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How To Take Your Emotional Support Animal on a Flight [Ultimate Guide]

Flying with an Emotional Support Animal (ESAs) used to be a very straightforward process. However, recently, the rules and regulations for flying with emotional support animals have gotten much stricter.

This is because people seemed to abuse the simplicity of the process and over the past few years there have even been cases where passengers were accompanied by their pot-bellied pigs and miniature horses. One passenger even brought their peacock on board with them.

Though, with a little planning, your companion can join you on your flight.

Flying with your ESA can be straight forward and stress-free with a little planning:

  1. Ensure your animal qualifies as an ESA.
  2. Prepare all the documentation needed when flying with an ESA.
  3. Obtain your ESA’s pet passport.
  4. Inform the airline at least 48 hours before departure.
  5. Ensure your ESA’s travel carrier is within airline regulations.
  6. How to prepare your ESA for travel

I’ve also included some travel tips, to ensure that the process is as stress-free as possible for you and your ESA.




Ensure your animal qualifies as an Emotional Support Animal.

a) Your ESA must be a dog or a cat.

Sadly for all the emotionally supportive hamsters and frogs out there, many airlines have tightened their rules regarding Emotional Support Animals on airplanes.

Airlines said this was necessary because too many passengers were taking advantage of the free transport of ESAs.

Furthermore, they said that the type of animals passengers claimed they needed with them on board for emotional support was getting out of hand. A number of people were claiming that they couldn’t fly without their turkey, peacock, pig, goat, spider or snake for support.

Therefore, the majority of airlines will now only accept dogs on planes, as well as cats, as Emotional Support Animals.

However, it is worth checking with the specific airline that you are flying with.

b) Your ESA must be an approved breed.

Not only must your Emotional Support Animal be a dog or a cat, it must be an approved breed.

Different airlines have different policies on which breeds you can take on a flight, as an ESA.

For example, American Airlines don’t allow snub-nosed or brachycephalic dogs and cats on their flights.

Here’s a list of some of the dog and cat breeds that may not be allowed to fly on American Airlines:

Cats

  • Burmese
  • Exotic Shorthair
  • Himalayan
  • Persian

Dogs

  • Affenpinscher
  • American Staffordshire Terrier
  • Boston Terrier
  • Boxer
  • Brussels Griffon
  • Bulldog (all breeds)
  • Cane Corso
  • Dogue De Bordeaux
  • English Toy Spaniel
  • Japanese Chin

Check the airline policy for who you are flying with, to ensure your dog or cat breed is permitted to fly.

In addition, it you have a large dog, call your airline as soon as you have booked the tickets. Ask the airline to reserve the bulkhead so that your ESA can sit at your feet with more room.

However, it’s important to note that not all airlines will allow you to reserve seats beforehand. In these cases, you will need to show up early to talk to the airline representative at the counter.

This will be the case for Southwest Airlines.

c) Your ESA must be well behaved and calm on the flight.

All airlines require your emotional service animal to be well behaved in public and calm on the plane.

Your ESA won’t be permitted in the cabin if they display any form of disruptive behaviour that can’t be successfully corrected or controlled. This sort of behaviour includes (but isn’t limited to):

  • Growling at others;
  • Biting or attempting to bite others;
  • Jumping on or lunging at others

If the airline observes any of this behaviour at any point during your journey, then you may be liable to pay the fees required to fly with a pet.

You may want to look into training your ESA, to ensure your experience is as pleasant as possible for you both.




What is the etiquette for flying with an Emotional Support Animal?

As mentioned above, all airlines require ESA and service animals to be fully trained. They must be under control of their owner throughout the whole journey.

United Airlines states the following:

  • A service or support animal or animals may be placed at the feet of the passenger at any bulkhead seat or in any other seat as long as no part of the animal extends into the aisle. Animals must be of a size to not exceed the “footprint” of the seat.
  • The animal or animals may not extend into the foot space of another passenger who does not wish to share foot space with a service or support animal.
  • Service and support animals may ride in the passenger’s lap for all phases of the flight, including ground movement, take off, and landing, provided the trained animal is no larger than a lap held child (under 2 years of age).
  • The animal must remain with the passenger at all times.
  • The animal cannot occupy a seat.
  • If no single seat will accommodate both animal and passenger without causing an obstruction, the passenger may check the service or support animal as baggage, at no charge, or purchase an additional ticket for the animal, allowing the animal to occupy that space on the floor. The passenger can buy a second ticket at the same rate as the original ticket.
  • There is no guarantee of additional space beyond 1 seat per ticket.
  • Passengers with trained service or support animals are permitted to occupy flat-bed seats but may require assistance from the flight attendant.

Therefore, your emotional service animal must be well behaved enough to comply to these rules.

These rules apply to most airlines, however airline policies can vary, so again, it is best to check.




Prepare all documents required to fly with an ESA.

a) You must have an ESA letter.

You must be officially certified by a psychologist, therapist, psychiatrist or other duly-licensed and/or certified mental health professional, in order to qualify for an ESA.

Once approved, the registry will then provide you a letter to prove that you and your animal qualify.

In order to show that you and your emotional support animal are legitimate, you will need to present your ESA letter to your airline.

What must the ESA Letter contain?

Your ESA letter must contain details which will inform the airline that you are:

  • A current patient of the mental health professional;
  • Under this mental health professional care and treatment of your disability which is described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of Mental Disorders Version IV or V;
  • Substantially limited in performing or participating in at least one of life’s major activities because of your disability;
  • Being prescribed an ESA as an integral part for the treatment of your current condition;
  • The ESA letter must be dated no later than a year from the date of your departure.

What disorders qualify you to own an emotional service animal?

There are a number of disorders that qualify for owning an ESA.

The following are the disorders stipulated in the previously mentioned DSM-IV:

  • Learning disorders;
  • Attention Deficit Disorder also known as ADD;
  • Sexual disorder;
  • Mental retardation;
  • Tic disorders;
  • Motor skills disorders;
  • Bipolar disorder;
  • Gender identity;
  • Substance-related disorder (alcohol and/or drugs, among others);
  • Cognitive disorders.

b) Your ESA must have a pet passport.

It is important to note that both service and emotional support animals are subject to the same requirements when flying internationally as other animals of their species.

This means you will need relevant documentation to show that your ESA is fit for travel.

A Pet Passport contains a record of the pet’s health and vaccinations. Additionally, it allows animals to travel without the need for quarantine.

However, this is providing that they meet certain conditions, such as having the correct documentation, identification, vaccinations and treatments.

We’ll go into more detail on how to obtain your ESA’s pet passport later – #3 Obtain your ESA’s pet passport.

c) You may require a sanitation form.

A sanitation form is required by some airlines, if your flight is over 8 hours long.

This form states that during the flight, your service animal or ESA will not defecate or urinate on a flight.

Furthermore, the forms requires you to inform the airline how you’d go about dealing with a scenario in which they will need to defecate or urinate.

Check the airline policy of who you are flying with, to see if a sanitation form is required.




Obtain your ESA’s pet passport.

In order to obtain a pet passport, your ESA must (1) be microchipped, and (2) be vaccinated against rabies.

Depending on where you are travelling to and from, your ESA may also require additional vaccinations and treatments.

a) Microchipping your ESA.

Your ESA can get microchipped at your local vet or a charity, such as RSPCA.

Not only is it a requirement when getting a pet passport, it is in your best interest. If your ESA was to go missing whilst abroad, then you are more likely to be reunited.

The microchip will have a number unique to your animal.

Get your ESA microchipped BEFORE getting his/her rabies vaccinations. They will not be valid if microchipped after.

b) Rabies vaccinations.

If you want your take your ESA on a flight, it is mandatory that he/she is vaccinated against rabies.

Most countries require that your ESA is vaccinated a minimum of 21 days before travel.

However, this differs depending on where you are flying to and from.

For example – if you are visiting the UK from a EU country or listed country, your ESA must be vaccinated against rabies between 21 days and 1 year before your flight. If visiting from a unlisted country, then your ESA must also have a blood sample taken at least 30 days after the rabies vaccination.

Before your vaccination appointment, check the requirements for the country or territory you are planning on visiting. This way, you can ensure that your veterinarian is vaccinating your ESA within the correct time frame.

Certain countries require ESAs to have a rabies blood test. After the blood test is taken, your ESA must wait 3 months before being granted entry.

c) Additional Vaccinations.

Depending on where you are flying to, your ESA may also require additional vaccinations or treatments.

For example, Turkey requires that all dogs are vaccinated against parainfluenza, leptospirosis, parvovirus, bordetella, hepatitis and distemper before being allowed into the country.  

Additionally, all dogs visiting the UK, must be treated against tapeworms between 5 days and 21 days before entry. 

Check the requirements for the country you are travelling to, to ensure you are fully prepared.




Where can you get your ESA’s pet passport?

An authorised vet will provide the owner with the pet passport, which will last for the pet’s lifetime, as long as they are kept up to date on their vaccinations.

Call your local vet and check if they are able to complete the forms for you.

If they aren’t, they should be able to refer you to a nearby practise that is able to help.


How long does it take to get a pet passport?

It will take you 1 – 7 days to obtain your ESA’s passport.

The appointment itself will take you 30 minutes to an hour. The vet will do a quick examination of your ESAs health, administer the microchip and vaccines (if necessary), and complete the forms.

As mentioned earlier, it is important to be aware that different countries have particular requirements when it comes to the timing of vaccinations.

When you know where you and your ESA will be flying, check the requirements to ensure that your ESA gets their vaccinations within the proper time-scale.

Try to obtain your ESA’s pet passport 6 months before the date of intended travel. This will allow enough time for their vaccinations and a potential rabies blood test.

For more details on how long it takes to get a passport in the UK check – How Long Does It Take To Get a UK Dog Passport? [2019] and How Long Does It Take To Get a UK Cat Passport? [2019]




When booking your flight, note that you are restricted to sit in specific seats on the plane.

Most airlines require that passengers travelling with ESAs sit in certain seats on the plane.

Therefore, it is important to check these specific requirements, when booking your flight or reserving your seats.

Ensure your ESA’s travel carrier is within airline regulations.

Airlines normally have specific requirements when it comes to the size of your ESA’s carrier.

This is to ensure that it can fit under the seat in front of you.

For example, United Airlines states the following:

The maximum dimensions for hard-sided kennels are 17.5 inches long x 12 inches wide x 7.5 inches high (44 cm x 30 cm x 19 cm). The recommended maximum dimensions for soft-sided kennels are 18 inches long x 11 inches wide x 11 inches high (46 cm x 28 cm x 28 cm).

Soft-sided pet carriers may exceed these dimensions slightly, as they are collapsible and able to conform to under-seat space without blocking the aisle.

Get your ESA used to it’s travel carrier.

You want to ensure that the journey is as stress-free as possible for your ESA.

If you are using a carrier, let him/her get used to it, so that they feel a little at home in there.

Lure your ESA into their carrier with plenty of treats, and let him/her play and sleep in there as much as possible.

You could even do some practice runs. Pop your ESA in its carrier and go out for lunch, or take a walk together.

In addition, pop some of their favourite toys in their travel home, for extra comfort.




Inform your airline you are flying with an ESA at least 48 hours before departure.

Generally, you will need to inform the airline that you will be bringing an ESA, at least 48 hours before the flight.

As well as providing your ESA letter, some airlines may also require you to complete a form.

The document will state the address and jurisdiction of the health professional who approved your use of an ESA. Additionally, it will state that you have a mental health related disability and are under the care of a health professional.

For example, Delta requires passengers to complete the following form – Emotional Support Animal PDF.

The amount of notice the airline will need, may differ between airlines. So, again, please check the policies before booking your flight.

If you fail to give some airports sufficient notice, then your ESA may need to be checked into the kennel compartment of the plane.

Exhaust your ESA 48 hours before your flight.

Try to exhaust your ESA a little by increasing the level of activity 48 hours before your trip.

If you have a dog, take them out for longer walks or runs. Cats are a little harder to exhaust, as lets face it, they do what they want! Try to have some extra play sessions. I know most of the cats I’ve met can’t resist chasing a laser beam!

A sleepy animal will be less prone to getting stressed out on the flight.




Limit access to food 12-24 hours before taking your dog on a plane.

Limit your ESA’s access to food. Therefore, it’ll be less likely that they will need to ‘defecate or urinate’ on the flight.

Additionally, some dogs or cats may experience motion sickness if they eat just before a flight. If you are flying in the morning, then feed them the night before.

Familiarise yourself with the airport that you are departing from and arriving to.

Most airports will have a dedicated area for pets and service animals to rest.

It is actually a legal requirement that all U.S. airports have pet-relief areas available for working animals and pets to rest.

Take some photos of the airport maps, so you don’t have to wander around on the day trying to find a resting place.




Pack all the essentials.

  • A small amount of dry food
  • A travel bowl
  • Treats and chews
  • Pet passport
  • Your ESA’s favourite soft toy, blanket, or pillow
  • Medications and first aid items
  • Your vet’s contact information




Conclusion

Okay, so as you have now learnt, flying with your ESA does require a certain amount of planning and preparation. Nevertheless, to ensure your flight is as stress-free as possible for you and your ESA, it’s worth it!

Be sure to obtain your ESA letter, and familiarise yourself with your airlines pet-policies and requirements.

Ensure your ESA is fit and healthy for travel, and allow yourself between 1 month to 6 months to acquire your ESA’s pet passport.

If you have any questions or concerns, or if your ESA has had some problems whilst travelling in the past – please seek advice from your vet.

Hope this has been helpful.

Happy travels!

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