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Emotional support animals (ESAs) provide therapeutic benefits to those suffering with various conditions including anxiety, depression, autism, PTSD, and many others. Flying can be stressful and those who benefit from their ESA’s company are likely to struggle without them both on the plane and at their destination.
If you have an ESA that you’re planning to fly with, make sure you have everything prepared beforehand so there are no unexpected hiccups on your journey.
1. Make sure your ESA registered
First and foremost, you need to make sure your ESA is registered, as failing to do this will mean they’re not able to accompany you. You can register your animal and find further information regarding emotional support animals at esaregistration.org.
The registration process includes a mental health professional assessing your case and, if you’re approved, you will receive an ESA letter. This document protects your rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act and identifies your animal as an official ESA in the eyes of airlines and landlords.
2. Check your airline’s ESA policies
Some airlines have specific rules regarding the species of your ESA. Most do not allow:
- Sugar gliders
- Non-household birds
- Any other animal that is not clean and is likely to produce a foul odor
When an airline doesn’t specify which species are accepted, it’s important never to assume this means your animal will be allowed on board. If you aren’t sure, call your airline to check.
The most common ESAs are cats and dogs, which are accepted by most airlines without any extra charges. However, this comes on the condition that your animal is small enough to spend the flight either in your lap or under the seat in front of you. At no point can they obstruct the aisle, and many airlines have strict rules against passengers with ESAs sitting in emergency exit rows.
3. Provide the correct documentation
Most airlines need to see a copy of your official ESA letter that is no more than a year old to accept them onto the flight. This typically needs to be provided in advance. American Airlines, like many other popular airlines, requires it at least 48 hours before your flight.
To make sure there are no last minute issues, it is a good idea to submit your form as soon as possible. This way, if there are any problems that need fixing or the situation requires further discussion, you will have ample time to do so.
It is also worth bringing a copy of your documentation with you so others can easily identify your animal as an ESA if needed. Staff may ask to see it to validate your animal’s status while you’re in the airport before you leave, when boarding, and/or in the airport once you’ve landed.
4. Check the rules at your destination
For most domestic flights (excluding Hawaii), you shouldn’t need to worry about your ESA being quarantined. However, if you’re flying internationally with your ESA, it’s very important that you understand the specific rules in the country you plan to visit before you leave.
You need to find out whether your destination is classified as a rabies-free, rabies-controlled, or high-rabies country. You also need to know what your country of origin classifies as. With this information you can find out the specific process necessary for your ESA to enter the country you plan to fly.
If you have all these bases covered, there shouldn’t be any issues with your ESA accompanying you on your flight.