Vacationing with Your Emotional Support Animal

Guest post from James Ponds

When traveling with your emotional support animal (ESA), especially for the first time, it’s best to find out the relevant rules and regulations that will guide your travel planning, so there won’t be any unpleasant surprises. What are the rules that apply to support animals when flying, on cruises, in hotels and at restaurants?

Additionally, if you plan to travel internationally with your ESA, keep in mind that ESAs are not often recognised outside of the U.S., so the laws regarding service and support animals may not protect you. For this reason, plus the additional paperwork, vaccinations and testing required, it’s easier to travel domestically than abroad with your ESA. But if you’re willing to do the legwork, you can vacation almost anywhere you’d like.

Travel with Emotional Support Animal

Service Animal vs. ESA

It is important to understand the difference between service animals and ESAs, because legal protection can vary between them, regarding some modes of travel and lodging.

Service animals, typically dogs, are carefully trained to perform tasks for people with disabilities. ESAs, not limited to dogs, provide emotional wellbeing for those with disabilities such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

While both types of animals should be certified or registered, they are treated differently under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Taking a Cruise

While all cruise lines are required to allow service animals aboard, not all of them allow ESAs.

If you have your heart set on an Eastern Caribbean cruise, for example, you should check with the cruise line before you purchase your ticket. Some companies will make exceptions for animals that don’t meet the definition of a service dog, but must accompany you because of your disability.

Pet-friendly cruises
Check first before booking a cruise with your ESA

Traveling by Air

According to the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), your ESA is allowed to travel with you in the cabin of an airplane in the U.S.. However, airlines do reserve the right to refuse access to unusual ESAs such as reptiles or animals that are too large.

Research in advance the rules that apply on the airline that you are planning to fly, including the preparation required. For starters, you must notify the airlines no less than 48 hours in advance.

Be sure to bring your ESA letter to the airport, stating that you have an emotional or mental disability that requires you to have the animal with you. This letter may be the only documentation you need, although some airlines require veterinary documents and a personal guarantee from the owner that the ESA will behave.

An ESA has to fit in your lap or at your feet, within the space allocated to your seat. Some airlines charge a fee for your ESA, so be sure to ask about that when you notify them of your travel plans.

Also, note that the acceptance of ESAs on flights operated by non-USA airlines varies. While some foreign airlines will fly ESAs in the cabin on flights to and from the USA, and potentially other routes, others will transport ESAs as pets rather than service animals.

Going on a Road Trip

While you may be able to travel with your ESA via public transportation, a road trip may be a great idea, too.

Many cities in the U.S. are particularly dog-friendly. Some even have restaurants where your ESA is not only welcomed, but they may not be the only one there.

If the city isn’t your thing, most national parks and other outdoor destinations will welcome you and your ESA. Or, if you prefer to vacation by the sea, many places have dog-friendly beaches, so do your research and locate them in advance.

travel with emotional support animal
Consider taking a road trip with your ESA

Hotel Rules

The legal protection in the Fair Housing Act, part of the ADA, pertains to rental property and housing. That means a landlord cannot refuse to rent to you because you have an ESA, even if they typically have a no-pet policy.

In contrast, hotels and restaurants must allow service animals, but because they are public places, they are not required to give access to ESAs. So, it’s a good idea to map out your travel plans in advance. Be sure you locate pet-friendly hotels and secure your reservations ahead of time.

In Summary

Vacationing with your ESA can be a rewarding and empowering experience. There are just a few things to keep in mind.

Know the difference between a service animal and an ESA as related to their protection under the ADA. While service animals are allowed almost anywhere, some establishments consider ESAs to be the same as pets and therefore do not give them equal access.

Still, there are many pet-friendly hotels, restaurants, parks and beaches. The important thing is to plan your vacation carefully so that when the time comes, it will be a positive and stress-free experience for both you and your ESA. 

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How to travel with an emotional support dog

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