Can you tell me like the proper way to fly with a SD? I'm taking a school trip in about a month or so and I might be taking my SD. I don't know what airline we're taking but her tasks are to help my pain (I have a psychical disability) but it is an invisible disability. I might have my wheelchair but idk about wheelchairs on airplanes either. How would the airline accommodate my wheelchair? And would I have to bring a note for my SD since her tasks are not psych?
Hi! I just recently flew with my SDiT and my wheelchair (two weeks ago) so I may be of some help!
First, no – as your disability is physical, you do not need to have a note for your dog. If you’d like to stay safe just in case you run into any access issues, you can bring vaccination records and a letter from your doctor but it isn’t legally necessary. I’m gonna go through step by step how this worked for me, okay?
- First, when you buy your ticket (if you’re buying online) there should be an option for you to select that you have a disability. There was when I bought my last plane ticket. I marked that I have my own wheelchair and that I have an assistance animal. Southwest has free seating so this isn’t an issue but it would also be a good idea to call your airline after purchasing your ticket to see if you can get bulkhead seating. This simply allows more foot room. If they cannot give you bulkhead, you can ask if they can reserve a second seat for you to leave more room for you as well. If they can’t, it’s okay. It’ll just be a little squishy.
- When you get to the airport, your first step is going to be to check in and get your boarding pass. As you’ll have a service dog, you need to go up and physically and check in. You won’t be able to use the kiosks or anything. They’ll mark that you have a dog on your ticket and they’ll likely take the brand, color, etc of your wheelchair. When I did it, the guy asked for my dog’s “papers” and I told him he was not legally allowed to ask me that question. That was the end of it. They took my luggage and checked it (since I was doing that) and put a luggage tag on my wheelchair as well.
- You will then go to security. Most airlines will allow you one carry on and one personal item. I had my backpack and a bag with my SDiT’s items. I also had a wheelchair cushion that they needed to run through the x-ray too. What happens here completely depends on your situation. With your wheelchair, they will ask you if you can walk or if you need to go through in your chair. I was able to walk this time. If you cannot walk, they will have you wheel through a gate that also has a metal detector and then they will give you a pat down on the other side. They will give you a same-sex TSA agent and they check your pockets, arms, between your legs, under your breasts if you have them. They will also use a thing to check your hands and your chair for chemicals.
I walked through for mine because I had my SDiT and I wanted to make sure things went smoothly. I took off all my things such as shoes, jackets, etc as you do normally. I also had to take off all of my service dog’s gear. This is something that you may need to work on with your dog: whenever I came in from outside with my dog, I had her sit, wait while I took her gear off, wait while I walked away, and then called her to me. We also worked on her putting her chin on my hand and me guiding her like that. This worked perfect for walking through security. She sat naked and waited for me to walk through, came through when called, and then walked with me to a chair they had waiting for me. They will likely check your hands for chemical residue too. The TSA agent I was working with brought me her collar and leash as soon as we got through security so that was nice.
- Once you’re through security, you’re good to go! If you decide not to bring your own chair, this is a great place to tell TSA you need assistance to your gate. A transfer chair or a wheelchair with someone to push you will be waiting on the other side to take you to your gate. If you brought your own chair, depending on how much time you have, you can just make your way to your gate on your own time!
- Once you get to your gate, you want to find that little desk that every gate has. They likely won’t do anything with your SD but they need to put a tag on your wheelchair to make sure the luggage guys keep it at the plane door and have it ready for you when you get to your destination. You will also be told that you qualify for pre-boarding. You get to board the plane first because you are disabled. They will also ask you if you can walk to your seat or if you need assistance. If you need help, there will be someone waiting for you to have a transfer chair for you to transfer to and they’ll use that to take you to your seat.
- They’ll tell you that they are starting pre boarding soon. If you are receiving assistance, someone likely will have already approached you. If not, they’ll simply just let you board. I have a mat for my SDiT so I got into our seat first and got her mat. Once her mat was down, I told her to settle and that was it! Your SD cannot be on the seat (I had Cricket hop on for a minute because it was easier to move around in the cramped space but she didn’t stay there). If your dog has never flown before, have treats ready to give them during takeoff and landing. I had dog treats and cheese sticks in my SDiTs bag and they let it go through so that was good. If you like, you can have something quiet and not stinky for your SD to chew on depending on how long your flights are. I had two with a layover between so mine were pretty short.
And that’s it! Southwest was pretty painless and everyone was very educated on disability and my chair and my dog. I have heard different stories from other people from different airlines. It will definitely help if you make sure they mark that you have an SD on your ticket when you purchase it whether it be through the website or calling the airline afterwards.
People can feel free to add anything if I missed anything or if they have any other suggestions!