I recently got the courage to try something I have been wanting to do for a long time. I took Mowgli on his very first plane ride! I was very anxious to fly with him (alone might I add) my first time and wanted to document the process and all of my helpful tips!
I registered Mowgli as an Emotional Support Animal (ESA). I did this for a couple of reasons: Mowgli has major separation anxiety which causes me to have anxiety if he is not with me and I was afraid to have him fly in cargo as there have been many animals that have sadly died being transported that way (also would cause me more anxiety). I should also note that there are other ways to fly with your pet if they are not an ESA, but this is the option that worked best for my situation.
What is the ESA process? How do I fly with my dog?
I was really nervous to fly with Mowgli as he is a large dog (I’m talking 80+ pounds) so I researched EXTENSIVELY and did everything from call airlines, read blogs, watch YouTube videos, and talk to my vet. I am not an ESA expert, but this is what I would recommend.
- Research airlines and their ESA policy – Before you decide to travel with your pet, I recommend doing research on the airline(s) you are considering flying with. Most airlines have an ESA policy, but you may want to read the “fine print” to make sure it will work in your situation. Simply do a Google search on the airline name and “ESA” policy or look on their website for the “Accessibility” section. Things to look for: pet weight requirements, breed restrictions, time needed to submit paperwork, etc.
- Book a plane ticket – Book a ticket with an airline that you have researched and will fit your needs. I recommend booking out as far in advance as possible to make sure that you have seats left to choose from. Only book with an airline after you have researched their ESA policy AND I would highly recommend you book directly through the airline (don’t use a third party platform like Expedia).
- Fill out and submit the required forms – Based on the airline, the forms will vary, but typically there are at least three forms that you are required to submit at least 48 hours before you travel. I would recommend submitting them as early as possible.
- Mental Health Form – This form must be filled out by a licensed mental health professional. If you do not have one, you can pay for a service online to match you with a licensed professional who can write you a letter if you fit the qualifications. NOTE: Some online websites are sketchy and will just take your money and will not write acceptable letters. I used a website called Waggy. It was all done online. The cost was $98 and I had to fill out a mental health questionnaire. I received my letter the same day, and had to email them to get an additional travel form for the airline I was taking as it wasn’t as common.
- Veterinary Health Form – This form needs to be filled out by a licensed veterinarian and will ensure that your pet is up to date on the required vaccinations and that your pet has never harmed anyone.
- Animal Behavior Form – This form is for you to fill out and certifies that your animal is trained, well-behaved, and listens to your command. If you are at all concerned about your animal’s behavior towards strangers – do not certify them as an ESA.
- Call the airline to confirm your travel reservations and upgrade your seat if needed – After you submit all of the required ESA forms, I highly recommend you call the airline and verify they received your forms and that they are good to go. I would also ask about any other things you should know when flying with an ESA on their airline. If you are flying with a large ESA (aka my 80 pound Golden Retriever) I would highly recommend making sure you get a bulkhead seat or a seat with extra leg room (first class or business class). From experience, Mowgli would NOT fit under one seat in the normal cabin. Some airlines will upgrade you free of charge, but if they wont, you will need to pay to secure a seat.
- Print out all documentation – Once you are cleared to fly with your ESA, print all of your required forms and any other documentation you think you may need. I was never asked to show any documentation once I got to the airport, but in case something goes wrong, you will want to make sure you have copies of everything!
What do I do the day of my flight?
- Skip a meal, limit water and wear them out – I am not a vet – so please verify with yours first. My flight with Mowgli was 3 hours long and it left at 3pm. The morning of my flight I did not give Mowgli breakfast and I took him to the dog park to get out all of his energy. I let him drink water until around 11am and then we left for the airport around 12:30pm. You know your pet better than anyone, but I felt better knowing if he got sick his stomach wouldn’t be full and I didn’t want him to be holding his bladder on the plane.
- Arrive at airport 2 hours early (no online check in) – One drawback of flying with an ESA is that you cannot check in to your flight online. This means that you will have to wait in the airline check in even if you do not have any luggage to check. Budget extra time in case the airport is busy and have your printed forms on hand in case you are asked to show them. Also make sure your pet goes potty before you get to the airport.
- Security – I was most nervous to go through security but it turned out to be a breeze. The TSA agents were extremely friendly and let me walk right through the metal detector with him. Many articles/videos I saw said that you needed to unleash them and walk through separately. This was not true in my case, I was able to walk through the detector with him on a leash with no problems.
- Waiting at the gate/boarding – We had an easy time waiting at the gate as there were not many people around, but you will want to find a quieter spot for you and your pet to wait for boarding. Remember that it is all new sights/smells so your pet will be very stimulated by all the new-ness.
- During the Flight – One drawback of flying with an ESA is that you cannot check in to your flight online. This means that you will have to wait in the airline check in even if you do not have any luggage to check. Budget extra time in case the airport is busy.
- Arrive at airport 2 hours early (no online check in) – One drawback of flying with an ESA is that you cannot check in to your flight online. This means that you will have to wait in the airline check in even if you do not have any luggage to check. Budget extra time in case the airport is busy.
Helpful Tips / Ideas
- Get TSA PreCheck – It is $85 for 5 years and if you fly often it will save you so much time. Also with an ESA it is especially handy because you don’t need to remove your shoes/liquids/laptops/etc. when going through security. It makes the whole process 100 times easier.
- Get a “lead” with no metal instead of leash/collar/harness
- An ESA harness is not needed
- An ESA card or certificate is a scam
- Talk to your vet about meds
- Your dog is not allowed on the seat
- Have passenger etiquitte
Pet Things to Pack in your Carry-on Bag
Pack light (I packed a small backpack) and only carry the essentials you need for your flight. These are some handy items:
- Poop Bags & Wipes (hopefully your pet will not have an accident but it is always better to be prepared)
- Blanket for your pet to lay on when they are on the ground
- Toy or chew that will keep your pet distracted (don’t pack anything that squeaks or smells bad) I love Nylabones!
- Stuff your pockets with treats so they are accessible at all times
- Airline required ESA forms (always have these handy)
- Collapsible water bowl or something similar (I don’t give Mowgli water, but if there is a flight delay or you get stuck on the runway you will want to have it on hand just in case)
- Lint roller if your dog sheds
- Puppy pad if your dog is trained to use them (many airports do not have easily accessible dog “potty” areas)