Making headlines recently has been the big debate on emotional support animals. Airlines have been cracking down on “real” emotional support animals, as in the past people have used that label to avoid paying a pet fee on flights. One woman recently went as far as trying to pass a peacock off as an ESA. These are the types of people ruining it for others.
Our Emotional Support Animal Journey
Wynston is a true emotional support animal in that his calm demeanor, warm heart and bond with me help keep my anxiety and depression at bay. I’ve always enjoyed taking road trips with Wynston, but in the last seven months I’ve taken several flights with him. Wyn does incredibly well on airplanes, as he just sleeps. It’s not rare for people to make comments such as, “I never would have known you had a dog!” or “I had no idea there was a dog on this flight!” He’s the best boy 😉
For all of my flights with Wyn, it’s costed around $1000 for his airfare. Southwest charges a pet fee of $95 each way, while American Airlines is quite a bit heftier, charging $125. That rate ends up being astronomical when you’re constantly flying with a dog.
For months I told myself I was going to make Wynston a “real” emotional support animal. I never had the conscious to lie about it just to get away with not paying for him, so it was time I made it happen. There are two major benefits to having your dog accompany you as an emotional support animal while traveling via airplane. 1) There is no pet fee. 2) Small dogs can sit on your lap as opposed to being underneath the seat. Hotels will also waive pet fees when staying with an ESA.
I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety when I was around 17. While it’s under control most days, flying causes me severe anxiety. I’ve been traveling on airplanes since I was a kid, but I’m still deathly afraid of flying. Since Wynston is my comfort and he allows me to focus in times where anxiety may overtake me, it was appropriate to upgrade him to ESA status.
Emotional support animals are NOT service animals. There is in fact a big difference. I’m not going to spend time getting in to all of the details, but please note that I know all of the laws and regulations. I would never break rules to bring my dog somewhere, which is why I got the documentation to make Wynston “official” for purposes of traveling.
I worked with my primary care physician to get the necessary paperwork to claim Wynston as my ESA. Airlines do require a note from a medical doctor or mental health professional on a letterhead. The document must state that you are being treated by that doctor for a mental disorder recognized by the DSM-IV, and there is a need for an emotional support animal. The letter must also have all of the doctor’s information on it, including license number and date. My letter also states that I have the need for an ESA for activities at my travel destination.
Before your flight you must call the airline and let them know you’re traveling with a pet. If you are bringing an emotional support animal, you must fax or email the documentation before the flight. To be safe, I brought a copy of the letter with me to the airport. They told me it was all in the system, but I just wanted to be extra prepared. Be sure to check specific airline policies, as each airline is a little different.
When I flew to Texas for the first time with Wynston as an ESA, they did verify my document in the system when I was boarding the flight. I suggest you don’t lie or try to fake it. You will be turned away or asked to pay for your pet.
On that flight, Wynston couldn’t have been any more of an angel. He slept on my lap the whole times, and enjoyed some pets from our neighbor passenger. The best part? I was so focused on Wynston being on my lap that I didn’t have to take any sort of anxiety meds. I normally always do when I fly because my anxiety gets so severe, but this time I didn’t. That experience verified that I did the right thing by making Wynston an ESA.
So there you have it. Wynston is officially a legal emotional support animal, and I couldn’t be happier! I look forward to making many more incredible travel memories with my boy.
Related article: The Truth About Emotional Support Animals