Emotional support animals are pets belonging to people with mental disabilities, such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder, which are recommended as part of their treatment plan by their mental health professionals. Emotional support animals can be any type of pet, including cats, dogs, hamsters, guinea pigs, ferrets, birds, rabbits and reptiles.
Air Carriers Access Act
The Air Carriers Access Act allows people with mental disabilities to fly with their emotional support animals in the cabin of a plane, as long as the emotional support animal doesn’t present a danger to other passengers. Most emotional support animals do not have to be kept in a carrier during the flight. The airline cannot charge an extra fee for people flying with emotional support animals. Emotional support animals should be kept on a leash during the flight. They must be housebroken (unless they are animals that typically live in a cage, like hamsters or guinea pigs) and well-behaved.
Letter from Your Health Care Provider
In order to fly with an emotional support animal, you must provide to the airline a letter from your health care provider. The letter from your health care provider must say three things. It must say that you have a disability that is included in the DSM-V, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual used to diagnosis psychiatric conditions; it must say that your disability substantially limits you with regard to at least one major life activity (major life activities include basic things like walking, talking, breathing, seeing, hearing and thinking); and it must say that he or she recommends an emotional support animal as a component of your treatment. The letter does not need to state what disability you have or how it limits you with regard to major life activities. The letter should include the name of the health care professional writing it, the type of license she holds and her license number. It must be written on letterhead within the past year.
Communicating with the Airline
You must notify the airline at least 48 hours before your flight that you plan to fly with an emotional support animal. You must provide the letter by your health care provider at that time. If you don’t give the airline 48 hours notice, they do not have to let you fly with your emotional support animal.
Making the Trip
Limit the amount of food and water you give your emotional support animal for several hours before your flight. Offer only small amounts of water during that time. Give your emotional support animal a chance to go potty before entering the airport. Keep your emotional support animal on a leash while in the airport. You will be able to board the plane early if you want. Your emotional support animal must sit in your lap or on the floor at your feet. Make sure your emotional support animal does not block the aisle.