Traveling can be a stressful experience. Although you might be excited to take a trip, there are so many anxiety-provoking aspects of travel that can exacerbate symptoms of your mental illness. In fact, even without emotional distress issues, travel can be stressful for everyone! One way to ease your travel worries is by bringing along an emotional support animal (ESA). An ESA can make you feel safer and calmer during your trip, but there are some things you’ll need to keep in mind regarding ESA airport rules and how to make your ESA feel protected.
Emotional support animals in airports
First off, if you’ve been wondering, “Can I take my ESA to the airport?”, the answer is yes! As long as you have proper documentation, you are permitted to bring your ESA with you to the airport. While traveling with your ESA, it’s imperative that you know all of the rules and regulations that pertain to the airport and the specific airline you’ll be flying with well ahead of your trip. Because each airline has different restrictions for flying with an ESA, do your research in advance so that you’ll know what will be required of you. In general, most major US airlines require you to give them at least 48 hours’ notice that you’ll be flying with your ESA. They typically also request some documentation, which often includes a letter from a mental health professional on why you need an ESA, a form from your veterinarian stating that your animal is healthy, and a liability form noting that you take full responsibility for your ESA and that you can vouch that they’re well-behaved. Make sure to have copies of all of these documents on hand in case you need to present them to airline staff at any point during your travels.
You’ll also need to make sure that you’re fully prepared for your ESA’s time spent at the airport and onboard the flight. Have all of their supplies ready (collar, leash, harness, etc.), along with their favorite toys to keep them occupied during the flight. It’s also a good idea to have a comfortable pet carrier if your ESA can fit inside. Make the carrier as comfy as possible with a blanket, too. Before you leave for your trip, check that you have enough food and water (including food bowls) for your ESA. As long as you do this prep ahead of time, you won’t need to stress out at the airport.
How can I keep my ESA safe in an airport?
Because airports are busy, bustling places with potentially large crowds, the airport can be a scary place for any animal (and some humans, too!). So, you’re probably having thoughts of “how to protect my ESA dog at the airport”. Here’s a quick rundown of some things you should remember.
Keep them protected from crowds
One of the scariest parts of the airport is the crowds of people swarming about. This can create some anxiety for your ESA, especially if they’re not used to being around large groups of people. Keep your ESA close to you and pet them as much as you can to remind them that you’re there by their side.
Keep them on a tight leash
Your best option for keeping your ESA safe and contained is to have them in a pet carrier. This can help shield them a little bit from the hustle of the airport. However, if your ESA is too big for a carrier (or doesn’t like being in one), just make sure to keep them on a tight leash. Your main goal should be to make sure that your ESA doesn’t have any opportunities to get startled and run off. Having your ESA get lost in a busy airport is the last thing you need to worry about!
Be prepared for interactions with other people
There’s a huge likelihood that when you travel with your ESA, you’ll get a lot of attention. People will probably want to come up to you and pet your ESA. You’ll have to determine the best way to handle these situations. If your ESA is very socialized and doesn’t mind the attention, you don’t have to worry. However, if your ESA isn’t used to strangers, you can politely tell people that your ESA doesn’t like to be petted. This can help avoid any negative interactions, which can happen if your ESA is caught off-guard and ends up barking or snapping at someone. Just use your best judgment when it comes to these interactions and be clear about what you and your ESA are comfortable with.
Work with airport and airline staff
If you want to get through security easily, try to be as open and transparent with staff as you can. If they understand your situation and are sensitive to your ESA’s needs, they can work to get you both through security as quickly and efficiently as possible. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or to inquire about extra assistance. Although airport staff can sometimes seem a little gruff or too busy to help, if you approach them politely, they’ll often provide you with tips or tricks to cut down on the stress of getting through the airport.
Try to stay confident and happy
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, your ESA will pick up on it. Although it’s their job to offer moral support, they can get anxious being in a strange place as well. So, try to stay as confident and calm as you can so they won’t feel worried. You can basically rely on each other to get through the experience!
If you have a pet that you’d like to register as an ESA, you can get a certification by obtaining a letter from your mental health professional. If you don’t have a professional like this, you can use the services of MooshMe. We can connect you virtually to a licensed mental health professional who can assess your symptoms and determine if an ESA would be a good fit for you. MooshMe can provide you with a certified letter (along with an ID card and vest for an additional fee) so that you’re all set to travel with your ESA.
Keep your ESA safe in an airport setting (and during the flight) by staying tuned into their needs and mood. As long as you can keep them feeling safe and cared for, they’ll be able to offer you the support you need to get through your travels stress-free.