Flying With Ari
Hey guys! Its taken me a while to do this post, we've been busy trying to settle down in New York. Moving countries is never easy, right? And especially if it involves a pet. As most of you may know, we moved from New York to London with our pug Ari over three years ago. He was just a year old at the time. About three weeks ago, we moved back with him from London to New York. We wanted to share with you our experience of flying with him.
Before I start, I want to let you know, that I am only sharing my own personal experience. What has worked for me, may or may not work for you and your pet. Please consult your vet and do your own research ensuring your pet’s safety before you fly with them.
NEW YORK TO LONDON (2014)
When my husband and I decided to move to London, our biggest concern was taking Ari safely with us. Our vet had warned us against putting him in a cargo hold, as he is flat nosed and could potentially have breathing issues. (* Added later) Ari weighed 13kgs at that time, over the limit permitted in cabin. He is 15kgs now. Vet's suggestion was taking the cruise - Queen Mary II, which meant investing a lot of time and money. But, at that point it was our only option, as we refused to put him in a cargo hold. We had done our own research and had read about the potentially unsafe conditions in a cargo hold such as poor temperature control, deafening noise, etc. Thankfully we stumbled upon another way. We used to visit our local dog park daily, since Ari was still a puppy at that time. So, while Ari socialized with the dogs, we chatted with the owners. It was here that we first heard about an Emotional Support Animal (ESA). We started speaking to more dog owners about ESA and did our own research before deciding to go this route.
So what is an Emotional Support Animal? Not to be confused with service animal or guide dog, ESA is any animal – dog, cat, and other species that provide therapeutic benefit to its owner through their company. They comfort an individual with psychiatric disabilities and other mental impairments. Unlike service animals, emotional support animals do not need to be trained to perform a specific task. As I feel anxious on long flights, Ari's presence calms me down. Hence I qualified for this category.
Emotional Support Animal is only recognized by US based airlines. These airlines are required by law to allow emotional support animals to fly in the cabin with their owner. As far as I am aware, there are no weight/size restrictions for dogs. But again, I am not sure if very big dogs would be allowed. So, please research about your specific animal/breed in advance.
Here are the steps we took to get Ari from New York to London. We started this process over a month ahead of flying out. There is a lot of information out there and it was all very confusing in the beginning. Hopefully the below, will simplify the process a bit for you.
Step 1- First and foremost, we picked a US based airline. We selected United Airlines and researched emotional support animal requirements on their website. They have their own form for ESA, that needs to be filled out and signed by a doctor. I went to the physician who upon evaluating my condition, was able to authorize the form.
Step 2- We then arranged an appointment with the vet to get all of Ari's paperwork and vaccinations. Most of the experienced vets are aware of the documentation and vaccination requirements specific to the country that you are going to. This was our starting point. We also did our own research online. Below is a good link for traveling to UK with your pet.
The requirements are very specific for everything, so make sure you follow the exact guidelines and give enough time to prepare. Trust me, its very easy to miss out on something and having time on your hand will definitely help!
STEP 3- We emailed the signed ESA form to United Airlines at least a week before we were traveling. There was enough time for them to approve and make specific arrangements, if any required, at their end.
STEP 4- The vet certificate and other documents are required to be stamped by USDA office prior to flying out. We went to their Jamaica, NY office to get them stamped.
AT THE AIRPORT- At the airport, we went to the airlines customer service desk where they reviewed the documents and stamped my boarding pass accordingly.
ON THE FLIGHT- Based on Ari's sleeping pattern, we took an evening flight and ensured he finished his meals and poop/pee before doing security check. On the plane, we laid out a bed sheet by our feet and Ari slept on it through the entire flight.
UPON LANDING- As we got out of the plane, a member from DEFRA was waiting for us. She checked all our documents and signed them. This is the critical part, if anything is missing or not as per their requirement, there is a risk of your pet being quarantined. Hence, its crucial to make sure all documentation is 100% accurate and as specified.
Rest of the customs and immigration process was standard and went smoothly.
LONDON TO NEW YORK (2017)
Bringing Ari back from London to New York was relatively easier than taking him there. Here are the steps:
STEP 1- Since we had used United Airlines before, we decided to go ahead with them again this time.
STEP 2- I got the United Airlines ESA form authorized by a GP again, as the previous form was only valid for a year.
STEP 3- We set up a vet appointment to get a 'Fit to Travel' certificate for Ari. Since his annual vaccinations including Rabies were given within three months prior to our travel date, we didn't need to give him any further vaccines. We also got a copy of all previous vaccinations for last three years from the vet just to have it on us, if required. Your vet will be able to help you with the exact vaccination requirements.
AT THE AIRPORT: Once again we went to the United Airlines customer service desk where our documents (ESA letter and fit to travel certificate) were reviewed and my boarding pass was stamped accordingly. After security check-in, we were asked by an airport staff member to show our signed ESA form.
ON THE FLIGHT: We luckily had an empty seat between us. We put a bed sheet on it and Ari slept on the seat throughout the flight.
UPON LANDING: We landed at Newark airport. Immigration and customs was standard and smooth.
I have tried to cover as many details as I can, but if you have any further questions, feel free to ask below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org