This is an important question, especially for owners who frequently travel with their emotional support animal.
To recap- an emotional support animal is an animal that provides comfort and support in the forms of affection and companionship for an individual who is suffering from mental and emotional disability. This disability is diagnosed by a licensed physician which can then serve as proof (in the form of an ESA letter) which qualifies the owner for an emotional support animal.
Unlike service dogs, emotional support animals are neither trained nor required to perform any specific tasks for a disability. An emotional support animal’s sole purpose is to provide emotional stability and love for their owner. Thus, their “assistance” is more intangible in nature. Whereas service dogs are more suited to guiding the blind and assisting the deaf, emotional support animals are most suited to helping individuals with the following disabilities:
- Mood disorder
- Panic attacks
Another way is which emotional support animals differ from service dogs is that emotional support animals do not enjoy the same protections under federal law as do service dogs. However, two particular laws are of the utmost importance for emotional support animals and their owners.
The first of these laws is the Fair Housing Act (FHA). This protects people from discrimination when they are trying to buy or rent a home. This law states the owners with service animals, which includes animals offering emotional support, must be granted access to housing without any additional fees, even if there is a “no pet policy.” Under the FHA, landlords are required to provide reasonable accommodations to use and enjoy housing regardless of the size/breed of the dog.
The second law is the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA). This law prohibits commercial airlines from discriminating against passengers with disabilities. Thus, under the ACAA, emotional support animals are permitted to fly with their owner in the cabin without any extra fees. Of course, the owner must present their ESA letter as well as submit all required forms for their particular airline. This law is most relevant to answering the question at hand.
So what are the best airlines for flying with emotional support animals?
First and foremost, we should emphasize that there are no “bad” airlines to fly with. For the most part, all of these airlines have the same fundamental approach towards owners with emotional support animals:
1) They all require an ESA letter signed off on by a licensed therapist.
2) They all operate under the assumption that the emotional support animal is properly trained and will be well-behaved throughout the duration of the flight.
However, in recent years many airlines have begun requiring a veterinary health form for your ESA as well as confirmation that it is properly trained for commercial air travel. Here at Instant ESA, our years of experience working with emotional support animals has given us a lot of insight into the differences in the fine print of these airlines. Our #1 priority is you! We want air travel to be as safe and convenient as possible for you and your emotional support animal.
We would probably consider Southwest Airlines the most “emotional support animal” friendly because they only require the ESA letter.
American Airlines is another popular choice for ESA owners because they do not require a veterinarian to sign off on the form.
All other airlines (as of June 2019) require a veterinarian (in addition to the therapist) to sign off on the form.
United Airlines and Delta Airlines
United Airlines and Delta Airlines are probably the least “emotional support animal” friendly airlines because they do not allow pit bulls. Sorry pit bull lovers! Also United Airlines has a 65 lb. weight limit for emotional support animals. So that rules out large dog breeds.