Traveling with an emotional support animal (ESA) is slightly different from traveling with service animals or household pets.
If you can’t take your own vehicle and stay in private housing, then this guide will help you plan your trip using public transportation and/or accommodations.
First of all, it’s important to understand the differences between the three types of animals.
An emotional support animal is any untrained animal that provides a therapeutic benefit for someone with a mental or psychiatric disability. Some public places will allow you and your ESA, but not all of them.
A service animal is generally a dog that has the training to do certain tasks that are specific to the needs of a person with a disability.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) covers service animals which allows them access to public areas.
Household pets really do not get any special privileges when traveling. Most places will accommodate pets, but it usually means paying extra to bring them along.
Traveling with your emotional support animal does need some planning and information gathering before making reservations.
It is important to have your documentation up to date. After that, you can then start looking into travel options that will be best for you and your emotional support animal.
Documentation for Your Emotional Support Animal
Whichever type of transportation you choose or where you choose to stay, it’s good to carry some basic documentation for you and your ESA.
It’s also good to look into company policies before making your reservations. Some companies require advance notice, extra forms to submit, or they may have other specific guidelines that you need to follow.
Planning ahead will give you time to submit the required documentation before arrival.
The first two are items that you should definitely have with you. The last two are items that some major airlines are now requiring. The rest of the airlines will probably soon follow suit.
1. You will always need an ESA Letter from your doctor, preferably a licensed mental health professional.
- The letter should state that your disability requires you to have an emotional support animal.
- Ask the doctor to use their official letterhead and include a date that is less than a year old.
* A lot of websites offer Registration for your ESA or ESA Certification. These are not legally required. These will not replace an ESA Letter from your doctor or any other required forms.*
2. While it is not required, it is always best to have your emotional support animal wearing an identifying vest or garment. This way it won’t be confused with a household pet.
3. You may also need a letter from your vet. The vet will need to state that your animal is up to date on its shots and it isn’t a danger to others.
4. You may also need to sign a form personally guaranteeing responsibility for your ESA and that it has the training to behave around strangers.
If your animal has received official behavioral training, then it would be best to also include that document.
Choosing Your Transportation
There is only one federal law that applies to travel with emotional support animals. The Air Carrier Access Act prohibits discrimination of disabled people traveling by air.
The Act does require airlines to accommodate ESA owners with proper documentation.
It also restricts airlines from charging extra fees for your emotional support animal.
However, the airline can require the ESA owner to submit other forms before flying with them. They can also restrict the type of animal allowed.
Your ESA will also have to fit under your seat or in your lap, and it also can not disturb other passengers.
The bonus to flying is that you will avoid the fees charged for people traveling with a traditional pet. This can save you up to $200.
Currently, there aren’t any laws requiring trains, buses, or rental car companies to allow ESAs on their premises.
But, almost all of them will have pet policies and your ESA will fall into that category.
Rental car companies usually do not charge anything extra for your pet, but trains and buses do charge a small fee.
Choosing Your Accommodations
If you and your emotional support animal need a place to stay while traveling then you are in luck.
While ESAs are not officially recognized at these places, many hotels, motels, and campsites do allow pets.
However, there will probably be a refundable pet deposit and a waiver to sign upon check-in.
Also, access to certain parts of the property might be prohibited. The good thing is that the deposit is only about $25-$50.
The best thing to do before traveling with your emotional support animal is to prepare in advance.
Make sure all of your documentation is up to date and your ESA is wearing the recommended gear.
Also, contact all the companies ahead of time to find out their requirements, fees, and policies.
Most places will also post this information on their website.
Lastly, check out your state’s laws and see if they grant any extra privileges in addition to the federal laws.
Are You Ready To Start Traveling With Your Emotional Support Animal?
As you’ve probably realized, preparation is key when traveling with an emotional support animal.
By following this guide, you can cut down on stress and help make your trip enjoyable for both you and your pet.
If you’ve already taken a trip with your ESA, share your experience in the comments below.