Travelling With An Emotional Support Animal

For people living with a mental illness or mental disability, daily tasks as simple as getting dressed or leaving the house can become difficult to manage. More stressful situations, like travelling, can become nigh-on impossible without special support.

Luckily, there is an increasingly popular, non-medicated aid that more and more people are coming to rely on: emotional support animals. Here, I will cover everything you’ll need to know about flying with an emotional support animal, from the laws (and exceptions) to preparing your emotional support animal for travel.

What is an emotional support animal?

An emotional support animal (ESA) is a domesticated animal that helps its owner to deal with the symptoms of a diagnosed mental illness or psychological disability, such as anxiety, panic attacks, PTSD, or depression.

Emotional support animals are a type of assistance animal (i.e. an animal that helps people), along with service animals like guide dogs or seizure response dogs. The difference between emotional support animals and service animals is that while service animals are specially trained to perform a specific task for their handler, ESAs do not need any special training: they just need to be able to make their owner feel safe, calm and loved.

In the US there are laws that apply to both service animals and ESAs, while others apply to service animals only. In the UK emotional support animals are not recognised as certified assistance animals although some airlines will allow dogs as ESA animals - Virgin, Easyjet and Ryanair namely but check in advance that this is still the case, as you will have to inform them prior to travel.

In The US

The only way to get an ESA is to be prescribed one by a licensed mental health professional who is treating you. They will do this by writing you an ESA letter, stating that you have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder or emotional disability and that the animal is necessary for your ongoing treatment.

Unfortunately, unscrupulous retailers are attempting to cash in on the growing popularity in emotional support animals by selling fake, “no-questions-asked” ESA letters or offering to “certify” your pet as an ESA. Sadly, many people fall prey to these scams every year, only finding out that their ESA letters were not valid when they are refused boarding. Avoid that kind of stress by going with a legitimate emotional support animal registration that will help to connect you with licensed mental health professionals in your sta

Legal protection for travelling with an ESA

For people whose condition makes travelling difficult, bringing an emotional support animal along can make all the difference. But what about airlines that charge a fee for pets, or those that don’t allow pets in the cabin? Luckily, there is specific legal protection in place to help people with disabilities who need to travel with assistance animals: the Air Carrier Access Act.

Air Carrier Access Act

The Air Carrier Acces Act (ACAA) is a piece of legislation in the US, that is in place to protect individuals with disabilities from discrimination while flying on commercial airlines. The ACAA makes lots of provisions aimed at making life easier for people with both mental and physical disabilities while flying. One of these is granting them the right to travel with a service animal or emotional support animal on commercial airlines, bringing it into the cabin with them even when pets are not permitted. The Act also exempts assistance animals from pet fees.

There are a few important exceptions to the ACAA, in which case airlines are entitled to turn away ESAs: 

  1. Many airlines require a valid and up-to-date ESA letter as proof of your animal’s status. Some require this to be submitted in advance, in addition to a veterinary certificate. 
  2. Any animal that is deemed unclean, that is not properly housebroken, or that is behaving aggressively or disruptively can be refused. 
  3. Some airlines limit their definitions of what breeds and species count as ESAs. 
  4. Some refuse to carry reptiles, rodents, or insects, while others limit it to dogs and cats only. Make sure you check that your ESA will be accepted before you book!
5 Tips on Getting Your ESA Ready to Travel

1. If your ESA isn’t used to being in crowded places, build up their exposure gradually to avoid any undue stress. Try taking it to animal-friendly shopping malls, or even to the public areas of an airport. Remember to bring lots of treats to reward good behaviour and make it a positive experience!

2. Taking your ESA on buses or trains can be another way to get it used to being in transit. Practice having it sit quietly at your feet or on your lap, and, as always, make sure you reward good behaviour!

3. Schedule an appointment with your veterinarian well in advance of travelling. Ask for a general check-up to make sure it is fit to travel. This is also a good opportunity to ensure that the animal has all the necessary vaccinations and to get a veterinary certificate if required. Finally, make sure you have a stock of any medication your animal will need during the trip, as well as a prescription for vet-approved travel sickness medication. It’s better to be safe than sorry!

4. Animals can sense when we’re stressed, and none more than emotional support animals. Make sure you get everything packed and ready well in advance—including all your necessary paperwork—to avoid last-minute worry.

5. On the day you travel, try to keep your routine with your ESA as close to normal as possible—especially feeding and bathroom breaks. Most airports have special relief areas for assistance animals, so check in advance where these are.

Travelling with an emotional support animal can help to ease the stress and worry of flying for people living with mental illnesses or disabilities. Of course, the support of your GP or a counselling service like those provided by BetterHelp is also important, but the support of an ESA should not be underestimated.

However, before you travel, it’s important that you familiarize yourself with the rules and legislation. Not only will this help to keep your journey smooth and stress-free, but it will also make the journey easier on your fellow passengers.

*Guest post


  1. I have never heard of an ESA animal before I can see how they would benefit people. I am surprised they are allowed to fly though

  2. it sounds so complicated which must be stressful. I understand the need to have rules to ensure safety of both animal and passengers but it sounds so overly complicated. thanks for explaining x

  3. I saw a ptsd dog on a day trip the other week for the first time ever. Never heard of them before so it's been great reading this to understand it a bit more!
    Laura @