By Randy Pierce
As Autumn and I stroll through the airport and onto the plane, and then settle into a seat with her curled up against my feet on the floor in front of me, it may seem a simple process. For Guiding Eyes Autumn, December 4 was her debut flight and we thought we’d enlighten the many who have asked how the entire process works. Like most things, it begins with planning and preparation.
Thankfully the A.D.A. (American’s With Disabilities Act) ensures she is welcome to accompany me on a flight and not require any additional cost or ticket purchase. Guiding Eyes for the Blind has ensured that we as a team are trained for our part in the responsibilities involved. She has proven able to exceed the behavioral needs despite all the possible surprises which might arrive on a flight. I’ve been trained to ensure the ability to keep her within those expectations and properly educate the people around us through the process.
Depending on the length of flight and possibilities for relieving Autumn, I’ve adjusted her schedule of food and water to ensure she can fly comfortably without risk of an accident nor of insufficient nutrition and hydration. This is more difficult with the extended security approaches, although many airports have very kindly provided relieving stations beyond security. I have food ready for her immediately after we finish our flights.
Alerting the airlines 24 hours in advance is a courtesy which can also allow me to request bulkhead seating for us. On many airlines this has just a little more leg room which aids my 6’4” frame and her 65 lbs of Labrador to cohabitate a little better. This time we are traveling with Tracy and may negotiate a little of her leg room too.
On the day of the flight, we’ll arrive a little early and ensure her a final relief before braving the security process. They will usually expedite us through security and thereby ensure a Dog Guide trained scanner as well. She sits in a stay while I walk through the scanner (hopefully successfully though the blind guy not touching the sides is another interesting challenge). Then while they watch I call her through and typically the harness will set off the alarm so they’ll pat her down. Often this is a treat for Autumn and the scanning agent. We then resume to the gate and request early boarding to ease things a little more. Sitting in plain view of the gate reminds them we are there to help finalize that early boarding.
Sometimes a little interaction with a fellow flyer in our row helps build comforts though there’s an occasional flight with someone unhappy to share the row with a dog guide. The airline may move that person if it’s possible and most of the time soulful puppy eyes win over travelers.
We are allowed in any seat not designated as the emergency exit row. The airline may invite us to move for better comfort and if safety is involved they may direct us to do so, but in my 14 years of flying with a Dog Guide this has never yet happened. A blanket and chew toy complete the options for her comfort especially on her first flight. Eventually she may prove to be as stoic and relaxed as the Mighty Quinn or Ostend before her, but setting the trip for success in advance is key. The final part of that is to ensure her dog food made the trip as it may be harder to find across the country. Just to be safe, a full day’s supply is in my carry-on and her collapsible bowl is on her harness.
Now we are off and ready for new adventures together!