travel. With your pet being registered an emotional support animal, there are opportunities to save hundreds of dollars by avoiding the cost of booking a flight for your pet. Depending on the size of the pet, you may also be able to bring the pet to the seat with you.
How Long Does an ESA Letter Last?
An Emotional Support Animal Letter is valid for one year from the date of issue. After that, a licensed health professional can re-issue the letter for another year (and continue to renew it every year thereafter).
FAQs About Emotional Support Animals
If you’re planning on asking your doctor for an emotional support animal, you may have one or more of the following questions on your mind:
Do I Qualify for an Emotional Support Animal?
For many people, determining whether or not they qualify for an emotional support animal can seem confusing. However, you may be surprised to discover that your emotional or mental challenges are included in the wide range of conditions that commonly receive doctors’ recommendations for ESA. While it will ultimately be up to a licensed professional to provide you with the official ESA “prescription,” here are just a few of the diagnosable conditions that can allow you to obtain an ESA:
- Anxiety or panic disorders
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Intellectual disabilities
- Mood disorders
How Do I Choose an Emotional Support Animal?
When a doctor provides you with an emotional support animal “prescription” or ESA Letter, the documentation is not necessarily attached to a specific animal. Rather, the ESA Letter simply provides your information and the professional recommendation for an ESA. Therefore, it is up to you to choose an emotional support animal that can suit your needs, if you don’t already have one.
While there are not currently specific organizations dedicated specifically to matching people with ESAs, there are a few key characteristics you can search for when considering different animals:
First and foremost, your ESA should be able to provide you with the comfort and affection that effectively helps your condition. Choose a pet that you feel a connection with and are able to bond well with for the best results. Keep in mind that most ESA’s are cats or dogs, but other pets are eligible. Many airlines limit the type of pet to only dogs.
Your ESA should be relatively well-trained and able to behave positively in public, including around people and other animals.
While there is no specific limitation on the type of animal that can be an ESA, it’s important to know that certain animals may face limitations in housing and air travel. For example, large animals such as horses or llama are far more likely to be refused by a landlord. The FHA regulations allow property owners to deny ESA requests in the event the animal is simply too large or difficult to accommodate. Also, airlines are not permitted to allow spiders, reptiles, rodents, or sugar gliders in the main cabin, so those ESAs cannot travel by air.
Once you select your ESA, you don’t need to complete any specific training program. Simply do your best to encourage good behavior through regular pet training, so that your ESA can fulfill their role effectively.
Can My Pet Become an Emotional Support Animal?
Yes. If you already have a pet that provides you with support, love, and affection, they can become your ESA. Because there is no training required for ESAs, your current pet can absolutely become one.
Is an Emotional Support Animal the Same as a Service Animal?
No. ESAs and service animals are different in a few ways: how they are trained, the role they fulfill, and how they are viewed in the eye of the law. Service animals undergo extensive training (up to 2 years & $15,000 in cost) and receive official certifications because they are expected to perform specific tasks and jobs for their handler. Also, businesses are prohibited from refusing the entry of service animals. However, ESAs do not complete any training courses and many of the same benefits are received in terms of rights.
Will I Need to Register My Emotional Support Animal?
No. Your ESA Letter is sufficient documentation, and there is no need to complete additional certifications. You may see websites claiming they will certify your ESA or register them in an official ESA database, but those claims are false.
Do I Need to Purchase a Vest or ID for My Emotional Support Animal?
No. There are no official vests or identification needed for emotional support animals. Your doctor will provide you with an ESA Letter that will be sufficient documentation, and you may choose to keep a copy on you when taking your ESA in public – though it’s not required.
How to Register an Emotional Support Animal
For many people living with emotional and mental disabilities, an emotional support animal (ESA) is a life-changing companion that provides comfort, affection, and an increased quality of life. Many ESA owners find that their ESA makes it possible to successfully navigate many of life’s challenges, opening new doors and enabling them to make the most of everyday life. If you believe that an emotional support animal might be helpful to you, an excellent first step is to learn a few basics about the ESA process, such as ESA registration. We’re breaking down everything you need to know about registering an emotional support animal, including exactly which documents you need – and which you don’t – to protect your ESA rights.
How to Register an Emotional Support Dog
One of the most frequently asked questions about ESAs is, “How do I register my emotional support animal?” You may be surprised to learn that the number one tip for ESA registration can be summed up in a single word – don’t! There is no official process for ESA registration, and you are not required to place your emotional support dog (or other animals) on any sort of registry. The only documentation necessary for emotional support animals is an ESA letter, which is provided by a licensed medical professional.
Is There an ESA Registry?
No. There is no official emotional support animal registry, and you are not required to complete specific training or certification for your ESA. While you may see many companies advertising ESA registration and promising to guarantee your ESA a spot on the registry, they are simply taking advantage of ESA owners who are unfamiliar with the ESA regulations. Instead, all you’ll need to guarantee your rights as an ESA owner is a doctor-provided ESA letter.
What is an ESA Letter?
An ESA letter is essentially your “prescription” for an ESA, serving as the clear, doctor-approved documentation required to preserve your ESA rights. An ESA letter can only be issued by a licensed mental health professional, and cannot be transferred from one patient to another.
What Should an ESA Letter Contain?
Here is a sample ESA Letter. In order to be considered valid, an ESA should contain the following information:
The name, license number, and location of the licensed medical professional issuing the ESA letter
The official letterhead of the practice or office of the prescribing doctor
An official statement that you have a diagnosed disability as outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of Mental Disorders (the letter does not need to include information about your specific condition)
The doctor’s statement that an ESA enables you to better perform the tasks of everyday life
A reference to the federal regulations protecting ESA rights is also usually helpful, though not required
In some situations, the letter may need to include specific information about the animal selected as your ESA (e.g. breed, size, etc.)
An ESA is valid for one year, after which it will need to be renewed.
Why Do I Need an ESA Letter?
If you qualify for an ESA, you have certain rights that protect you from unfair discrimination, specifically in regards to housing and travel. An ESA letter is the official documentation that guarantees you these rights and serves as your “proof” that you require an ESA. For example, an ESA letter is required for air travel with your ESA, typically allowing you to bring your ESA in the main cabin (at no additional charge) to provide the support you need. The airline will request a copy of your ESA letter in order to verify its validity, and it is recommended that you also bring an extra copy to keep on hand during travel. Your ESA letter is also extremely useful when searching for housing because it protects you from discrimination. If you have an ESA letter, a landlord or housing manager must make reasonable accommodation – regardless of a “no pets” policy. Securing your ESA letter will ensure that you have everything you need to protect your ESA rights and fight back against any unfair treatment.
Can My Dog Become an ESA?
Yes. One of the biggest benefits to the ESA process is that your dog, cat, or another type of pet can often qualify as your emotional support animal. Because there is no specific training or certification required for an ESA, nearly any animal that provides you with comfort and support can fulfill the role. Your ESA letter will fulfill all documentation requirements for travel and housing. An ESA letter serves as your “prescription” and is specifically connected to you as the patient, not necessarily a specific animal (though many ESAs include details about a particular ESA if necessary). When you’re choosing your ESA, keep in mind that there are certain limitations to ESA rights. For example, certain types of ESAs (such as spiders, rodents, and reptiles) are not permitted to travel via airplane. Also, extremely large emotional support animals like horses and llamas can be more easily refused housing accommodation, so it’s important to be aware.
How to Qualify for an Emotional Support Animal
Support Pets makes it easy to qualify for an ESA using our online system, saving you the time and hassle of other ESA options. Our licensed medical practitioners can provide you with a professional ESA letter, guaranteeing your ESA rights and protecting you from unlawful discrimination. In as little as 24-48 hours, Support Pets can deliver your ESA documentation, with a 99 percent acceptance rate for qualifying ESA applicants. Simple take our online qualification quiz to find out if you’re a good ESA candidate, select your preferred ESA letter (housing, travel, or both), and place your order request. You’ll complete a simple doctor’s questionnaire, then one of our licensed medical professionals will review your information and provide a valid ESA letter. For more information about ESA requirements, regulations, and qualifying conditions browse the Support Pets FAQs Page today.
What to Know About Airline Travel with Your Emotional Support Animal
While many people would agree that air travel can be a stressful experience, disabled passengers often face countless unique challenges that make it even more so. Fortunately, the United States government has recognized that disabled individuals may need specific accommodations to make air travel feasible. For this reason, legislation such as the Air Carrier Access Act has been put into practice to guard against discriminatory practices that can negatively affect disabled individuals, establishing clear policies that could preserve their rights and access to applicable accommodations. If you have an emotional support animal (ESA) and are planning to travel via air, the Air Carrier Access Act guarantees you the ability to travel with your animal, with just a few specific exceptions. Understanding the laws can help you adequately prepare for air travel, enabling you to effectively communicate your need and defend your rights if needed. We’ve created a handy guide to the Air Carrier Access Act, as well as everything you need to know to successfully travel via airplane with your emotional support animal.
What is the Air Carrier Access Act?
The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), passed in 1986, outlines specific regulations that must be followed by all airlines that operate within the U.S. (as well as those traveling between the U.S. and international destinations). The Department of Transportation (DOT) was tasked with creating detailed rules that protected disabled passengers from discrimination while traveling via airplane. In contrast to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the ACAA focuses specifically on air travel rather than general public spaces. According to the Air Carrier Access Act, disabled passengers cannot be refused transport based on their disabilities. Additionally, disabled persons must be permitted to fly with their assistance animals without incurring pet fees or additional travel costs. The ACAA includes both service animals and emotional support animals in its regulations, requiring airlines to allow these types of pets to sit in the main airline cabin with their owners. Rather than being forced to stow their pets in the cargo hold, ESA owners are able to keep them at their feet (or in their lap). This allows ESA owners to successfully utilize their ESA to mitigate any difficulties or limitations associated with their specific disability or condition. Essentially, the goal of the ACAA rules is to reduce the unique challenges faced by disabled persons when traveling by air and ensure that everyone has equal access to proper respect, care, and satisfactory service. The ACAA protects your rights as an ESA owner and allows you rightful access (with few exceptions).
What Does the Air Carrier Access Act Mean for Emotional Support Animals?
The Air Carrier Access Act applies to a range of airline travel scenarios, including traveling with an emotional support animal. Here are the basic rules that will affect you as an ESA owner:
An airline cannot refuse or limit your transportation as a result of your disability or emotional support animal.
If you provide the required documentation (and your ESA meets requirements), you must be allowed to bring your ESA on the plane. Your ESA will be permitted to travel in the main cabin space with you, typically on the floor at your feet or in your lap.
You cannot be required to sit in a specific seat unless you have a large animal or your ESA will be in violation of safety regulations. For example, most airlines do not allow ESAs to be seated in an exit row.
An airline cannot charge you additional fees to accommodate your ESA.
Note that there are a few limitations to your rights under the ACAA, designed to preserve the safety of all passengers and flight crew. Your ESA must not be disruptive or aggressive, and airlines have the right to refuse extremely large ESAs or limit you to one ESA (per passenger). The following are never accepted for airline travel: spiders, rodents, sugar gliders, and reptiles.
Traveling with an Emotional Support Animal: FAQs
Here are a few of the most commonly asked questions about flying with an ESA.
Are airlines required to allow emotional support animals?
Yes, with just a few limitations. You must provide the required documentation (an ESA letter), and the airline can ask that you provide them advance notice of your request. Remember, your request can be denied if your ESA does not behave properly, demonstrating disruptive behavior such as barking, growling, jumping, or refusing to stay seated and out of the aisle.
Can my emotional support dog fly with me?
Yes. Emotional support dogs are among the most common types of ESA, and typically accepted by all airlines. Note that depending on the size of your dog, you may be required to keep them on the floor rather than your lap. Exceptionally large breeds may be refused passage, simply because the airline cannot safely accommodate them.
What documents do I need to travel with an emotional support animal?
You will need a valid ESA letter to travel with your emotional support animal. ESA letters are valid for one year from the date of issue, and must include several key components (see example letter below). Some airlines may also ask that your letter detail the size and breed of your ESA for their reference.
Are all types of emotional support animals allowed on an airplane?
No. Spiders, reptiles, rodents, and sugar gliders are not permitted on an airplane, regardless of ESA status. Very large animals, such as horses and llamas, are also typically refused due to size.
Do emotional support animals have to fly in a carrier?
Typically, your ESA is permitted to stay seated at your feet (not in the aisle). Many airlines allow you to place your ESA in an approved carrier if you choose, but it is not required. Keep in mind that you may not be allowed to sit in an exit row, and ESAs cannot be blocking the aisle.
Can emotional support dogs fly internationally?
Airlines providing service to and from the U.S. must allow dogs, but they are allowed to refuse other types of ESAs. You’ll be subject to the laws of foreign countries regarding the entry and exit of animals, so make sure to research specifics before traveling. Usually, your airline or the embassy can offer clear information and answer any questions.
Sample Letter from Doctor to Airline for ESA
An ESA letter is required for airline travel with your emotional support animal, with specific airlines requesting certain details be included. Not sure what your ESA letter should look like? Most licensed mental health therapists are sufficiently familiar with the requirements of the document, but it can be helpful for patients to be aware as well. Here’s a sample emotional support animal letter from a doctor to an airline, stating the recommendation for an emotional support animal:
Date Name of the Licensed Medical Professional (e.g. doctor, therapist, rehab counselor, psychiatrist) Address of Medical Practices
To whom it may concern:
(Name of ESA owner) is my patient and has been under my care since (date of first appointment or consultation). As a result, I am aware of his/her medical history, diagnosed mental/emotional condition, and related functional restrictions. (Name of ESA owner) meets the legal definition of disabled as outlined in the American with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
As a result of the aforementioned mental/emotional condition, (Name of ESA owner) has functional restrictions and limitations. I am prescribing an emotional support animal (ESA) to alleviate these difficulties and deal with his/her disability, including in travel.
Upon request, I can provide further information regarding my ESA recommendation for (Name of ESA owner).
Signature/Printed Name of Licensed Professional
Note that the letter must be signed and dated by your doctor, and be printed on their official letterhead. Other requirements include documentation of the place it was issued, the doctor’s medical license number, and a clear statement of your disability and need for an ESA. Many patients find that it is helpful to request that the details of their ESA be included (e.g. type, breed, weight), especially if they are planning to use the letter for flying. Perhaps most importantly, your ESA letter is only valid for one year from the date of issue. If your letter is expired, you will need to request a renewed document in order to travel by plane with your ESA.
Tips for Traveling with An Emotional Support Animal
If you’re planning on flying with an emotional support dog or other types of ESA, here are a few tips that can help you minimize stress and hassle:
Call the airline ahead of time to confirm what documents are required. Let them know you will be bringing an ESA on the airplane. Double-check all documentation to avoid any conflicts on the day of travel. Ensure that your ESA has been suitably trained to behave in public, so that you can be confident that there will not be behavior issues at the airport or on the aircraft. Clarify the requirements of your specific airline to ensure you are properly prepared. Here are a few examples of the policies of several popular airlines in regards to ESA travel:
American Airlines ESA Policy
Your ESA letter must include specific details and must be provided to the airline at least two days prior to travel. Check the AA site for more information on traveling with service animals.
Delta Airlines ESA Policy
Your ESA must remain on the floor of the aircraft and is not permitted in a seat. It’s recommended that you provide the ESA ahead of time and contact the airline to request a seat assignment for your convenience. Read more on the Delta Airlines website.
Jet Blue ESA Policy
Your ESA letter should include specific details about your ESA (breed, size, etc.) as well as your flight confirmation number for staff reference. Review details on the Jet Blue website.
Southwest Airlines ESA Policy
ESAs are not permitted on flights traveling to Jamaica but are allowed in the cabin on all other domestic flights. Check the Southwest website to learn more about their ESA documentation guidelines.
United Airlines ESA Policy
ESA documents should be provided at least 48 hours before your scheduled departure, and your ESA must sit at your feet without being in the aisle. You also have the option of using an in-cabin kennel for small animals, but cannot sit in an exit row (due to safety regulations). More information available on the United Airlines website.
Virgin America via Alaska Air ESA Policy
In addition to your ESA letter, you must also provide a health certificate if you are planning to travel to Hawaii. Details can be reviewed on their website (the airline is part of Alaska Air).
Give yourself plenty of time to check in and pass through airport security, taking advantage of online check-in and TSA pre-check if possible. Make sure your ESA has an opportunity to relieve itself before boarding the plane. Ask an airport staff member for the nearest service animal relief area. Organize all required documentation and make sure it is easy to access at a moment’s notice.
Onboard the airplane
Find a comfortable spot for your emotional support animal to be for the duration of the flight. Larger animals such as dogs are often most comfortable on the floor in front of you, while some small animals can sit in your lap (as long as it is safe). Make sure your emotional support animal is not blocking an aisle or emergency exit access. Know your rights: the airline cannot refuse your ESA simply because other passengers (or flight crew members) state they are uncomfortable. However, if your ESA behaves in a disruptive manner, including running, barking, growling, or jumping unprovoked, you can be asked to leave the aircraft.
For international travel
Understand that foreign airlines that operate to and from the U.S. are only required to allow dogs, and can lawfully refuse other types of ESAs. A U.S. airline traveling to a foreign country is subject to that country’s laws and policies regarding service animals. Not all countries allow service animals from other foreign countries. Contact the airline and/or embassy to find out whether your ESA is permitted by your destination country. Inquire about any specific requirements for legal entry/exit of your emotional support animal.
In the event of an issue
If your ESA is refused or you believe our Air Carrier Access Act rights are otherwise violated, you can ask to speak with a Complaints Resolution Official (CRO). The CRO serves as the expert on all disability accommodation issues, and can often clarify the situation for either you or the airline staff as needed. The airline is required to provide a free CRO to you either in person via telephone during their operation hours.
Learn More about ESA Travel from Support Pets
Still have questions about traveling with your emotional support animal? Support Pets is more than happy to help. We understand that for many people, an emotional support animal is an invaluable part of their day-to-day life, especially during travel. Often, an emotional support animal is the only way many people can successfully navigate the stressful, emotional roller coaster of travel, so we know how important it is for you to be able to bring your ESA for support. For more information about your rights under the Air Carrier Access Act and how you can make ESA travel work for you, contact Support Pets today.