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amanda with boo

How to Fly with a Service Dog

Small dogs can fly in-cabin. But what about big dogs? Flying in cargo is risky and seasonally restricted, and the ESA deal got nixed by someone bringing an ostrich and snakes on the plane. Unless you are planning to move overseas, everytime you travel, big Fido is off to boarding camp. Yet, there is one way to take your dog on travels, and that is to have them trained to be a Psychiatric Support Dog. If you had a good reason for ESA, you might have one to qualify for this, and few questions asked. Let’s hear from guest blogdaughter, Amanda, on how she was able to get her big dog, Boo, on the plane, with no boo-hoo.

At the time of writing this, I have taken Boo on six flights. mostly across the country (USA). Like Toby, he’s a very good boy! While this article is really about how to get your Psychiatric Service Dog, or any service dog for that matter on a plane, you probably need to know that I’m a professional licensed therapist with a Masters Degree in the fields of Counseling and Psychiatry. But you don’t worry, you don’t have to go through years of college and spend gobs of money in the process to get your dog registered as a Service Animal. 

To become a Service dog, basically your beast has to be able to perform three tasks (Boo can do ten in his sleep). Ask a professional dog trainer for more information, and let it be noted that nothing written here is given as advice, legal beagle or otherwise. Let’s cut to the squirrel chase and get down to the bully stick on what I’ve done to get Boo on a plane.

I believe the process is the same for most airlines. Boo has flown on Delta and Southwest, and so far, only within the US on five-hour flights. It begins with a DOT (Department of Transportation) Service Animal form. Once that is submitted and approved, a Service Animal ID number is given by the airline that one is flying on, and one may use that on future flights with the same airline. 

Service Animal Form

Aside for the self-explanatory check boxes, here is how these boxes were addressed.

  • Vet: My vet asked if Boo was on flea medicaton (she recommended Nexguard), and gave permission to use her contact info. 
  • Trainer: My friend who is a dog trainer did not want me to use her name here (even though she did do some training with him) because she did not want to be liable if something were to happen. She had the experience of another friend using her name, and the airline actually did call her. She recommended that I put my own name here since it is legitimate for the owner to do the training, which I have done.
  • Besides those two specific blanks, the rest is basically vouching for your dog that they are good to go. You might also want to get him a Service Dog harness, so that people don’t ask a bunch of questions, and keep their dog noses in their own dog’s business.

I did not get a phone call from the airlines prior to flying, and no questions were asked along the way.

The next step is submitting this form online to the address at the bottom of the form. Once it is approved, a confirmation email is sent. I think the process took two days for me.

Then one must call the airlines with the Service Dog ID # and confirm that one will be flying with a service dog.

And that’s basically it for pre-flight. No other documentation needed. I had a letter from my mental health professional vouching that I have an intermittent disability, but it was never asked for.

Where to sit: My dog is 75 pounds, so I bought a bulkhead ticket for the extra leg room. I went to the kiosk at the gate to ask if there were any accommodations possible to make for me and my dog (I had heard that sometimes they move you to first class- that never happened). 

For the first flight, I got moved back in the plane to a row of open seats. I saw later that I was reimbursed for the extra I had paid for bulkhead on my original purchase, which was nice. Technically, dogs aren’t allowed on the seats, but there was a bunch of turbulence on take off and Boo got scared, and no one said anything.

The next time, I had a bulkhead middle seat and prayed that my seatmates liked dogs. Which they did, and that was necessary because these strangers are giving up most of their foot space for the whole flight. So it was very stressful waiting to see who my seatmates would be.

I can say that for my size of dog, going under a seat was not going to happen, but I’ve seen videos of neufies going under a regular seat, so I don’t know.

Also, one may board early with the set of parents with little kids, if one is into that. It’s kind of nice to get settled before other passengers arrive.

Service Dog, Boo, with a fan on the plane
Service dog on plane floor

Upon arrival at the airport, I didn’t have to do anything extra. Online check-in is fine, just go right to security. They had me walk through the old-school metal detector without him first, and then to call him through.

About pottying: my vet recommended to pull water and food a few hours before the flight, and then to have light snacks for him and a little water to wet his whistle. He refused to go in the designated potty areas (warranted: they are disgusto). The first time flying, on the way out of the airport he finally pooped a big pile in the food court area in front of a collection of humorous vocal employees who commented on the size of the dumpling. We were so close, but at least it wasn’t on the plane. 

All in all, it is a pretty stressful for both of us, but we got through, and it’s worth it for me and Boo.

Note: On info about qualifying for a service dog, and the expectations for behavior, check out the ADA (American Disabilities Act) official page:

Everything else is basically trying to sell you unnecessary documents. 

Boo ready to go travel. Get in. Me drive. You like ride "shotgun?"

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