For individuals who rely on an emotional support animal, it's extremely important that they be able to bring those animals along with them when they travel. Traveling via airline can be extremely stressful for everyone-and even more so for those with an anxiety disorder. If you struggle with anxiety or another emotional or mental disorder, and you rely on an ESA to assist you with it, here are some things you should know about flying with your ESA.
First and foremost, it's important to be aware that you do not need an official emotional support animal certification for your animal to be considered an ESA. There are no certification or training requirements for an ESA, and if someone tells you differently, they're misinformed. The only thing you legally need to fly with an ESA, without worrying about paying added fees for bringing a pet inside the airplane, is a letter from your doctor.
It is extremely important, however, that this letter be official, and include all of the necessary information to verify that your animal is, in fact, necessary for your mental and emotional health. This means that the letter needs to be from your primary care physician, therapist, or other mental health professional, and it needs to be written on their letterhead.
The letter should also include your specific diagnosis, and state that the presence of an emotional support animal is essential to you keeping your anxiety or other mental or emotional disorder in check. Be sure that your name, your doctor's name, the date, and your doctor's signature are all included. If possible, ask your doctor to include your animal's name and breed or description in the letter, so that airline staff can easily verify that the animal you have brought with you is your ESA.
There may be several times throughout your journey when you may be asked to present your ESA letter to officials and airline staff, so keep it on hand along with your boarding pass and ID. Whenever your animal's presence is questioned, presenting your doctor's letter should be sufficient to answer any questions that people may have.
Unfortunately, it can be quite common to receive some hassling due to the presence of your ESA, especially if it is not readily apparent that your animal is, in fact, there for emotional support. This why we strongly recommend purchasing a vest for your dog that includes the ESA logo or a patch designating them as an ESA. The presence of this vest can go a long way towards minimizing the number of people who question your animal's presence in the airport and on the airplane.
Additionally, though it is not required, you may want to consider getting an official service animal certification for your ESA. Having this, along with your doctor's letter, can give your ESA an air of legitimacy that will make it less likely you will be questioned over and over again. If you bring all three along with you-your ESA certificate, a branded ESA vest, and your doctor's letter-you will be covering all your bases and ensuring that you and your ESA have a simple, hassle-free flight.