5 Tips for Traveling with an Emotional Support Animal

September 21, 2020

Emotional support animals are wonderful companions for people suffering from severe anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. Though ESAs are not service animals, they do have some legal rights. For example, as long as you have a legitimate ESA letter, your animal can fly with you due to the Aircraft Carrier Access Act.

With this legislation, traveling with an ESA has become an easier process. However, your ESA is still a living, breathing animal with needs and feelings. Though an ESA is meant to provide comfort and security, it is also important to ensure their comfort as they fly.

So, if you’re getting ready to travel with your ESA, here are five tips to make the journey easier for both of you.

1 - Give the Airline Advanced Notice

You and your animal may be covered by the ACAA (with a valid letter), but you still need to give the airline a heads up well in advance. The crew needs to prep your seating area to give space for your animal, although most often they will have to stay in your lap if they’re small enough.

Most airlines have their own requirements as well and discussing these in advance will help you be more prepared.

2 – Bring a Comfortable Leash/Harness

Your ESA will need to be on a leash during your flight, so getting them a comfortable leash and collar - or better yet, a harness - should be a priority. Harnesses put less strain on their necks, but lighter collars and leashes are good, too. The strain shouldn’t be much of a problem if your ESA is well-trained.

Even if you aren’t traveling by plane, having a secure but comfortable harness will be the best for long rides. It’s easier to leave on the harness, even if you’re in your own car. Then you can clip on the leash and be ready to go any time.

3 - Eat, Play, Potty

No matter what method of travel you choose, you should make sure your pet has had the following beforehand:

  • A meal

  • Water

  • Playtime

  • Bathroom visits a couple of hours before you depart

It’s easier when traveling in your own car to stop for breaks, but for flights or train rides, your ESA will be stuck in one place for much longer. It’s almost impossible to give your animal food or water on a plane or train.

Most airports and likely train stations will have relief areas for ESAs and service animals, but it’s still best to try to take care of it before.

4 - Pack the Essentials

You absolutely need your ESA letter above all else, but what about for your animal? You have your leash and harness, but you should also bring a bed or blanket for their comfort. A travel carrier is also not a bad idea, especially for smaller pets. You should also bring clean up supplies, just in case.

5 - Arrive Early

This mainly applies to plane and train travel, but having your ESA usually means you have pre-boarding access. Arrive early so you can take advantage of that. You won’t have to fight through as many people to get to your seat with your animal, which is better for the both of you.


Traveling with your ESA is not too different from traveling with a pet. Your animal will have a few more “freedoms,” like the ability to remain with you in your seat, but it’s still a living creature in your care. Take care of their comfort so you can rest easy during your trip!

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