If pigs can fly someday, can't dogs?
August 5, 2016 12:45 AM   Subscribe

I'm flying with my emotional support dog for the first time- any tips?

I'm flying on Alaska Air with my emotional support dog for the first time! While I'm excited that she's coming with me, I've been unable to find any first hand accounts of all that goes into getting through the airport, waiting for the flight, and going through the flight.

I have the note from my psychiatrist required by the airline stating that my dog is an emotional support animal and that I need her as an accommodation for air travel and activity at my destination. I even bought a harness that says she's an emotional support animal (though not stating she's a service animal, because she definitely is not and I would never claim she is.) I know where my airport terminal's pet relief area is, so I can take her out before our flight. And due to airport shuttle limitations, we're arriving at the airport four hours before our flight (no way around it...) We are flying from Sky Harbor in Phoenix to SeaTac and back. We're staying with family, so we won't be worrying about sorting out hotel details.

This is probably mostly anxiety based, but if anyone has tips for traveling with a dog outside of a crate in a car and/or a plane, I'd really appreciate it! What should I bring that I might not think of? What's the best way to go through TSA with a dog? Any personal anecdotes or things to do or avoid?
posted by mollywas to Pets & Animals (7 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I don't have any first hand experience, but by coincidence I was recently next to a woman traveling with a support dog pretty much the the whole way through check-in and security and then we were practically across the aisle from each other on our flight. I was basically making eyes at her dog the whole time because I love dogs so I noticed a few smart things.

Through security her dog acted like any other chill service dog. When we got up to the scanners the TSA folks had noted her dog and asked her to step out of the line for a quick check. They checked the dog's harness and leash really quick and waved a hand scanner over her. I think a lot of people are used to most airport dogs who aren't in carriers being service dogs, so you shouldn't have to be too vigilant about people poking at your dog, but your harness is a good idea. You can probably signal a TSA agent while in line and ask what to do about passing through security with your dog and they'll guide you along. As you probably know, security varies widely by airport. But your situation is far from unusual so there's likely to be no speedbumps there. You can also ask about this during check-in and your ticket agent will probably have specific advice for you. Since you're showing up extra early, take your time and ask questions if you get confused.

Later, she had one of those collapsible water bowls which she pulled out of her bag and filled as soon as we got to our gate. Dehydration is a problem in pets on flights as much as it is in people, so this struck me as wise. Those silicone ones are like $5 so you should grab one if you don't have one already.

When we got seated I noticed her one row in front of me sitting at the bulkhead. This gave her dog extra leg room on the floor and they didn't have to get squished under a seat in front of them. If you can swing a bulkhead seat you should try it! She also had a little thing that was like halfway between a pillow and a small quilt that the dog sort of squished up with on the floor, which I thought was adorable but also smart - if your dog has a comfort object you should bring it on your flight. This was an Alaska Airlines flight I think, and they have consistently good flight attendants who seem to go a bit above and beyond. With this lady and her dog, the flight attendant came to say hi before we took off, asked if the dog needed anything and if they'd flown before, etc. He filled the dog's water bowl with fresh water when he came up the aisle with the drinks cart and that was that. Airlines vary with their in-cabin pet policies. You can likely find out all that information on your airline's website.

I think you're right that this is mostly anxiety based, but it's okay to want the information and to be prepared! People travel with dogs all the time. You'll be okay and so will your (adorable, thank you for the picture!) dog. Just be patient and ask questions if you're unsure about something.
posted by Mizu at 1:45 AM on August 5, 2016 [8 favorites]

From the perspective of the guy sitting next to you and Fluffers, I'd say the vest is all you would need to appease me. (I have a hard time not stink-eyeing people with dogs in their backpacks or whatever.) In fact, if I saw the vest, and then some wahoo tried to give you shit about it (which is extremely unlikely, but with Trump supporters out there, who knows?), I would stand up for you. If not, I would probably sit for 30 minutes or so watching your body language out of the corner of my eye to see whether you would be okay with me petting Fluffers. Because, let's be honest, flying is stressful, even if you took a Klonopin and you aren't afraid of falling out of the sky.

And yes, thank you for the picture. Whenever I see pictures of people's dogs, I fantasize about how much better behaved they are than radicalxolo.
posted by radicalawyer at 8:58 AM on August 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

I don't know how much training your dog has had for being in strange, loud, crowded, noisy locations ... so this advice is assuming she has a companion level dog training (comfortable in homes, sidewalks, parks, the pet store, perhaps.) If that's more the case, and/or if you haven't had a chance to yet, I'd recommend going on rehearsal runs - for instance, taking a shuttle ride a short distance to get used to the experience while you can pay attention to her (lots of treats & praise.) (Also, did you verify you can bring your dog on he shuttle? They don't necessarily follow same rules as the airlines.)

Also, have you had a chance to get your dog used to being in an airport? Perhaps visiting it when it is really quiet and not crowded, and then returning when the crowds are larger. Again, the rehearsal runs give you a chance to focus on her, praising her for being calm and mellow. Check out her reactions and see if anything might freak her out. One fantastic dog I know is laid back and mellow but he absolutely refuses to get in an elevator or take an escalator. Can you take the stairs if that happens? Another dog I know hates to be bumped and jostled in crowded areas; she totally stops moving, hunches down, tail tucked, and refuses to go anywhere. (At 68 pounds, she's really hard to carry to a quieter location.) So the more rehearsals the better your trip will go.

Also, have you rehearsed your answer to the question: "May I pet your dog?" Do you want strangers to touch her? What are her reactions to being approached by a lot of people (including kids). Make sure you know how to respond.

Last, consider using a short lead (2 or 3 feet). (unless her harness includes a handle for holding onto her.) keeping her close to you will likely help her feel more comfortable. Best of luck & have a great trip.
posted by apennington at 9:05 AM on August 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

Have an easy flight!

One thing you may want to be mindful of and prepared for ahead of time is that some children and occasionally adults are truly terrified of dogs. Even very cute ones like your own. If someone asks if you can move your dog away from them, or acts frightened, try not to let it upset you. Instead give them the benefit of the doubt and move her temporarily.

This generosity needs to be doubled when there is a terrified child and a parent is asking you in a frustrated manner to move your dog, keep her close to you, or whatnot. Everyone gets a little stressed during travel and parents of kids with phobias don't always know what to do during a meltdown, so remember to take a deep breath, be thankful to be traveling with your pup, and try to accomodate others if it is not too much trouble.
posted by donut_princess at 9:11 AM on August 5, 2016 [3 favorites]

I didn't see it in your question, but have you told the airline you're bringing your dog? I have serious, health-threatening animal allergies, so whenever I fly, I call the airline about a day before my flight to ask whether any animals are scheduled to be on the flight, so that I can make sure my seat is far enough away from them to prevent me from getting sick. It's incredibly helpful to people like me when people like you make sure the airline knows in advance about your pet. Thanks!

(But yeah, be prepared that some people might not want/be able to sit near you. Try not to take it personally. I'd love to be able to pet a dog, but unfortunately it makes my face blow up like Will Smith in Hitch, so that's that. So it's definitely not about you, and I'm not mad or upset with you, unless you try to insist on getting your dog near me when I've asked you not to.)
posted by decathecting at 8:47 PM on August 5, 2016

I was on a flight recently with a guy who had an emotional support dog. He stayed in his aisle seat while the rest of us got off the plane. He got a lot of comments along the lines of, "your dog is so awesome!" and requests to pet it. As far as I could tell the reaction was all positive.
posted by bendy at 6:18 PM on August 6, 2016

Keep your documents current. The ticketing agents check for dates and become grumpy when the doctor's letter is over a year old.
posted by Aha moment at 4:21 AM on August 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

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