Traveling With an Emotional Support Animal

This week was my first time traveling with my dog, Parker as my emotional support animal or ESA. I’d like to share my experience with you.

Why Do I Need an Emotional Support Animal?

I’ll let you in on something only close friends and some family know. I don’t have ADHD but I do struggle with anxiety. It isn’t crippling anxiety and I don’t have panic attacks, but it does make life challenging at times. I think one of the most frustrating things about my anxiety is that anything can set it off. It isn’t like I walk around worried about things. Anxiety is often co-existing with ADHD or ADHD can be misdiagnosed as an anxiety disorder when it is actually underlying, untreated ADHD.

What Causes My Anxiety

Good things can set it off too. Yep, that right – happy moments and events can cause my anxiety to rear its ugly head. All my brain knows is that my neurotransmitters are excited about something. It doesn’t distinguish between good excitement and bad excitement. Yeah, that really stinks.

I struggle with feeling guilty when I’m anxious about something that should be a happy moment or event. It threatens to steal my joy. But I have to remind myself it’s just the way my body responds, and that’s okay.

What Can Cause Anxiety in Someone With ADHD

Anxiety in someone with ADHD can be caused by the same things that cause anyone to have anxiety. However, when you think about the nature of ADHD – difficulty regulating emotions, becoming easily overwhelmed, etc., it’s easy to see why anxiety is often co-existing with ADHD.

I’m working on a whole post about Anxiety and ADHD, and if an Emotional Support Animal could be helpful for this so keep an eye out for it in the coming week.

What Made Me Think My Dog Would be Helpful as an ESA

I was talking to my psychologist recently about how I noticed I have been drawn to my dog for emotional support. Almost like I needed him around. This is something new for me. I’ve always loved my dog, but never felt like I needed his presence as an emotional support animal.

He gets anxious when I’m not around too, so I think we need each other.  😊 

I had a trip coming up and was feeling anxious about being away from my family and out of my normal routine. When I thought about Parker being with me, I felt calmer. He would be my normal, a part of my everyday routine away from home.

I talked with my psychologist to see if she would be willing to write a letter to the airline stating that I needed an Emotional Support Animal (ESA). She said she would. I immediately felt a sense of relief knowing I would be able to take Parker with me.

I checked with the airline to see what their specific qualifications were for traveling with an emotional support animal and shared that information with my psychologist.

Preparations for Traveling with an ESA

Knowing my psychologist was taking care of the letter, I begin to think about what else I needed for bringing Parker along. He travels with me all the time, but this would be my first experience flying with him. I checked to see what requirements the airline had. I needed to find a carrier that fit their specifications. I perused Amazon and settled on this particular carrier. It had gotten good reviews and one lady mentioned she had flown on Southwest with it and had no problems at all.

I liked this carrier because you could unzip the top. I wanted Parker to be able to sit in the carrier and have his head out while walking through the airport. I also liked that it had a firm bottom and a removable Sherpa lined insert. It also has a hook on the inside to attach his leash to for security. This way I knew he wouldn’t jump out and run through the airport like a crazy dog.  😂 

The carrier also has expandable sides which I really didn’t think I would use but was a nice feature. It has a side pouch for storage and a portable bowl with a clip to attach it to the bag.

My Experience Flying with Parker as an Emotional Support Animal

I printed a few copies of the letter from my psychologist. With the letter, my suitcase and Parker in hand, we headed to the airport.

I honestly didn’t know how Parker would do. He is 13 years old and has gotten a little skittish in his old age. He was nervous riding in the car to the airport which isn’t like him. And he’s never been in a carrier before. To my surprise, the moment I put him in the carrier, he was totally fine. He was calmer in the carrier than he was in the car!

Checking In

At the check-in counter, I had to show my psychologist’s letter to the attendant. He gave me my boarding pass and that was it. Super easy! I noticed my boarding pass had “ESAN documentation verified” in the right-hand corner. I didn’t know this, but I could have pre-boarded having an ESA. I’ll keep that in mind for next time.

boarding pass

Getting Through Security with my Emotional Support Animal

We headed to security. I wasn’t sure what to expect from Parker as we went through security and I didn’t know how they would clear me traveling with an emotional support animal. Would I carry him with me in the x-ray machine? Would a security person have to hold him while I went through the x-ray?

It was so easy and the security team were helpful and nice. I had to take Parker out of his carrier and it was ran through the bag x-ray machine. He and I walked through the scanner, not the x-ray machine. They swabbed my hands to check for explosives and I was done. Again, so easy!

We stopped by the bathroom before going to our gate. Look at how stinking cute he is!

Emotional Support Animal in carrier

At The Gate

We had about 50 minutes before boarding. I was amazed at how good Parker was. The loudspeaker in the airport caught him off guard, but other than that, he was great. I did end up unzipping one of the sides of the carrier which I didn’t think I would use. I realized the mesh sides could also be unzipped once they were extended. I thought that was a great feature because I could reach in and pet him easily that way.

He wanted to fall asleep. But as soon as he allowed his eyes to close, there would be a movement that would wake him up or the loudspeaker would startle him.

On the Plane With My ESA

The plane was a little more difficult to navigate. Because there were only about 45 of us on the flight, we all had our own row. Normally this would be great, but with no one beside us, Parker wanted his own seat. The flight attendant had made it clear when I boarded the plane that Parker either had to stay in his carrier on the floor or sit in my lap. He could not sit in a chair.

He was so wiggly in the beginning, I just let him sit in the chair beside me knowing I would get “fussed” at. And I did.

Emotional Support Animal on the plane

Parker eventually calmed down, stayed in my lap, and fell asleep.

What I Learned About Traveling with an Emotional Support Dog

  1. Always check the airline’s ESA requirements. Each airline has its own expectations and some are becoming more strict.
  2. Take multiple copies of your documentation letter. Keep one available for easy access and keep one for your trip home.
  3. If you’re not sure how your dog will react, consider asking your vet for some anxiety medication (for the dog).  😂 Of course, you might need some too.
  4. Make sure your carrier fits the airline’s size specifications so it will fit underneath the seat.
  5. Every worker I encountered at the airport was nice and helpful. I was appreciative of that.
  6. Pack snacks for your ESA
  7. Grab some water once you are through security and make sure you have something to give your pet some water throughout the trip.
  8. I was allowed to pre-board with my ESA so always ask the airline if this is available.
  9. Enjoy the ride. Traveling with my dog was a great experience and I will do it again.

Have you every traveled by plane with an ESA? I would love to hear your story and any tips you might have.

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