How to Travel with Emotional Support Animal: 5 Key ESA Tips

You’re finally ready to take a trip, but you travel with your emotional support animal. How do you ensure it goes smoothly? Although regulations recently changed, you and your ESA friend can still travel together. Find out how to enjoy time away without unexpected surprises traveling with your emotional support animal by following these important travel tips below.

CONTENTS – In this article, you will some important points about traveling with emotional support animals, including:

What is an Emotional Support Animal?

An Emotional Support Animal (ESA) is any animal you rely on for aid, comfort, or support, and that offers companionship, unconditional love and affection. It is not specifically trained to assist you with a disability. However, because of its presence, the ESA provides you with a sense of calmness, well-being, and safety.

Emotional support pets may be any type of domestic animal. That’s why they are also called Comfort Animals. Most often it’s a dog. But it could be a cat, rabbit, household birds, gerbil, or any other domestic animal. In fact, you can even bring miniature horses on board as an ESA for some airlines, like American Airlines. Not all emotional service animals are allowed on all air carriers, though.

Some of the best breeds for emotional support dogs include Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Corgis, Great Danes, Golden Retriever, Havanese, Labrador Retrievers, Maltese, and Poodles because they are naturally affectionate toward people.

What is a Service Animal?

A Service Animal has specialized training to help you with a physical disability. It works or performs specific tasks to assist you, like a guide dog. Under federal law, titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), only dogs can be service animals.

Another kind of service animals are Psychiatric Service dogs, which are trained to help with certain mental illnesses or learning disabilities.

While we’ve covered the definition of a service animal here for comparison, the rest of this article addresses travel with an emotional support animal only.

Guide to Air Travel with an Emotional Support Animal

Years ago, traveling with your emotional support animal (ESA) was a breeze. Then, in December 2020, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued new rules that no longer considered an ESA to be a service animal.

That rule change had a wide-reaching impact on the way you can travel with your ESA. Today, there are far more regulations you need to follow before you can board flights and check into hotels. 

That said, exploring the globe with your little loved one can be an amazing experience if done right. You’ll just need to ensure you’re well prepared to avoid any frustration and follow the airline rules.

To make life easier for you and your pooch (or other ESA), here are some updated tips on how to travel with your emotional support animal. 

1. Fully Understand All the Rules

The first thing you’ll want to do is read and understand all the rules about ESA travel before you plan your trip. 

For starters, you need to distinguish the difference between an ESA and a service animal. If the animal you travel with is a service animal, you can board your flight paying no additional fees.

ESAs now have to pay normal pet fees with most major airlines. While the pet fee isn’t extremely high, they’re still worth considering when booking your ticket. 

In fact, airlines are not required to allow emotional support animals to fly, so double check with your airline.

2. Check Pet Size, Breed, and Age Restrictions

Some large pets and certain breeds are restricted from traveling with you in the passenger cabin. This will also vary by airline. Your pet’s carrier, if they have one, will also need to meet certain size restrictions. That way, they can fit underneath the seat in front of you as a carry-on bag would.

Your dog must be old enough to fly. That means over 8-weeks old, in most cases. Your animal’s health is important, too. They must be free of fleas, ticks, or infectious disease. 

Finally, certain dog breeds may not be permitted in the aircraft cabin at all. Here is an example of breeds that are banned on one of the major U.S. airlines:

  • American Bully
  • American Staffordshire Terrier
  • Boston Terrier
  • Boxer
  • Bulldog
  • Mastiff
  • Pit Bull
  • Pug of any kind
  • Pekingese
  • Shih-Tzu

Whether they not pose a direct threat to passengers is irrelevant. Individual airlines have their own list of restricted breeds for the safety of others. So, before you book your flight, make sure you check to see whether your dog is on the ‘no-fly’ list.

3. Get All the Required Documentation

Now that you’ve confirmed that your ESA can travel with you, you’ll need to get your documentation in order. That may include any health certificates or a veterinary health form, as well as a medical doctor’s note.

One of the most important documents you need when traveling with your ESA is your emotional support animal letter. An ESA letter is a document approved by a licensed mental health professional that states your pet’s presence helps you cope with your condition. 

Without a letter, you’ll have an extremely difficult time boarding public transportation and checking into hotels. 

You should also have all your pet’s medical information handy in case they request it. Some countries have strict laws when permitting animals from foreign countries. 

Therefore, check your destination’s requirements long before booking your stay. 

4. Emotional Support Animal | Hotel Tips

Finding pet-friendly hotels can be tough.

What’s more, most hotels are not under the obligation to accept emotional support animals by law. That’s because the hotels are a private business. However, you can find some amazing places to stay as long as you do your research.

When you’re choosing a place to stay with your emotional support animal, it’s not enough to just know that they allow pets. You should not only look for pet-friendly hotels but also a place where you can guarantee your animal will be comfortable. Make sure the hotel has the infrastructure to suit both you and your pet’s needs. 

The good news is that most modern pet-friendly hotels come with grass areas, pet food stores, and other amenities that can enhance your stay. 

5. Be Respectful of Those Around You 

It goes without saying that most people love animals, especially dogs. However, not everyone is going to be a fan. 

Try your best to be respectful of locals and other people traveling near you whenever you’re with your pet. Make sure your pet is on its best behavior during the entire duration of the trip. 

Also, consider that different cultures have different ideas about animals

For example, Western cultures often consider pets as part of the family. In other countries, they may be more hesitant to allow dogs to sleep in beds or travel in cars. 

As a result, be sure to do some reading about how your host country views your animal to avoid any awkward moments in a public setting. 

Final Thoughts on Travel with Emotional Support Animals

Few things in life are more exciting than traveling to a new destination. Why not share that experience with your emotional support animal? 

Although it may require some effort to follow the new regulations, it’s worth it. You’ll end up having a blast on your vacation while still having the support you need for your condition from your furry friend.

Furthermore, your pet won’t have to deal with separation anxiety while you’re gone.

When you follow all the tips above, you’ll reduce some unnecessary headaches during your well-deserved time away. Once you travel with your emotional support animal once, no doubt you’ll feel more comfortable planning future travel.

What’s Next?

Continue your travel planning by making sure your home is safe while you’re away.

Photo credit: Feature – Helena Lopes (Pexels),

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Jackie Gately

Jackie Gately is a seasoned travel writer, photographer, and marketing consultant who is passionate about travel. She loves casual-luxury experiences, coastal getaways, cultural attractions, and local, wholesome food and wine pairings. A perfect day ends with her toes in the sand or by chasing the sunset with her camera--ideally both.

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