A Guide to Flying with an Emotional Support Animal in Canada

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Traveling can be a tiring and stressful experience for people living with mental illness. Luckily, help is at hand in the form of emotional support animals. In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about flying with an emotional support animal in Canada.

What is an Emotional Support Animal?

An emotional support animal (ESA) is a domesticated animal (usually a dog or cat) that helps its owner to cope with the symptoms of a mental illness, emotional disability, or psychiatric condition. These conditions might include depression, panic attacks, phobias, anxiety, and more.

ESAs don’t need any kind of special training to help their owners; they just need to have a special bond that helps their person feel safe, calm, and loved.

How to Get an ESA Letter in Canada

If you’re looking into flying with an ESA in Canada then the most important step is getting an emotional support animal letter. This will be your proof of your need for an ESA, which you will need in order to fly. No exceptions.

An ESA letter must be written by a medical or qualified mental health professional, and contain the following information:

You have been assessed by a qualified mental health professional and were found to have an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.
– The letter’s issuer is a qualified mental health professional who is treating you, as well as their license details (date and authority of issue, type of license)
– Your emotional support animal is necessary for your ongoing treatment, including for support during travel and/or at your destination.

Take CertaPet’s pre-screening to see if you qualify for an emotional support animal in Canada.

Canadian Transportation Agency: What You Need to Know When Flying with Your ESA

To fly with your ESA, you’ll first need to know more about the laws and rights.

The Canadian Transportation Agency makes it possible for ESAs to travel with their owners. And so, the Aircraft Accessibility for Persons with Disabilities voluntary code make sure your rights are being respected. 

Taking Your ESA on an Aircraft

It is the responsibility of airlines to make sure that people with disabilities have equal access, have their needs accommodated (within reason), and have their dignity respected.

Service Dogs & Emotional Support Animals Need to be Follow Rules too!

Just because an animal is performing a task for its owner or handler, this does not exempt it from behaving properly in public. Airplane passengers must share a confined space, often for a long time, and assistance animal owners should try to make sure that they treat other passengers with the courtesy they hope to receive.

Remember, other passengers may be frightened of animals or have allergies, making it even more important that your assistance animal is under control at all times.

What’s more, a badly behaved emotional support animal is likely to make life more difficult for other ESAs in the future.

emotional support animal in canada airport

Being a Good Boy! The Importance of Animal Behavior

When flying, assistance animals should:
– Be properly contained and stay with its owner, without running free or wandering off
– Never growl, bark, lunge, or jump at people
– Be able not to relieve itself indoors (either in the terminal or onboard the aircraft).

If an assistance animal is behaving inappropriately, airlines are recommended to first work with the passenger to find a way to correct the animal’s behavior.

This might be a simple case of moving the animal away from another passenger or animal. However, if this approach doesn’t work, airlines are within their rights to remove assistance animals that are deemed disruptive or a danger to other passengers.

3 Facts About Flying with an Emotional Support Animal: Canada Edition!

  1. Assistance animals need to go through security too! They will usually go through the metal detectors at the same time as their handlers but may require additional security checks, so make sure you leave plenty of time.
  2. When traveling internationally, ESAs are still subject to the requirements of the destination country, including health checks and additional documentation.
  3. ESA laws in Canada are not as universal or as clear-cut as in the US, so if you’re traveling between the two, don’t take any of the legislation for granted!

Traveling with an Emotional Support Dog: From Air Canada to WestJet

Flying with an emotional support animal in Canada has been made easy, thanks to accommodating airlines like AirCanada and WestJet.

Air Canada will accept emotional support dogs only—no other species. Passengers traveling with emotional support dogs on Air Canada should advise the reservations department no less than 48 hours ahead of travel, providing an original copy of an ESA letter as detailed above.

Emotional support animals are not subject to pet fees on Air Canada.

WestJet permits emotional support dogs on board free of charge as standard, provided the documentation outlined below is submitted correctly and in advance.

WestJet states, “Other animals may be accepted on a case-by-case basis, with the exception of spiders, insects, reptiles, amphibians, non-household birds, animals with horns, tusks, or hooves, ferrets, rodents, hedgehogs, and sugar gliders.”

Passengers traveling on WestJet must print, complete, and email the following forms to the special care desk no less than 48 hours ahead of traveling:

1. Confirmation of animal training: signed by the dog’s owner or trainer
2. Medical/mental health professional form: including the mental health professional’s license number, where it was issued, and the type of license
3. Veterinary health certificate: signed by the animal’s veterinarian
4. All these forms must be signed physically, not electronically. Once the forms have been submitted, you will get confirmation before you fly if your ESA has been accepted. You should also bring physical copies with you when you travel.

emotional support cat in canada plane, aircanada

Taking Your ESA to Another Province

Do be aware that other assistance animal legislation varies between provinces, which may affect onwards travel arrangements.

ESAs vs Service Dogs Canada!

Before you begin flying with an emotional support animal in Canada you will need to know how an ESA is different from a service dog.

In Canada, a service dog is classed as a dog that has been specially trained (by a professional trainer) to carry out specific tasks for a person with disabilities. An ESA, meanwhile, does not need special training (however for some airlines, they require it). It helps its owner by being a source of comfort, love, and support.

Emotional Support Animal Canada Laws 

In Canada, accessibility laws are different in each province, and some are much more up-to-date than others. As such, it is important to read up on your province’s particular legislation and how it will affect you before getting an emotional support animal.

Canadian Transportation Agency

The Canadian Transportation Agency legislates on all modes of inter-province transportation in Canada, including trains, buses, passenger ferries, and airplanes. The Agency’s aim is to ensure that all Canadians are guaranteed the same access to travel, and assistance animal legislation is an important part of what they do.

Housing Laws in Canada

As with many other disability laws, housing law in Canada differs from province to province. While most provinces have legislation in place for the rights of individuals with trained service dogs in rented accommodation, not all of these apply to emotional support animals.

If you’re planning to get an emotional support animal in Canada while living in rented accommodation, you will need to check your province’s specific legislation.

Ready to Fly with an ESA in Canada? Make Sure You Know Your Responsibilities

While the system in Canada is set up to ensure that people with disabilities who are traveling with assistance animals have equal access to transport, the passengers themselves also have certain responsibilities in return. Passengers with ESAs or service animals should:

1. Inform the airline well in advance (at least 48 hours) that they will be traveling with an assistance animal, and make sure the airline is aware of their needs by being specific and asking questions.
2. Find out what information they need to provide, and take the time to gather this paperwork carefully.
3. Think about where the animal is going to go during the flight: will it lie under sear, on the floor, on the passenger’s lap? Will it require additional space? If so, the airline must be advised ahead of time.
4. Look up where assistance animal relief areas within the terminal are located ahead of time.
5. Confirm what time they need to arrive at the airport: how much extra time will be needed to get through security? Allow plenty of time for security screening!
6. Ensure that their animal is clean and well behaved, and under close control at all times.

Just be prepared with your ESA letter and other additional forms you might need. The best thing to do: study! Traveling with your furry support system doesn’t have to be stressful.

emotional support dog in canada airport, westjet

We are invoking the Human Rights Code when we issue these letters. The Human Rights Code provides the broadest protections to service animal users, as it extends the right to be free from discrimination, harassment, and reprisal in all of the social areas covered by the Code, including services, goods and facilities, accommodation, contracts, employment, and vocational associations. We are also fully aware and understand that an ESA does not have to be honored and can be denied. We make sure to let our clients know this. There is no legal obligation for the other party to approve an ESA request, but they may be motivated to do so on compassionate grounds. Animals that have little training, are poorly behaved or have damaged property will be rejected.

****The Canadian Transportation Agency is currently holding public consultations on the possibility of extending some ATPDR provisions. This includes the possibility of requiring that the air, rail, ferry, and bus carriers that they accept some or all untrained ESAs. They have published a consultation paper that invites travellers with disabilities, carriers, and any other interested parties to give them feedback. If anyone is interested in providing feedback, you will find more information, questions to answer, and instructions in the paper (https://otc-cta.gc.ca/eng/consultation-paper-phase-ii-accessible-transportation-persons-with-disabilities-regulations) . The deadline for comments is February 7, 2020.

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