If you are traveling with an emotional support animal or service animal, you should be aware of the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA). The ACAA offers rights (with some important exemptions) to those traveling with assistance animals. Notably, service animals are allowed to travel on any flight free of charge, and while this was once the case for emotional support animals, the law was amended in 2021 to remove those rights for ESAs.
ACAA Emotional Support Animal Guidelines: What You Need to Know
The Department of Transportation created the Air Carrier Access Act to provide legal protection for those with disabilities traveling on airlines. The act once protected emotional support animals allowing them to travel on airlines free of charge but was amended in 2021. Most airlines now treat emotional support animals as pets and are often charged standard pet fees to travel.
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ACAA Emotional Support Animal
Due to increasing concerns about abuse, ACAA rules on emotional support animals have evolved. As of 2021, the U.S. Department of Transportation has revised ACAA regulations, allowing airlines to restrict ESAs and treat them as pets, subject to specific conditions and documentation requirements.
What is the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA)?
The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) was passed in 1986 and exists to assert the rights of individuals with disabilities when traveling. It prevents discrimination and protects the right of a person who requires a service animal to travel with them, regardless of airline policies around regular pets.
What Does the ACAA Say About Emotional Support Animals?
The ACAA used to require airlines to transport emotional support animals traveling with their handlers, but after a change in laws in 2021, that’s no longer the case. While airlines don’t have to transport emotional support animals anymore, transporting legitimate service animals is still 100% required of all airlines by the ACAA.
2021 ACAA Rule Change for Emotional Support Animals
Beginning in 2021, the Department of Transportation no longer recognizes emotional support animals to be the same as service dogs and doesn’t require airlines to transport ESAs. While airlines can’t be forced to transport ESAs for free anymore, there are still some airlines that will transport emotional support animals in the cabin with their handler.
How to Fly with Your Emotional Support Animal
Flying with an emotional support animal takes a little extra planning since the Department of Transportation doesn’t require airlines to allow it. You have a few options for traveling by plane with your ESA.
- Find An ESA-friendly airline whose policy permits emotional support animals to travel in the cabin with you and get an ESA letter to provide to the airline.
- Train your emotional support animal to be a service dog, and get your legitimate service dog letter to keep your assistance animal with you during the flight at no extra cost.
- Travel with your emotional support animal as a standard pet. This means you’ll have to follow the rules your airline has about size when traveling in the aircraft cabin with you.
ACAA Rules on Service Animals
The Air Carrier Access Act still recognizes, honors, and transports legitimate service animals in the cabin with you at no extra cost. Service dogs are exempt from size and breed restrictions, or airline policies that don’t allow the transportation of pets in the aircraft cabin at all.
Emotional Support Animals vs Service Animals
The difference between emotional support animals and service animals ultimately comes down to training and tasks. Service animals like psychiatric service dogs are individually trained to perform specific tasks that support their handler’s disability directly.
Emotional support animals don’t have to be trained and don’t have to be able to do work or perform any specific tasks for their handlers. ESAs provide support and comfort to their owners with their presence alone.
Making Your Emotional Support Dog a Psychiatric Service Dog
As we mentioned, the only real difference between emotional support animals and psychiatric service dogs is training. That means that all your ESA needs to become a legitimately recognized PSD is to be trained!
Service dogs don’t have to be trained professionally, just individually. With patience, hard work, and a little guidance, you can train your emotional support animal to be a service animal and have all the rights to public access and transportation afforded to them. Online training programs like courses offered by Pettable allow you to train your dog at home with guidance and lessons from expert, certified dog trainers.
Who is the Department of Transportation (DOT)?
The Department of Transportation, or DOT, is a federal government agency in the United States that oversees and coordinates transportation in the country. It directs safety regulations for travel services like airlines, trains, and all major modes of transportation.
Other Emotional Support & Service Animal Laws You Should Know About
Several federal laws exist that protect your right to have an emotional support animal or service animal through a request for reasonable accommodation, either in your home, in your workplace, or in places the general public has access to.
The Fair Housing Act (FHA)
The Fair Housing Act, FHA for short, is a set of federal laws under the Department of Housing and Urban Development, often shortened to HUD. It exists to protect the rights of individuals seeking rental housing, housing assistance, or buying a home and prevent discrimination. This includes protecting the rights of people with disabilities who use an emotional support animal or service dog.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
The Americans with Disabilities Act or the ADA is a federal law that prevents discrimination against individuals with disabilities and protects their access to equal opportunities for public access, housing, employment, and transportation.