Flying High: The Do’s and Don’ts of Flying with Your Emotional Support Animal

If you have already learned how to get an ESA registered, you may be looking to take to the skies with your emotional support animal (ESA). Traveling with an ESA is great to calm anxiety, reduce stress, and have a friendly travel companion at your side. However, you will now have some extra steps and considerations as you get ready to fly.

Consider these do’s and don’ts to avoid some surprises. From advance research to strategic planning for potty breaks, you will want to use this handy guide before you take off.

Research Government and Airline Regulations

Traveling with an ESA is becoming increasingly popular and the result is an update to the U.S. Department of Transportation guideline of traveling with animals. These policies align with the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) and are enforced against passengers and airlines alike.

There is some wiggle room within these regulations, so airlines can tailor to their individualized policies.

Most airlines may require a combination of the following:

  • Advance notice of ESA companion
  • In-person check-in on the day of the flight
  • A copy of the ESA letter/registration
  • Forms specific to the airline
  • Copy of vaccination records
  • Limit of types of ESA animals (i.e. dogs or cats as ESA but not reptiles, birds, goats, etc.)

Always refer to your airline for regulations and rules for your ESA, especially because these policies can be updated regularly. If you are traveling internationally, there may be rules within the foreign country you’re visiting to consider.

Do’s to Simplify Travel

  1. Do prepare paperwork in advance – Gather your doctor’s notes, ESA certification letter, veterinary records, airline forms, and any other required paperwork well in advance. Some airlines want this information on file in advance while others will request it on the day of travel.
  2. Do check and double-check – Review the airline policies before you book and again before you leave, in case there have been updates. ESA policies vary by airline, so shop around and choose an airline with a policy you are comfortable with. Some airlines may even have restrictions on breeds, weight, and pet behaviors, so make sure your ESA is permitted.
  3. Do cooperate – The airline is providing a service, so follow their rules before you book, during boarding, and on the flight. Cooperation and a good attitude will go a long way in minimizing issues. As a pet owner, you need to do your due diligence to give your pet a potty break before the flight, make sure they are well-behaved, and help them through the flight.

Don’ts to Make Travel Easier

  1. Don’t forget to talk to your vet – If you are nervous about taking your ESA to new heights, talk to your vet. They can recommend ways to ease any anxiety your ESA might feel on the flight and even prescribe anxiety medication to soothe your animal.
  2. Don’t forget a back-up plan – It is always good to have a plan B if anything happens. Your flight could be delayed, your animal could misbehave or have an accident, or you could forget crucial documentation. Make a back-up plan and be flexible.
  3. Don’t forget your pet’s needs – Your ESA will need to go to the bathroom, get water, and find a place to relax during your travels. It is always a good idea to research the airport ahead of time, and any layover locations, to mark relief areas for animals. Some airports have indoor and outdoor areas. You should also pack essentials in your carry-on, like a favorite toy, treats, and a travel water bowl to help your pet travel in comfort.

Bottom Line

When you learn about how to get an ESA, ask these questions so you can be prepared. Get in touch with experts and have safe travels!

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