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Traveling with an Emotional Support Pet: Key Recommendations for Smooth Experience

8 min read

Do you want to travel with your ESA with no limits? It’s possible! In fact, flying with a companion animal in the plane’s cabin is no longer a myth and you as an ESA owner have lots of other spectacular freedoms.

Indeed, along with the growing popularity of ESAs across the nation, the freedoms granted to ESA owners have also become multiple. In particular, it has long become common practice to travel the ESA wherever you wish if you don’t want to part with your faithful friend for too long.

However, despite all the incredible opportunities accessible to ESA handlers, you may also face certain restrictions when traveling with your furry travel mate. Without knowing the existing rules, your ESA rights may even be withdrawn or you may be denied a chance to travel with your pet.

To help you out a bit and to make sure your experience is pleasant and smooth, we’ve gathered top 5 useful tips on what to consider before and during your journey. Check out our guide below to find out more.

  1. Learn more about the main travel requirements for ESA handlers

People in the aircraft, one of them with a dog on his lap. Vector picture
Your ESA pet can sit on your lap during the flight

If you want your travel experience to run flawlessly and with no inconveniences, learning more about the airline policies for support animals is a must. Although the exact demands may vary from one airline to the other, there are a few universal rules that every ESA owner should follow including the ones listed below.

Common airline policies

  • Only a single ESA pet per passenger is permitted to enter the aircraft’s cabin.
  • Your ESA must know good manners and behave normally among people.
  • ESAs can’t sit on passenger’s seats or block the exits and passageways. Instead, they may be seated on the floor near your feet, on your lap or under the chair.

Specific airline policies

  • In all cases without exception, you should contact the airline company of your choice at least 48 hours before your expected trip. It’s necessary to tell them that you’ll be traveling with your ESA. This will ensure that they have time to make the necessary arrangements and your circumstances don’t come as a surprise for them.
  • It will also be your duty to make sure the ESA pet behaves well and doesn’t disturb other passengers. Otherwise, the chances are that you’ll contribute to the already negative reputation of companion animals on planes.  
  • Keep in mind that most airlines accept only cats and dogs as ESAs, not exotic animals. However, in some cases, the miniature horses and some other pets may also be permitted to enter the aircraft’s cabin. This entirely depends on which airline you select for your trip.

Just try to ensure that you accurately follow the policy of the chosen airline to guarantee that you face no unwanted problems that may shipwreck your vacation.

  1. Prepare the right set of documents before your trip

Contract documents pile vector illustration, flat cartoon stack of agreements document with signature and approval stamp
ESA letter is the main document you need for traveling, though airline companies might ask you for the extra ones

Before you go traveling with the ESA, it’s necessary to prepare 3 forms including your ESA letter. Most airline companies usually request the next papers:

  1. The document from a mental health expert regarding your disability
  2. The form from a vet doctor that includes vaccination data and other details about your ESA’s health
  3. Approval of your animal’s behavior.

Remember that the airline can’t charge any extra fees as long as you’ve got the ESA letter. This will help you cut down the unwanted costs as you won’t face any extra pet payments.

However, if you’re traveling with your ESA by bus, the rules may be slightly different. In fact, bus drivers are not obliged to let your ESA enter the vehicle. On the contrary, no such rules apply to support animals.

In most cases, only therapy dogs or service animals may be allowed to travel by bus with their owners. The same goes for subways, trains, shuttles and taxicabs among others. You may only get this right if you pay an additional pet fee.

The only exception here is traveling by plane or car. In these cases, you won’t have to cover any extra costs. But you still need to remember one simple rule – if you want to take your ESA with you on board the plane, you must have the right set of documents at hand to show them to the airline staff before the flight.

What should an ESA letter contain to let you travel with your pet by plane for free?

The ESA letter should contain a few important details that will let the airline company know more about the specifics of your situation and the characteristics of your pet. These usually include:

  • The claim that you have mental health disability
  • Brief information about the animal that will accompany you such as the type of ESA as well as its breed and weight
  • Confirmation that you’re under medical treatment.

Don’t forget that your ESA letter mustn’t be older than one year because they are usually provided for one year only and must be renewed after they expire.

  1. Find the right type of accommodation before going on vacation with the ESA

Pug dog laying in a king size bed
Unlike landlords, hotels and hostels are not obliged to take your ESA, though they certainly can if the lodging is pet-friendly

Are you wondering whether or not you can take your ESA inside the hotel premises when you’re on vacation and want to share housing with your pet? If that’s your case, you’re not the only one who seeks an answer to this question.

Let’s get it clear – emotional support animals aren’t the same as service animals or therapy pets. They don’t have the same rights and aren’t covered by the same laws.

As a result, unlike guide dogs or other assistance animals, ESAs aren’t allowed to all public spaces including hotels, hostels, movie theatres and restaurants among others. In other words, the hotel where you want to stay with your ESA during the trip has all rights to deny you the accommodation.

However, don’t be discouraged too early. In fact, a growing number of hotel chains have started to update their no-pet policies. As a result, some of them may waive the limitations imposed on ESA owners but this may require an extra payment. Anyway, with all the recent updates and changes, it won’t be surprising if you too come across a pet-friendly hotel during your trip.  

Do hotel and property policies regarding ESAs differ?

In fact, they do. Although in most cases, you won’t be permitted to enter hotels, motels, hostels or other public areas, you may contact the administrator of the chosen facility and inquire whether or not they accept ESAs.

With the rental houses or apartments, the situation is completely different. In fact, the housing laws require landlords to accept ESA pets if you’ve got the ESA letter at your disposal.

Also, remember that the landlord has no right to ask for any pet fee or the pet deposit if you are travelling with a registered ESA.

  1. Learn all about etiquette rules and norms of behavior for support animals in public areas

man with an australian shepherd
You are responsible for your ESA`s behavior, so a bit of training definitely won`t hurt

Traveling with the ESA smoothly and without stress presupposes knowing all about the norms of behavior on plane and in other public spaces. Surely, support animals don’t require training as opposed to the guide dogs or service animals.

However, the airline or any other transportation company may refuse to transport your animal if it’s not trained to behave properly. That’s especially true for those animals that show aggression towards other passengers or display bad manners in public.

The things your ESA mustn’t do on plane or in other public means of transport include:

  • Growling or making attempts to bite other passengers
  • Jumping on other passengers or personnel
  • Barking too loudly and not responding to the owner’s commands
  • Jumping on seats and eating from trays
  • Being out of control.

If these or other things happen in your situation, it may provoke disruption and chaos. For this reason, even though there are no specific training rules for ESAs, you should still make sure your pet remains under your control during the trip.

Before the expected journey, it’s better to confirm that your animal can travel together with you without bothering anyone around. To guarantee that nothing bad happens during your trip, you need to first figure out how your ESA reacts to the new environment and whether it feels well in confined areas.

  1. Don’t forget to thoroughly prepare for your trip with the ESA and make arrangements in advance

Two dogs wearing vests
Vests are not compulsory for the ESAs, but they might come in handy as well as the other assesories

You might be thinking that getting a loyal travel mate and traveling with your pet would be a good idea. But before you do it, you should first check if the animal of your choice has favorable characteristics and can become a well-natured and friendly ESA.  

If only the animal fits its future role of an ESA, you’ll be able to travel with it wherever you wish with no problems. What else to consider before you go traveling with your pet? Let’s take a look at the major considerations:

  • Sometimes wearing a tag can be a good idea if you intend to travel with the ESA. Although it’s not compulsory for support animals, a tag will let people know that you’re traveling with an ESA, not just a pet.
  • It’s important to ensure that your pet feels normally in unfamiliar settings and can behave properly in crowds.
  • You must have control over your pet at all times. To achieve this, a leash, collar, harness or kennel may come in handy. This will guarantee that your animal remains obedient and doesn’t disturb anyone.

As a final tip, don’t forget to always keep an eye on your ESA’s behavior and make sure it remains under your supervision throughout your journey.

Key Takeaways

To make your trip maximum enjoyable, you only need to know the existing rules imposed on everyone who wants to travel with the ESA. It’s always a good idea to invest a bit of time and effort when you’re getting ready for your trip. All you should do is to ensure that:

  • All your documents, including the ESA letter, are in order
  • Your ESA knows how to behave in public
  • You have documents from a vet doctor at hand together with other forms
  • Your animal feels well in confined areas and new settings
  • You can control your ESA under all circumstances.

If you follow these tips, you will hardly face any trouble throughout your travel experience. On the contrary, you’ll soon realize that traveling with the ESA can be really exciting while the rules you have to follow aren’t too complicated.

Want to go on a trip with your ESA? Then contact a therapist and apply for an ESA letter to ensure that you can travel with your pet with no limits!

by GetESA

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ESA Laws and Regulations