Ever been flying and wondering how that large schnauzer was able to go onboard the aircraft with it’s owner whilst it simply didn’t look like it was a guide dog or such but just a generalist family pet? Well that’s what’s called an ‘Emotional Support Animal’ or ESA.
Airlines are required to carry ESA’s inside the cabin, as long as you have the right documentation – so no more fretting about putting your pet in the cargo… but there are rules to this, read below for more:
In order to fly with an Emotional Support Animal OR Psychiatric Service Dog in the cabin of the aircraft with you, you will need a special letter from a licensed mental health professional. It is not fair that people with PSDs are treated differently than those with other sorts of service dogs but they are and this is written into regulatory law. You can thank the fakers for that because it didn’t used to be that way until faking became such a problem this change was added to cut down on it.
Regulations require that the airline accommodate reasonable requests to fly with an ESA or PSD if the airline is contacted at least 48 hours prior to the scheduled departure time and the following described letter is offered on request (you may have to FAX it to them). If you do not contact them in advance or do not give them the letter in advance so that they have the opportunity to call the doctor’s office to verify it, then they can deny you. So if you just show up at the gate and do not call ahead, you take your chances on whether or not they will actually let you board, even if you have the letter.
These requirements for the letter are excerpted from http://airconsumer.ost.dot.gov/rules/20030509.pdf
* must not more than one year old
* must be on the professional’s letterhead
* must be from a mental health professional
and must state all of the following:
(note: bolded phrases are of specific wording that should be used as presented and not paraphrased to minimize rejection of the letter)
1. That the passenger has a mental health-related DISABILITY that appears in the DSM-IV. Note it is not just a mental illness diagnosis, but a mental illness which substantially limits one or more major life activities. Airlines are not permitted to require the documentation to specify the type of mental health disability or the specific diagnosis, but the letter must state that the diagnosis appears in the DSM-IV.
2. That the presence of the animal is necessary to the passenger’s health or treatment during the flight and/or at the destination.
3. That the individual writing the letter is a licensed mental health professional and that the passenger is under his or her care. The individual writing the letter should clearly indicate what type of mental health care professional they are (psychiatrist, psychologist, clinical social worker, et cetera).
NOTE: Airlines may also require documentation including the date, type, and state of the mental health professional’s license so it may be wise to just have them include that from the start so you don’t have to go back and ask for it later.
Some airlines do call the professional’s office to verify the contents of the letter.
“The purpose of this provision is to prevent abuse by passengers that do not have a medical need for an emotional support animal and to ensure that passengers who have a legitimate need for emotional support animals are permitted to travel with their service animals on the aircraft.”
Effective May 13, 2009:
“[U]nder section 382.117(e), airlines can require passengers traveling with emotional support or psychiatric service animals to provide certain documentation. This information is not a medical certificate in the sense articulated in section 382.23, but airlines are entitled to obtain this documentation as a condition of permitting the emotional support or psychiatric service animal to travel in the cabin with the passenger.”
“The final rule limits use of emotional support animals to persons with a diagnosed mental or emotional disorder, and the rule permits carriers to insist on recent documentation from a licensed mental health professional to support the passenger’s desire to travel with such an animal. In order to permit the assessment of the passenger’s documentation, the rule permits carriers to require 48 hours’ advance notice of a passenger’s wish to travel with an emotional support animal.”
(on professional’s office letterhead)
TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN:
(Patient’s name) is currently under my professional care for treatment for a mental illness defined by the DSM-IV. His/her mental impairment substantially limits one or more major life activities. I have prescribed an emotional support animal as part of the treatment program developed for (patient’s first name). The presence of this emotional support animal is necessary for (patient’s first name)’s mental health.
I am licensed by the state of (state) to practice (medicine/psychiatry/therapy–choose applicable). My license number is (license number).
Please allow (patient’s full name) to be accompanied by his/her emotional support animal in the cabin of the aircraft, in accordance with the Air Carrier Access Act (49 U.S.C. 41705 and 14 C.F.R. 382).
(doctor’s name and title)
Other things to consider bringing include a health certificate and vaccine records. It is also often recommended that your dog be well trained before flying. This will ensure that your dog is kept safe in the airport and that you are more likely to get on the plane with your dog.
When making a reservation to fly with an ESA, call 48 hours in advance to ensure that they know your dog is coming along. Bulk head seating is recommended to ensure that your dog has enough space. Also take into consideration that dogs are not allowed in exit rows. You can find your seats ahead of time by using Seat Guru.
In preparation for the flight, restrict meals and water. Cut off food and water for the most part four hours before the flight. Give your dog small amounts of water from time to time as needed though. Make a potty break right before entering the airport.
You also qualify for pre-boarding because you have your dog with you. Pre-boarding will allow your dog to get settled in ahead of time. Reach the gate ahead of time and talk to the gate agent. Tell them that you would like to pre-board.
“It is the Enforcement Office’s view that section 382.93 requires carriers to board passengers with disabilities who self-identify at the gate as needing to preboard for one of the listed reasons to board the plane before all other passengers, including first class passengers, elite-level passengers , members of the military, passengers with small children, etc.” –see attached preboarding notice
But please, make sure it’s a genuine need… learn more on 20/20 below what happened when a lady confessed:
“DOT operates a toll-free hotline to assist air travelers with disabilities. The hotline provides general information to consumers about the rights of air travelers with disabilities and responds to requests for printed consumer information. It also assists air travelers with time-sensitive disability-related issues that need to be addressed in ‘real time.’ ”
Review the exact wording of regulatory law here:
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