Tips for Air Travel - Brigadoon Service Dogs News by TeamStyx (2016)
Those of us matched with a service dog from Brigadoon have already jumped one hurdle of airplane travel because our teams are accredited by Assistance Dogs International (ADI). If your plans include air travel, don’t be discouraged. With patience, persistence, and planning, it can happen. Some travel has more paperwork than others so TeamStyx offers different examples:
Domestic travel (from the US mainland): Service dogs qualify for expedited service from the Hawai’i Department of Agriculture (HDoA). Advanced documentation is required (proof of past two rabies vaccines, for example, and microchip implant number), but some fees are waived. The HDoA specifically lists ADI training as one basis to pre-qualify for faster service. You still need to meet strict rules (the process can take several weeks) but this is much shorter than the time required to import a pet. You can apply for “direct release” if it helps to fly non-stop to a neighbor island and bypass Honolulu, but extra fees apply. For me, flying direct from Oregon to Maui made our “bucket list” trip possible. Indispensable allies included Brigadoon, our local veterinarian, and the West Maui Animal Clinic (WMAC). Brigadoon provided a signed statement about TeamStyx on official letterhead and with that letter many doors opened. Sometimes I had to knock two or three times, but it worked! Your hometown veterinarian is a key partner in organizing the blood test and preparing the health certificate that airline staff will want to see before boarding and that an approved veterinarian (like WMAC) must collect when you deplane. The health certificate must be dated within 10 days before you depart the mainland. I used a paper calendar, counting backward from our arrival date, and kept good notes, so each piece of required paperwork got submitted by the different deadlines. It can be easy to get discouraged and confused by the long process but it helps to remember at least three things:1) the rules are in place to prevent rabies from entering the Hawaiian Islands, not to make life harder, 2) our ADI-accredited service dogs are recognized and welcomed by HDoA for their superior training, and 3) the destination is amazing. During our visit, TeamStyx was greeted respectfully and encouragingly in our hotel, on the beach boardwalk, at outdoor concerts, and in restaurants. Truly, a spirit of “aloha.”
Domestic travel (in the continental US): Service dogs fly in the cabin with you and must fit in the space provided at your feet. TeamStyx is tall so we need a bulkhead row, but it cannot be an exit row. I’ve learned it takes a lot of advance planning and time on the phone to get the seat assignment I need (and they want me to have so that the crew and other passengers are not inconvenienced). Our first flights were tough because navigating an airport is hard to begin with (Check-in! Security! Crowds!). Then on top of that airline staff at the gate may not communicate with staff at check-in, so the same questions pop up again. Seats can be reassigned at the gate so I’ve learned to be early to help avoid problems. Airports are filled with people who are obstacles to team safety and sanity, so I try to be rested, polite but firm, and use easy luggage. TeamStyx has flown for medical appointments, work, and family so we are gaining experience. If something goes badly (well-intentioned help that isn’t, unkind people) we stop, get to a safe spot, and focus on the team.
International travel: Service dogs fly in the cabin with you on international flights the same as they do on domestic routes. One key difference from domestic air travel to Hawai’i is that the health certificate required is an international one, prepared by your veterinarian and signed by the USDA office in your region. The Pacific Northwest USDA vet services are in Tumwater, WA. TeamStyx has family in Germany, so our goal was to enter the European Union. Different schedules and requirements vary according to the country (or countries) you intend to visit and your airline may add other requirements. Staff at our local veterinarian in the Columbia Gorge helped find materials on the internet demonstrating how to complete the multi-page, multi-copy certificate, scheduled the health exam, and taught me how to send materials by overnight service to Tumwater. Once that was accomplished there was nothing to do but wait anxiously for the USDA to sign and return everything so we could board the plane. It worked! We visited family, toured a few new cities, and entered a few shops. Strangers were respectful and did not interrupt us on the street, but we were unwelcome in restaurants. Before departure, I’d contacted an ADI-accredited organization in Germany and that helped me navigate some of the unfamiliar practices and attitudes we encountered. Flying isn’t easy but it is sometimes necessary or desirable, and being a Brigadoon Team helps a lot. Good luck and safe travels.