Are you planning to travel to Florida this winter? As the holiday season is approaching, many people plan on moving to Florida or staying for an extended period of time to get away from snow and cold weather. If you are prescribed an emotional support animal or service pet you will need to take special consideration when it comes to air travel and housing accommodations. Here is a guide to the latest rules for emotional support animals on planes and in Florida condos.
Emotional support animals are not pets — they are prescribed by mental health professionals to individuals with disabling mental illnesses. Emotional support animals do not require any special training. Instead, they provide comfort to their handlers and help alleviate the symptoms of their disability. They can be any species and breed.
It’s important to understand that emotional support animals are not the same as service animals, which are trained to perform specific tasks related to the individual’s disability. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), certain types of animals that perform disability related tasks can be considered as service animals. However, when it comes to air travel, only dogs qualify as service animals.
Airplane travel may be very different this year for those who require emotional support animals in light of a new law that went into effect on January 11, 2021. Emotional support animal airline rules vary by airline, and per Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations, airlines are no longer required to accommodate emotional support animals or treat them in the same manner as service animals.
The DOT’s amendment to the Air Carrier Access Act reportedly followed a number of complaints regarding perceived abuses of the system allowing passengers to bring emotional support animals on flights. It was also prompted by public debate concerning whether some passengers who brought their emotional animals on board had a genuine need for them. Now, even with a letter from a medical professional certifying the animal, emotional support animal rules will effectively consider them pets for the purposes of domestic air travel.
Airlines are required by federal law to allow service animals — including psychiatric service dogs. Although psychiatric service dogs are similar to emotional support animals in that they help alleviate symptoms of a mental or emotional disability, they are trained to carry out specific work related to the disability.
Generally, any mental or emotional disability that would qualify you for an emotional support animal might also apply to a psychiatric service animal. These disabilities can include:
There are a number of ways a psychiatric service animal can help an airplane passenger on a flight, depending on their disability. For instance, a service animal may be specially trained to help ease anxiety, remind you to take your medication, or provide relief from stimuli. Critically, dogs and other psychiatric support animals must meet the training standards set forth by the ADA and DOT prior to travel.
Most of the major airlines no longer allow emotional support animals. However, the new DOT rule does not ban emotional support entirely — it gives each airline the option to take advantage of the rule. As of the publishing of this article, several airlines that fly in North America that recognize emotional support animals include Latam Airlines, Volaris, and Westjet. Since they are not affected by the DOT regulations, a number of international airlines continue to permit emotional support animals on board, including Air France, China Airlines, KLM, Lufthansa, and Singapore Air.
Additionally, even though emotional support animal airline rules no longer permit them on domestic flights for free, airlines may still allow you to bring certain companion animals under 20 pounds in the cabin for a fee. If you plan to travel with your companion animal, it’s crucial to ensure they are in good health and well-behaved.
It’s best to inquire with the airline in advance if there are any specific guidelines to travel with your companion animal — there may be breed restrictions, minimum age mandates, and carrier dimension requirements. You should also ask what type of paperwork might be needed, such as veterinary records. Importantly, you might also consider acclimating your pet to the carrier kennel well in advance of your trip so it feels safe and comfortable in the space.
Airplane travel isn’t the only consideration for those who have emotional support animals. Those with emotional support animals may also face the challenge of getting approval in pet-restricted housing.
As emotional support animals provide therapeutic support for individuals with emotional disabilities, an individual who requires one may request a reasonable accommodation from their HOA or condo association — even if the HOA does not allow pets. As discrimination based on disability is strictly prohibited by both Florida and federal law, the request must be granted if a symptom or effect of the disability would be alleviated by the presence of the emotional support animal. Both the recent Guidance from HUD and Florida Law have changed making it much more difficult for a person with a disability to properly document their need for an emotional support animal in order to obtain a reasonable accommodation from a housing provider.
If you believe you might require an emotional support animal, it’s a good idea to consult with a knowledgeable attorney who can advise you regarding your legal rights. The Law Offices of Herb M. Milgram, P.A. is committed to representing clients in condo matters related to emotional support animals.
Serving the needs of clients throughout Florida, we offer adept advocacy and skillful representation for matters concerning emotional support animals in Broward, Dade, and Palm Beach Counties, as well as Miami, Naples, Brickell, Hollywood, Davie, Pembroke Pines, Hallandale, Sunny Isles, Aventura, North Miami, Boca Raton, and West Palm Beach. In matters concerning housing, we exclusively represent owners — never the condo associations or their boards. To schedule a consultation, we welcome you to contact us at (954) 966-3909.