Emotional Support Animals on Flights

April 17, 2014
Fares from Washington DC:

    Q. I've become quite the flyer in recent months. My father passed suddenly a while back , leaving Mom in alone in Oregon, while back in California my spouse was just diagnosed with cancer. Thank god for my little doggie! She truly is an emotional rescue for us all... but traveling with her can be a pain. I was going through security recently and noticed the lady in front of me was boarding with her small dog, and it sat on her lap! No kennel, no cargo hold!

    Someone suggested that this would be allowed if my doctor is treating me for anxiety, which shouldn't be a problem. In addition to everything mentioned above, my oldest daughter was killed three years ago, so I am probably treatable.

    I fly to Los Angeles soon, although my dog is currently on "active duty" with my hubby, I will have to be popping in on mom from time to time and time again, and probably one more time after that!!

    I've done a little research and it seems easy to become certified as a service animal. Is it? Any words of wisdom on this?

    A. Sad to hear about all your travails. But yes, certified service animals are allowed on planes. I even saw one on a cruise I took on Seabourn Cruise Lines last December. No cages. Here is Southwest Airlines’ language about emotional support animals. Other airlines are similar.

    Southwest Airlines welcomes trained assistance animals accompanying a Customer with a disability on all of our flights. Except when too large to be safely accommodated, a trained assistance animal will be transported in the aircraft cabin. In accordance with federal safety regulations, the animal must be positioned so as not to obstruct Customers' expeditious evacuation in the unlikely event of an emergency.

    Trained assistance animals will be allowed to travel on flights to/from all domestic and international destinations with the exception of Jamaica. No animals will be allowed to travel to/from Jamaica on Southwest Airlines under any circumstances due to country-specific regulations.

    Emotional Support Animals

    Animals used for a Customer's emotional support are accepted in the cabin. Emotional support animals will be allowed to travel on flights to/from all domestic and international destinations with the exception of Jamaica. No animals will be allowed to travel to/from Jamaica on Southwest Airlines under any circumstances due to country-specific regulations. In order for a Customer to travel with an emotional support animal, the Customer must provide to a Southwest Airlines Employee current documentation (not more than one year old) on letterhead from a mental health professional or medical doctor who is treating the Customer's mental health-related disability stating:

    The Passenger has a mental or emotional disability recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders - Fourth Edition (DSM IV)
    The Passenger needs the emotional support of psychiatric service animal as an accommodation for air travel and/or for activity at the passenger's destination
    The individual providing the assessment is a licensed mental health professional, and the Passenger is under his or her professional care AND
    The date and type of mental health professional's or medical doctor's license and the state or other jurisdiction in which it was issued

    Assistance and emotional support animals must be trained to behave in a public setting. Customers traveling with an assistance animal or an emotional support animal cannot sit in an emergency exit seat.

    Above image via Shutterstock

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