What Is The Air Carrier Access Act? How It Helps & Protects Your ESA

Air Carrier Access Act

The fact of the matter is getting on an airplane can be stressful – especially for those who have a mental or physical disability. For many, having an emotional support animal on board with them allows them to stay calm and reduce the chance of issues such as a panic attack arising. 

However, it is important to have a complete understanding as to what the Air Carrier Access Act – or the ACAA – is exactly in order to ensure the law is followed. Additionally, knowing what is and is not allowed in the ACAA gives you the ability to ensure the law is followed by the airline, and your rights are upheld. Not only is it important to gain an idea as to what the Air Carrier Access Act is, but it is also crucial to know what constitutes an emotional support animal. While the full definition is more in-depth, an emotional support animal helps to provide comfort and support to those who struggle with mental health issues – which may be at their worst during a long flight. 

Through understanding more about the ACAA and what it states as far as allowing emotional support animals on the aircraft – along with learning useful tips to ensure a successful flight – you can make the most of what would otherwise be a stressful event. The following is a complete overview of the ACAA. If you would like to learn more or register your pet as an emotional support animal, be sure to contact us and allow us here at U.S. Service Animals to guide you through each step of the process. 

What is The Air Carrier Access Act?

Up until the late 1980s, there were no protections in place for people with disabilities in a variety of areas, especially air travel. The Air Carrier Access Act of 1986, and subsequent updates in the following years, helped to make air travel more accessible to all by prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability. This law defined what rights should be granted to all passengers as well as announced the obligations of airlines to accommodate passengers requiring special needs. 

The Air Carrier Access Act applies to all airlines and lists the specific rules they must follow. It also provides guidance on the design and setup of aircrafts, such as where wheelchairs and other medical necessities should be stored and how to prioritize storage space and accommodate multiple passengers with disabilities. The law also grants passengers the right to fly unaccompanied if it would not cause a safety issue to the passenger or others on the flight. 

Airlines are not allowed to refuse service to any person with a disability or require advanced notice from the passenger. Some accommodations may require advanced notice so the airline has adequate time to prepare. If there is a perceived safety concern to the flight and other passengers, the airline can deny service but a written explanation needs to be provided. 

The Air Carrier Access Act also permitted the use of service animals during the flight, which allows for your service or emotional support animal to travel in the cabin of the plane with you. This approval opened up air travel for many that would otherwise have remained grounded due to anxieties or other mental health conditions. Now, flying across the world is not only possible but it is a right defined by this law for everyone including those with disabilities. 

In other words, the days of letting a mental disability keep you back from traveling and doing the things you would love to do are over, and you can live your life to the fullest, comfortably flying with your favorite pet wherever you want to go. Of course, there is a process to go through to have your pet certified as an emotional support animal – which is where we come in. Most airlines require verification of the emotional support animal, and we help ensure each person who has a mental disability and wants to carry an emotional support animal with them on flights have the proper paperwork to make it happen. 

What is an Emotional Support Animal?

An emotional support animal is an animal that brings comfort and provides emotional support to an individual with a mental health disability. Perhaps the most common type of emotional support animal is a dog, although cats, rabbits and other types of animals are not uncommon either. 

There is a distinction to be aware of between an emotional support animal and a service animal or therapy dog, however. While there are certainly similarities between the three – which is why there is often ambiguity among many surrounding what each one is for –  there are major differences. 

Whereas an emotional support animal is a type of animal that brings comfort to a person with mental health issues, a service animal is often much more highly trained and there to treat a specific disability, which can be either a mental or physical disability. Perhaps the most well-known form of service animal is a guide dog – or what is sometimes referred to as a seeing-eye dog. However, there are many different types of service animals, and they can help with a wide range of issues. There are many similarities between service animals and emotional support animals, and they both are allowed on airplanes and in housing and protected by both the Air Carrier Access Act and the Fair Housing Act. 

A therapy dog is also somewhat similar to an emotional support animal in the sense they are there to bring comfort and happiness to those who may be stressed or dealing with mental health disabilities. However, therapy dogs are not protected by the Air Carrier Access Act and are not permitted access to an airplane. The reason for this is because the process of having a dog registered as a therapy dog – or therapy cat – is not as extensive, and it does not require an evaluation of the individual by a mental health professional. 

The process of getting an emotional support animal is rather simple, although it is important to understand they are only for people who have mental health issues such as an anxiety disorder, depression, PTSD, etc. An ESA is, however, not for people who only want them on the plane just because they like pets(although I don’t blame anyone who might feel that way). Anyone who struggles with a mental disability and would like to have their cat, dog or other small animal registered as an emotional support animal can give us a call at any time during open hours, and we can help throughout the process, ensuring they know each step to take along the way. 

Register Your Pet As An Emotional Support Animal Now

Benefits of The ACAA

There are many benefits of the Air Carrier Access Act, and many who have an emotional support animal are able to have a comfortable flight, free of crippling anxiety. Anyone who has as a mental disability that has been on a long flight can relate to how stressful that time period can be, especially when away from their ESA. Fortunately, the Air Carrier Access Act allows these people to stay with their animal. While the list of benefits are different for each individual, some of the more common benefits of flying with an emotional support animal – which the ACAA protects – include: 

  • Anxiety relief
  • Companionship
  • Socially relaxed
  • Pet is comfortable

The most obvious benefit of the ACAA is a reduction in the amount of anxiety someone with an anxiety disorder or another form of mental health disability may experience during a flight. Being miles and miles in the air in a small aircraft surrounded by tons of people can be incredibly stressful for anyone – especially those with mental health issues. By being able to carry an emotional support animal on the plane with them allows the person to feel more relaxed and avoid panic or severe anxiety during the flight. 

Another major benefit of the ACAA is companionship with the animal. Let’s face it, flying alone can be incredibly discomforting, which can only make anxiety and other mental health issues worse. For individuals who have an emotional support animal, having that companionship with their pet during the flight lets them feel as if they are not alone and surrounded by complete strangers.

For many, the hardest part of a flight is being surrounded by people they are not familiar with, and many with social anxiety become overwhelmed and are unable to communicate well with other passengers, flight attendants, etc. – which once again can only magnify any anxiety they may feel. The ACAA allows those with anxiety disabilities – such as severe cases of social anxiety – to bring their emotional support animal on the plane with them, which helps them feel more relaxed and comfortable and be more willing and able to communicate with others around them. 

Last but not least, flying with an ESA helps the pet as well as the person. While regular pets or even therapy dogs can most often cope with being away from their owner during the flight, oftentimes emotional support animals are just as reliant on their owner during a flight as the owner is of them. Subsequently, by having your pet registered as an ESA and taking him or her with you on your flight, you can keep them comfortable as well as stay relaxed yourself. 

Tips for Flying With an Emotional Support Animal

It can feel a little weird traveling with your emotional support animal for the first time, and it can be helpful to know exactly how to do so in a proper manner. There are certain tips that can be useful in ensuring both you and your pet are admitted onto the plane and protected by the ACAA as well as ensure you both and everyone around you stays comfortable as well. Typically good practice when flying with an ESA involves the following:

  • Contact the airline
  • Have the ESA wear a vest
  • Bring your ESA letter
  • Get there early
  • Keep calm and relax

The above list of tips can be followed in order, and the first step towards ensuring a successful flight with your emotional support animal is to contact the airline well in advance of your flight. While some airlines may allow for an ESA without advanced notice, many require that you let them know before the flight of your intentions to bring aboard an emotional support animal. Most airlines are very accepting of emotional support animals(after all, it keeps the passenger more relaxed), but they simply have to make the necessary arrangements to ensure the person, pet and other passengers are comfortable. 

Another important tip to follow is to have your ESA wear a vest, preferably one with a bright color on it to help identify it as an emotional support animal. By doing so, you can avoid the annoying conversations with numerous airline workers as to whether or not the animal is properly registered. When your emotional support animal wears a vest identifying it as an ESA, you can effectively and efficiently make it through security and have an overall convenient flight to your next destination.

The most important tip to remember above all else is to bring your ESA letter with you! Forgetting your ESA letter almost certainly ensures your pet is not admitted on the plane. It is also crucial to ensure your ESA letter is valid and written by a licensed mental health professional. 

It is also a good idea to try to get their early – especially if it is your first time flying with an emotional support animal. By arriving early, you and your pet can remain comfortable and minimize anxiety, which is often made worse when having to rush to the gate. Also, getting there early helps ensure the airline is able to make the necessary arrangements for you and your emotional support animal, which may include having you board the plane early. Last but not least, be sure to stay calm during the flight and remember that your best friend is right beside you. 

When to Consider an Emotional Support Animal

An emotional support animal is a great opportunity and provides great support for those who need or can benefit from one. However, an emotional support animal is not always the right answer. Of course, anyone who is considering an ESA is likely doing so as a way to feel more comfortable, so determining if it is the right type of animal can be difficult.

For those who want to be more comfortable and reduce anxiety, depression or other forms of mental health issues, there are essentially three different types of animals to consider – service animals, emotional support animals, and therapy dogs. 

Service animals are ideal for anyone with a physical disability as emotional support animals and therapy dogs are there only to treat mental health issues. It is also important to note that both service animals and therapy dogs are dogs and cannot be a different type of animal. Also, when considering animals that are covered by the Air Carrier Access Act, therapy dogs are automatically ruled out as they are most often not allowed on the plane in the same manner an emotional support animal or service animal is. 

With all that said, emotional support animals are the right choice for people who are diagnosed with a mental health issue and can benefit from having a companion there with them as much as possible. You do not have to be currently diagnosed with a mental health disability to receive an ESA, and testing for a disorder or disability can be completed during the application process. 

The list of mental health complications that are acceptable when trying to get an animal registered as an emotional support animal is rather extensive, and just about any issue that affects a person’s ability to cope or live a normal life daily is covered. Among others, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and ADD are some of the more common reasons to consider an emotional support animal. 

The Bottom Line

Everyone deserves to live a happy life and no one should put off traveling and going where they want to go because of anxiety issues while flying, and having an emotional support companion along for the ride can make the process much less stressful. The entire process of having an animal registered as an ESA can be completed in an effective and efficient manner, allowing you to fly with your pet and stay comfortable on each flight. 

If you suffer from a mental health disability or experience symptoms of a mental health issue and want to learn more about how an emotional support animal can help you live a more happy and productive life, consult with us today and find out how we can help.

Here at US Service Animals, we specialize in helping people with mental and physical health concerns register their pets as either service animals or emotional support animals. We can guide you through each step of the process and help ensure you are comfortable on your next flight.