If you experience anxiety, flying can be a stressful experience. If you plan on flying with your large emotional support dog, it can feel like an insurmountable task. If you are intimidated to fly, you can follow these helpful tips on how to improve your flying experience with your large emotional support dog. With a little bit of planning and more information, we can help make your trip less stressful and more enjoyable.

If you have questions about qualifying for an emotional support dog, you can find online ESA certification information here or click on the arrow below. If you need information about your specific airline’s emotional support animal policy, click here. Please also leave a comment if you find the information below helpful or if you have any tips for travelers with large emotional support dogs!

UPDATE: On December 2, 2020, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced new rules that give airlines the option to no longer recognize emotional support animals. As a result, some airlines are no longer accepting emotional support animals on flights.  The good news is that there are still airlines that will accommodate ESAs free of charge for passengers with ESA documentation.

You can click here to read more about which airlines are still accepting emotional support animals and which are not. The information in the article below may no longer be accurate and is maintained solely for archival purposes. Please check with your airline directly prior to booking a flight to confirm what their current policy is for ESAs as it may change.

If you are traveling with an airline that is currently accepting Emotional Support Animals, we would be happy to connect with you with a licensed healthcare provider to see if you may qualify.

Get Started Here with ESA Doctors

Below is a summary of helpful tips for Flying with a large Emotional Support Dog –

  1. Qualify for an ESA Letter from a real Licensed Mental Health Professional
  2. Prepare your emotional support dog for successful well before the flight itself
  3. Items you may want to bring with you to the airport
  4. What to expect and do once you land at your destination

Emotional support dog flying on an airplane

Tip #1 – Qualify for an ESA Letter from a real Licensed Mental Health Professional 

How to Get an ESA Letter

If you don’t already have an ESA letter from your therapist, you can connect with one online by completing the ESA questionnaire to see if you qualify for a legitimate ESA letter. You MUST have your ESA letter ready and you must submit it to the airlines no later than 24-48 hours prior to travel. If you haven’t already, make sure you familiarize yourself with the new rules set out by the Department of Transportation.

If you are traveling soon, you may expedite your letter by choosing the “expedited digital delivery” option when completing the ESA questionnaire in the link below. Please note that all airlines will accept a digital copy of your ESA letter.

emotional support animal letter instructions

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Tip #2 – Prepare your Emotional Support Dog for a successful flight well before the flight itself 

What to do before you arrive at the airport with your emotional support dog:

1. Call the airline

After booking your flight, follow up by contacting the airline you have booked your tickets with and let them know that you are traveling with a large dog. You may ask the airline agent to reserve the bulkhead so that your large animal can sit at your feet and have more room. Please note that some airlines like Southwest Airlines will not reserve seats for you, so you must revise your Southwest reservation on their website.

2. Exercise your dog

Before the flight, run your dog at a dog park for one hour or more to release any pent up energy. This will allow your dog to sleep or rest on the flight. Please note that the flight time may be 3 hours, but your dog will have to wait an additional 1-2 hours while you pass security and wait at your gate. This is especially important when flying with a large dog as they have more energy and can potentially cause a larger disturbance at the airport.

On your return flight home, it is important to prepare ahead of time. If you are not familiar wtih the city you are flying out of, you can look online for Dog Parks near a specific airport. Do this the day before your flight so you can properly allocate time for your Emotional Support Dog to excerise.

Yelp search for dog parks near you

3. Do not feed your dog

Do not feed your dog prior to a flight. Some dogs may experience motion sickness and eating right before a flight will not be enjoyable for you or your dog. If your flight is in the morning, we suggest feeding your dog the night before and give him/her a little bit of water to wet their lips and not drink heavily. Limit water intake before and during the flight so that your dog does not have to pee while you are traveling.

4. No new treats

Do not feed your dog any new treats within 48 hours of your flight. You will not know if your dog will react kindly to the new treat and having a dog with an upset stomach on an airplane will not be enjoyable for anyone.

Large emotional support dog

Tip #3 – Items you may want to bring with you to the airport

Flying with your large emotional support dog is a big responsibility and keeping your pet comfortable can be accomplished by bringing the following items with you when you travel.

  1. Blanket – laying down a familiar blanket with familiar smells from your home will establish a “bed” or “border” for your dog.
  2. Collapsible Bowl – your dog may need some water during and after the flight. We suggest putting a few ice cubes with very little water in the bowl so that your dog is not parched. Remember to limit the amount of water that you are giving to your dog.
  3. Pee Pads – just in case your dog really has to go, carry a pee pad with you so that your dog can relieve themselves after the security checkpoint or on the plane in the lavatory.
  4. Thunder Shirt – if your dog is not used to flying, you may purchase a thunder shirt to keep your dog calm in the cabin. Some dogs find comfort when wearing a thunder shirt.
  5. Benadryl – to combat motion sickness, veterinarians suggest 1mg of Benadryl per pound of body weight. Most tablets are 25 mg which is the dosage for a 25 pound dog. All dogs are not the same, so contact your vet to get the precise dosage for your dog and always double check the dosage of your pills.
  6. Toy – bringing your dog’s favorite chew toy can ease their stress and occupy their minds.

Tip #4 – What to expect and do once you land at your destination 

Before you arrive at your destination, you should look out for a pet relief area at the airport. All airports will either have a pet relief area inside or outside of the airport. You can research the location of the pet relief area in advance by looking here: Airport Pet Relief Areas.

Not all airports have accessisble pet drinking fountains. Remember to pack and use your collapsible bowl to give your dog some water and food. Remember to give your emotional support dog a big hug and thank them for their service!

If your dog is not an emotional support animal yet, you can see if you qualify for an ESA letter by completing the questionnaire in the link below. A licensed mental health professional will be able to assist you and evaluate your need for an emotional support dog.

Start the ESA questionnaire to see if you qualify for an emotional support dog.


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