Traveling by airplane with a service dog presents a few challenges that, with a little planning, should allow for smooth skies for you and your canine. While all these are viable suggestions, gleaned from experience, consult your veterinarian before traveling by plane with your service dog.
Preparing to Fly with a Service Dog
It’s not required but depending on what airline you choose, you may want to call ahead and inform them that you will be traveling with a service dog. This can ensure that a bulkhead seat is available for your dog to have room to lie down at your feet.
You’ll want to wear light shoes, rather than boots or high heels for traveling on the plane, as you will not have much space for placing your feet with the dog lying in your floor space. Even with a bulkhead seat, you will have to be mindful of where your feet are at all times or you could injure your dog’s delicate paws or jab him/her with your heels.
Be sure to pack an extra leash and collar in your carry-on. You never know when you might have a malfunction or broken clasp and you will not be able to replace these types of items at an airport. In doubled Ziploc bags, take some of your dog’s usual dog food. It’s very stressful to a dog who isn’t even traveling to suddenly change dog food so by bringing your dog’s usual food, you can slowly add in the new food with the old to make the transition smoother.
Most dogs do best with an empty stomach while traveling. Ask your veterinarian about forgoing breakfast right before you depart for the airport. You may want to offer your dog a very small amount of water but it is not wise to let them “tank up” on a lot of water. You may want to pack in your carry-on a small, collapsible dog bowl. Small fabric ones that fold into a tiny ball work great for when the time comes to fully hydrate your dog; again, post flight.
Download the free app for your phone, “Where to Go,” which will alert you to the animal relief areas as well as ADA laws for service dogs. Be sure to pack a few paper towels and potty bags in your service dog’s service vest for the unlikely event that a mistake occurs. If the airport offers an appropriate spot for one last “potty stop” before ticketing, this is your last opportunity; be sure to take it.
Allow an extra few minutes for getting through security when arriving at the airport. Typically TSA just walks the dog through the metal detector and pats him/her down, and inspects the dog’s vest and its contents, but it could slow things up a bit.
At the airport, use elevators when possible. It’s very difficult to navigate escalators with a service dog, arms full of carry-ons, and/or suitcases, let alone with a disability. Please be very careful when taking elevators with a dog. Tails can get stuck in doors; that’s not the way to start your trip.
Boarding the plane:
Notify the boarding agent that you’re traveling with a service dog and be ready for pre-boarding when they make the announcement. It will make it much less awkward when boarding, if you are first to board and can get settled in the bulkhead seats before the mad rush for general boarding begins.
When you settle into your seats, be sure that your dog’s paws and tail are far back behind the aisle line. As folks board with rolling luggage and big dress shoes, it could prove disastrous for your dog if his/her paws are sticking out. The last thing passengers are thinking of as they board, is being mindful of a dog’s paws or tail that could potentially be sticking out in harm’s way.
Your dog will likely show a little uncertainty or anxiety during taxi and take off. Just like when traveling with a small child, the sounds, smells, vibrations and sensations are all new. Most dogs’ ears will perk up at the harsh PA system, the throttling of engines and the vibrations associated with take-off. Calm your dog by petting him/her gently and speaking calmly to allow the dog to note your confidence and security during these unfamiliar sensations. Dogs feel the pressure changes and altitude differences just like people, so be considerate and empathetic as your dog adjusts a bit during the first few minutes.
Usually when the plane reaches cruising altitude, a service dog will have adjusted and will likely lie down for a long and peaceful nap in the sky.
In the Air:
Be mindful of your feet and shoes and continue to ensure that the dog’s paws and tail remain back away from the aisle at all times. A beverage cart or leg-stretching passenger could cause serious injury.
When eating snacks or beverages aboard the aircraft, be careful not to drop food at your feet. You may want to give your dog an occasional ice cube throughout the flight to keep him/her hydrated. But keep it to a minimum and try to space the ice cubes out, so that the dog will not be uncomfortable with a full bladder for many hours.
Exiting the Aircraft:
Begin preparation for exiting the plane by organizing your carry-ons before descent. When the mad dash occurs for passengers to exit the plane you will be glad you are ready to get off first so that your dog’s paws don’t get stepped on and you have plenty of space to get your dog and your belongings off without being squashed or bumped. Your service dog will thank you.
Leaving the Airport:
Your service dog is likely thirsty, tired, and needs to relieve itself. As soon as humanly possible, furnish your dog with a small amount of water. The airport bathroom might be a logical choice to whip out your collapsible dog bowl. Go easy on water the first few hours. Some dogs will try to “tank up” on too much water and can vomit. Allow your dog an opportunity to relieve itself as soon as you can. When you get to your destination, offer your dog a small meal. A large meal is not wise right after traveling.
Last of all, go easy on your dog for a day or so as he/she adjusts to new climates, time differences and the exhaustion of air travel. Just like people, dogs show signs of stress and fatigue from air travel. This is especially true of older dogs, just like people, who may need more time to bounce back. If your dog shows any stomach distress issues upon arrival to your destination, a quick fix is to add a couple tablespoons of 100% pure canned pumpkin to your dog’s next few meals. The added fiber works miracles.
Enjoy traveling adventures with your service dog and think PAWsitive!
Carmel L. Mooney is the editor of Roadtripsforcouples.com, an online travel magazine. Carmel’s been on local talk radio for 17 years and now co-hosts THE GOOD LIFE with Mike the Wine Guy on KMYC 1410AM. Her family travel column can be read in California Kids Magazine at: Valcomnews.com You can follow her on Twitter: @CarmelLeeMooney or Facebook. Carmel is also the Executive Director of Pawsitive Service Dog Solutions, a non-profit that trains and places Autism Service Dogs.