Today, I’m going through my experience of getting my dog, Mugatu, registered as an emotional support animal and on-board his first flight. It’s a short one, a quick hop from Seattle to Boise via Delta Airlines first-class. I thought it would be the perfect trial run. Only an hour in the air and plenty of space to stretch out.
Getting your Dog ESA Certified
Before doing anything else, we need to get an emotional support animal recommendation. I’m not sure what the legal requirements are, but I’m pretty sure my letter was signed by someone who wasn’t a doctor. I could have opted for one, but it would have cost more, and I couldn’t find any benefits.
I went through a company called Waggy.pet. They’re alright, I guess I would recommend them’ish. Service-wise, they were great. The website was easy to use, offers paperwork templates for all major domestic airlines and was very quick.
I was however, off-put a little by their pricing. They pull a bait and then fine-print switch on customers. In big numbers up top, one will see $55. This is also the number seen front and center on their Google ad. However, as it turns out, $55 is only half the cost. This is what one will pay for a travel letter and a housing letter. The problem, is that they can’t be bought separately. So, you’re inevitably going to pay $110. This appears to be the going rate among several companies I took a look at. I ended up still using them, but was left feeling a bit mislead by their advertising.
Once on their website, you’ll need to answer some questions regarding your mental health. Things along the lines of:
And some other questions that I didn’t find interesting enough to screenshot.
From here, your questionnaire is sent to someone licensed in your state to recommend emotional support animals. Who exactly is qualified to make this call is still a bit blurry to me.
Within about 2 hours, I received a letter making some references to the Air Carrier Access Act and mentioning that my overall mental well-being will be improved if traveling with an emotional support animal. But this really isn’t what we’re after. We need a Delta Airlines specific form to be filled out. Nicely, Waggy.pet provides these as part of the $110 fee. I went ahead and requested one, and, in about 2 hours, got a notification it was ready. So far things are going pretty smoothly.
Filing Paperwork with Delta
Next up, you’ll need to head over to your reservation on Delta.com and scroll down to where you see the Accessibility Service Request form. Go ahead and give that a push. Next up you’ll see what amounts to a generic form that doesn’t appear to be tied to your reservation. Fill out those details and move on to the next step.
Here’ we’re going to choose “Animal – Emotional Support” then we’re on to Step 5. This just asks if you’re traveling to any airports with animal restrictions.
Step 6 has you fill out a little info about your animal. Make note here of the check boxes for horned, venomous or smelly animals. Not quite sure if this is disqualifying or just provides Delta a heads up. The height info didn’t provide measuring guidelines. Since dogs are typically measured at the withers, aka, the highest point of the back before the neck starts, I just went with that. My little dog friend was 14 inches and 22 lbs.
Last up we’ve got the required animal docs. These include a signed letter of medical necessity, immunization records and behavior or training attestation. Finally, hit that submit button. Keep in mind, all of this is supposed to be done 48 hours prior to departure. I did mine about 5 days early, since I was an emotional support animal rook and wanted some time to fix any problems should they arise.
About two hours later, I got this email from Delta. Nothing fancy, just a little note letting me know my documents were accepted. Interestingly, the message said that my emotional support animal was cleared to fly on all Delta flights. I’m not exactly sure if this means I need to do nothing going forward, or if I still need to pre-clear prior to each departure.
Arrival at the Seatac
From what I can tell, traveling with an emotional support animal precludes the ability to check in online. Each time I tried, I was simply met with the error that online check in was not available for this booking.
Arriving at the airport and we see an annoyingly long Sky Priority line. This is definitely out of character for Delta. Up at the counter, and the agent seemed a little confused regarding the pre-submitted paperwork. Either she didn’t look, or she couldn’t see it. In either case, I was asked for the same docs already submitted online. Being the good ex-Boy Scout I am, I made sure to bring a copy. A quick glance-over and that appeared to be all that was necessary. Final step before heading to the latest screening of security theater was to fill out a little tag indicating the dog had been accepted for travel by a Delta agent.
Over at the TSA checkpoint, they were, as per usual, confused. The first agent we encountered scurried us past the relatively long line to the employee entrance. After a quick meet and greet, his ESA friend and his owner were escorted by an agent to an unseen screening line. Meanwhile, we continued to wait. After five or so minutes, another agent, who appeared to be a supervisor, checked our boarding passes but seemed surprised at the fact we were both pre-check. He let the other agents know that pre-check travelers with animals can just use the regular pre-check line. Good to know for future reference. In this rare case, a mis-informed TSA agent actually saved us a bunch of time, likely much to the dismay of our fellow travelers.
Passing through security was a breeze. I was advised to carry the dog through the metal detector and put his harness and leash through the x-ray. I took the advice/instructions and did just that. With my dog under my arm, I proceeded airside.
It was a bit of a hussle to the gate, as I purposefully arrived at the airport a bit late. My thinking here, was that I wanted to minimize the amount of time my dog would have to go without a bathroom break. Since Sea-tac is pretty much out of gates due to Seattle’s crazy growth spurt, the regionals commonly board via air-stairs on the tarmac.
I’ve got to say, thus far in the process, I’ve been really impressed with everybody. Waggy.pet was quick to provide my docs, Delta provided clear instructions and responded to my online request almost immediately. Despite a little confusion at the check-in desk and at security, everyone was very friendly and seemed happy to accommodate my little one.
On-board, and things were no different. I was met by Becca who seemed more interested in what kind of dog I had than with any type of formality. Not that I was expecting any problems, but this was appreciated as I was kind of tired of dealing with any paperwork.
Getting settled in seats 1C&D, I made a little impromptu dog bed. Glad those blankets are washed in-between flights. At least I hope that’s what the sealed plastic bag they come in indicates.
From here on out, the flight was pretty much par for the course. The little dog-friend spent most of the time sleeping on the floor. I suppose I’m pretty lucky in the fact he’s very well-behaved in public. Had he been a bother to anyone, it would have made the flight a bit more stressful. I have to give Becca, the excellent Delta Airlines, or, more accurately Skywest, flight attendant props. She seemed to consider Mugatu a fellow passenger. Obviously not her first time handling an emotional support animal. Even at one point asking if he needed any water.
But before I sign-off for the night, I thought it would be worth going over a few tips for the first-time emotional support animal traveler. None of these are totally necessary, but they will make your trip a little easier.
- Try and book a seat in the first row. Now I know this means first-class generally, and that may not be realistic for everyone. Especially those who aren’t a business or points and miles traveler. But that’s ok. Aircraft commonly have bulkheads separating the cabins. Try and book a seat immediately behind one. Even if it costs a little more, I think it’s worth it. Your dog will thank you too. You can use that bulkhead as a little backstop for a makeshift dog bed. Even better if you’ve got the window.
- Take paper copies of all documents. Vaccination records, medical notes, training certificates. Basically, anything the airline requires. Or, at a minimum, have them immediately handy on your phone. In Seattle, the check-in agent didn’t seem to have access to them on her side. Meanwhile, returning via Boise, and the agent didn’t even ask.
- Make your emotional support animals’ first flight a quick one. The last thing anyone wants is the stress of dealing with a dog that just doesn’t do well in the air for 6 hours on a transcon.
Finally, if anyone gives you attitude or makes some rude comment, just let it go. I don’t believe non-dog lovers have souls, so why would I let their opinion bother me? The vast majority of people I interacted with, including fellow passengers, were highly supportive and just defaulted to the standard dog questions. What kind of dog is he? How old? What’s his name? The basics. Take it easy and the trip should go easy.