Traveling with an emotional support animal for the first time? You probably have a lot of questions in mind. But don’t worry – we’ve got you covered! Here is everything you need to know about traveling with an ESA.
What is an Emotional Support Animal?
An emotional support animal is a big help to those who are struggling with anxiety, depression, or other mental health problems. Their companionship has been proven to have a positive effect on people diagnosed with certain emotional and psychological disorders.
Flying with an ESA 101
As long as you meet the necessary requirements, an ESA can board with you inside the aircraft for free! Most airlines only allow dogs and cats so be prepared for a big “no” when you bring an exotic animal to the airport claiming them as an emotional support animal.
Many airlines do not let certain animal species or dog breeds to join the passengers inside the cabin, so you must find the time to check with the airline you’re booking with to make sure you’re allowed to travel with the ESA you have. It is also important to remember that while you can have several ESAs at home, you can only bring one with you on board. Policies governing this matter vary depending on flight duration, route destination, and whether or not you’re traveling domestic or international (here is the Delta pet policy for quick reference).
Documents You Need to Fly with an Emotional Support Animal
Listed below are some of the documents you need in order to bring your ESA on board for free. The forms can be conveniently downloaded from the airline websites. You can also contact their special assistance desks for more details. Take note that most airlines require that these documents be uploaded or notified to airline 2 days before your flight.
ESA Letter From a Licensed Mental Health Professional
If you wish to travel with your emotional support animal, do not forget to bring with you your prescription letter from a licensed mental health professional. This will serve as proof that you indeed have a need for an ESA to accompany you on the flight. This document is the most important thing you need to obtain to be able to fly with your animal companion in domestic airlines.
Most airlines will ask you for a copy of your ESA’s health certificate signed by a veterinary doctor. Even when it is not mandatory, passengers with an animal companion is advised to carry records of their pet’s most recent vaccination to avoid delays.
Animal Behavior Form
Airlines like Delta, American, and Alaska are now requiring passengers to submit a statement certifying that their ESA is well-behaved and fit to travel. This serves as proof that your animal companion knows how to conduct itself in a public setting. The airline needs some type of assurance that your pet is safe to be around other passengers as it is their responsibility to keep a secure environment for everyone on board.
Possible Additional Documentation
Some airlines will require passengers traveling with an ESA to sign a Passenger Liability Form.
You can also show them your ESA’s training certificates. Although it is not required for an ESA to be trained, it would help you a lot to voluntarily enroll your pet in behavior training courses. This is an important piece of advice for passengers who are traveling with an ESA for the first time. It will surely give you the peace of mind you need knowing that Mr. Pooch or little Felicity has prepared well for the travel.
The Canine Good Citizen award is not required but it can also help you and your ESA get ready for a long flight. The American Kennel Club’s CGZ program offers training which can be very helpful if you are planning to take your pet on a trip.
If you fail to provide a physical documentation showing that your ESA is fit for travel, an airline staff will assess your animal companion upon check-in to see how your pet behaves. Your ESA must be able to demonstrate good behavior during this assessment in order to pass.
Know What to Do and NOT to Do When On Board
- Do not take an aisle seat as your ESA may block the pathway.
- Do not block the emergency exit with your animal companion.
- Do not place your ESA on the seat next to you.
- Do not let your little travel buddy go beyond your designated space and prevent other passengers from using any of their seat amenities.
- Do not make your ESA sit on your tray table.
- Place your animal companion inside a carrier to be stowed underneath the seat in front of you or keep them on a leash/harness for the entire duration of the flight.
- Some airlines allow ESAs to sit on the passenger’s lap if they are smaller than a 2-year-old.
Do Not Cheat the System! ESAs Are Only For Those Who Truly Qualify!
In recent years, there has been an influx of passengers cheating the system in order to free themselves from any additional costs of traveling with their pets. The vague rules covering emotional support animals have made it possible for people to abuse airline policies. In effect, an increase in reported animal-related incidents including urination, defecation, and attack was reported.
More and more passengers have opted to give their animals fake “emotional support” tags to help them avoid fees that would amount to on average of $125 per animal if they are transported via cargo. It is much easier to “fake it” now that a lot of businesses are selling unofficial service vests, collar tags, and even fake certificates. This doesn’t help the case of those who sincerely need the services of an ESA. The irresponsibility of other people has led passengers to see emotional support dogs and cats in a bad light.
Air travel can be very stressful for many. For people suffering from mental health problems, it can be a real anxiety-inducing experience. The company of an ESA can help you manage any amount of stress you may experience from takeoff to landing. So don’t hesitate to travel with an ESA. Your next flight may be your best flight yet!
CertaPet can help connect you to an LMHP in your state to get an ESA letter of prescription. Click on the link at the top to learn more information about getting your own emotional support animal!