Traveling with an ESA: What You Need to Know

The idea of traveling with a pet is always an exciting one, but for some people with ESAs and service animals, it’s not just a luxury, it’s essential.

An emotional support animal is a best friend, a companion and a shoulder to cry on. People with ESAs rely on their animals for emotional support and comfort, even though they have no specialized training.

Traveling is often one of those high-anxiety times when an ESA is needed most… so it’s great to know that you can take your furry support system on a plane with you!

How You Can Fly with Your ESA Free of Charge

The Air Carrier Access Act is a law that simply means you can take your ESA or service animal onboard an airplane with no additional fees so long as you have all the necessary paperwork.

You cannot be refused passage on an airplane because of your mental or physical disability, and no airline can demand you reveal your personal disability.

There are still rules and guidelines to abide for taking your ESA (or any pet, if allowed) on board so read the rest of this guide carefully!

Always Alert Airline You Will Be Bringing Your ESA

Different airlines will have slightly different policies when it comes to notifying – most will need at least 48 hours, but to be extra safe it’s wise to contact the airline and make arrangements when you book your vacation.

Find out how the airline likes to be informed and give them notice ASAP!

Know Your Airline’s Pet Carrier Requirements

When taking an ESA up in the air, you’ll be staying close for the journey. While they don’t need their own seat, you will need to closely follow rules and guidelines set up by the airline for your extra-special living luggage.

What’s Acceptable

General airline rules include:

  • 1 pet or carrier per person,
  • Cats and dogs of most breeds allowed,
  • Traveling in style with your own carrier, if it meets these standards:
    • Leak proof material
    • Well ventilated
    • Food and water containers inside
    • Enough space for your furry friend to stand up, lie down and turn around
    • Blankets, towels and other absorbent materials for mid-air animal accidents
    • Can fit under the seat in front of you

Nearly all American operating airlines follow these general rules – but you should always check each specific emotional support animal policy before flying!

What’s Restricted

Although it’s your right to fly with your ESA, there are still some restrictions.

  • Certain breeds of dog and cat, particularly those with snub-noses (brachycephalic breeds)
  • Very young pets under 8 weeks old
  • Those weighing over 20lb

Some airlines will limit how many pets can travel per plane, others are not fond of collapsible kennels. Delta Airways, for example, needs the food and water containers strapped to the outside with your signature on!

Some airport destinations and specific airplane types are not fitted out for ESAs yet.

Airlines are very clear with what’s allowed and what isn’t on their planes –find out before booking your flight!

“Where Does My ESA Go Once I’m on the Plane?”

You might be separated from your pet while you both go through security at the airport, and they may be tucked away in the hold while everyone is climbing aboard. But from lift-off to touch-down you will be flying through the clouds together with their cozy body on your lap.

Don’t Forget the Essential Forms! One of the Most Important Steps!

Whether your airline needs forms filled out and sent in advance or right before your flight, make sure you have the right paperwork to hand!

ESA Letter

The most important thing you need is your letter from a licensed mental health professional confirming that you need an ESA. Your letter will need to be valid for 1 year and allows you to travel with your pet of choice.

If you’ve just noticed that your old letter is no longer valid, or you need your first ever letter for this flight… and it’s only a few days until take-off, don’t sweat! With a little help you can have your ESA letter with you in 48 hours.

Besides your ESA letter, you also may need:

  • Veterinary Health Form – filled in by your vet, stating your beloved pet is registered and vaccinated.
  • Copy of your pet’s current shot record – vaccination records also supplied by your vet.
  • Signed testament to your pet’s behavior – so the airline knows there won’t be any poor pet behavior during the flight.
  • Additional forms – these vary from airline to airline and depend on the destination country.

Up, Up, and Away! Prepare Your ESA for Flight

You both need to be calm and comfortable in the airport and flying environment – the last thing you want to do is heighten any anxiety!

Make sure they’re comfy in their crate and have their favorite blanket with them. Throw in a personal item of yours, like a t-shirt, so your scent will calm them if you’re separated to go through security.

Teach Your Dog on to Be on Their Best Behavior

Even though they’ll be in their carrier, make sure your pooch knows to sit, lay down and understands your commands to keep the barking to a minimum. It’s basic doggy etiquette!

Teaching your dog manners is essential. They’re traveling with you for your comfort, not as a guard dog! If your pooch is showing threatening behavior, you will likely find that airlines are reluctant to allow you onboard and may deny you flights altogether if they feel your animal is a threat to other passengers.

ESA Owners’ First-Hand Flying Experience

“Southwest is wonderful when my emotional support dog Milo and I fly out of Midway. The process is so easy compared to other airlines. All that I have to do is show my ESA letter when I get my boarding pass and check my luggage” ~Aggie, Southwest Airlines

“I flew with my Emotional Support dog (mini-schnauzer) for the first time, and I was incredibly nervous about the carrier situation since their under-seat area is a little smaller than other airlines. However, the flight attendant told me I could keep him out on my lap.” ~Laura, Frontier Airlines

You need to ensure that you are following all of the guidelines and procedures such as having the proper documentation, notifying the airline and that your animal is approved for travel. If you do this, you should have a wonderful and pleasant trip.” ~ Dawn, American Airlines

Dawn is right on the money. Follow the guidelines and prepare in advance, so you too can travel safely and smoothly with your ESA on vacation!


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