* This post is kindly sponsored by the companies listed at the end of this post, but all opinions are my own. *
My assistance dog Fliss has become an excellent traveller after accompanying me on numerous trips over the last 2 years. However, I always begin by evaluating if joining me is in her best interest, before contacting Canine Partners for approval. For example, we recently travelled to California to attend a Wheelchair Dance Experience and due to the long flight time and high temperatures, we agreed to leave Fliss with my parents. Although I didn't anticipate struggling to ask my carer for assistance with the tasks Fliss normally helps me with! So you need to consider if this is something you could cope with when travelling without your dog, especially when you are so used to doing something independently!
Because it's so important to check if Fliss is safe to accompany me on any trip, I spent several months visiting busy tourist attractions, using public transport and flying internally to assess whether Fliss would be able to join me on a trip to Disneyland Paris. So before you spend a lot of money trying to get a pet passport, I highly recommend contacting your dog training organisation for guidance and information regarding their pet travel policies!
It is worth noting that the process of applying for a pet passport involves several vet visits, health checks, rabies vaccinations, blood tests and occasionally additional worming treatments; so you certainly couldn’t get everything sorted in a hurry ahead of a last-minute holiday!
From there you should inform the airline, tour operator or booking agent that you intend to fly with a working dog at least 48 hours before flying; although every reasonable effort should be made by the airline to accommodate a working dog if less notice is unavoidable. I also suggest contacting the airport and airline directly, to ensure both you and your dog are well supported on the day of travel. You could even use this opportunity to arrange any passenger assistance or reserve suitable seats onboard.
Airlines are entitled to ask for a form of evidence to prove that your dog is trained by a recognised organisation, along with checking you have a pet passport when flying outside of the UK. Thankfully British Airways accepted Fliss’s ADUK ID book as a form of pre-flight booking evidence, as it took a while for her passport to arrive; so remember to bear this in mind when booking your trip!
Check-in took a little longer than usual due to the staff not being overly familiar with checking in a working dog. They kindly began by talking us through the entire process, to ensure we were comfortable, familiar and prepared; all of which I greatly appreciated as it was a new experience for everyone involved. To my surprise, the process of checking in was very similar to when I have travelled without Fliss (CLICK HERE for more information), other than cross-checking Fliss’s information, rabies vaccinations, worming medications and scanning her microchip! Just remember to bring the following items to the check-in desk:
Human & Doggy Passports
Relevant Medical Documentation
Fit To Fly Letter
Assistance Dog ID Book
Dogs Vaccinations/Wormer Records
Documentation To Ensure Dog Can Reenter Country
Following on from check-in, we had to make our way through airport security which was also similar to the standard procedure. The only difference was that a member of staff had to check underneath Fliss’s Jacket, Harness and Collar, but she honestly thought she was getting a mini massage! Just remember to check if there is a toileting area you can access after security, or you might want to dash outside with your dog before going through to departures!
Once it’s time to make your way to the departing gate, you and your dog should be boarded onto the aircraft first. This is to ensure all priority passengers are comfortably seated before other passengers embark, although it doesn’t always happen so don’t be afraid to speak up if you need to board first!
Unlike pet dogs, recognised working dogs are permitted to accompany their owners in the cabin of the aircraft with UK, European and most international air carriers. They should also provide you with adequate floor space and additional luggage at no ecstatics cost, but this is something you need to organise ahead of time as airline policies can vary depending on the carrier you are flying with. Thankfully British Airways blocked off the seat next to me to ensure Fliss didn’t have to lie across my feet/against my oxygen machine.
In addition to this, you need to ensure you pack any onboard essentials for your dog in your hand luggage. For example;
An Appropriate Restraint Harness - Fliss used the Kurgo True Fit, which is easy to fit, comfortable to wear and safe to use onboard.
Treat Bag - including some of their favourite high-value goodies.
Favourite Toy - I packed something small Fliss could quietly play with in the event of a delay.
Something To Chew - I packed a premade frozen Kong for Fliss to use during take-off and landing!
Vet Bed/Travel Mat - Fliss associates her purple mat with settling down, meaning she had no problems on board and at the hotel while away.
Poo Bags, Absorbent Pads, & Wipes - just in case your dog has an accident or becomes ill during your journey.
Bottled Water & Travel Bowel - although ice cubes are a sensible alternative to water and reduce the risk of spillages, plus you shouldn’t have any problems accessing ice both in the airport and on board.*
*I limited Fliss’s water supply before our flight and provided her with multiple opportunities to go to the toilet before entering the airport, as most UK airports don’t have toileting areas for working dogs in departures. Luckily our departure was early in the morning and we didn’t have a long flight time ahead of us, so I was comfortably able to withhold Fliss’s breakfast until we arrived at the hotel. Although I understand this may not be a suitable if you have a long flight or a delayed departure, once again your dog training organisation should be able to advise with the most appropriate set up for both you and your dog. More information and recommendations can be found on the Guide Dogs UK website linked at the bottom of this post!*
Upon arrival, we headed straight to passport control where Fliss’s passport, vaccination history and wormer record were checked. Then we were free to continue leaving the airport alongside everyone else, which again you can learn more about via the links at the end of this blog!
On returning to the UK, we were once again met by a member of staff who carried out all of the relevant checks so Fliss could re-enter the country. More information about the Pets Travel Scheme and what is required on your return can be found below. Just remember to request help from the passenger assistance team if you need accompanying through Border Control, Baggage Reclaim and on to an agreed point in the airport boundary where you are being met, or are undertaking your onward journey.
Overall I highly recommend travelling with your assistance dog if it is possible. I was surprised by how easy both our outbound and inbound journey was! Although there is a lack of familiarisation from the crew within the airport and onboard, purely because they don’t often assist passengers with a working dog. However everyone was very happy to learn and even more help to help, whilst also remembering to respect the ‘Do Not Distract’ rule and reminding other passengers to do the same!
Since this journey, we have also attempted going back to Disneyland Paris via Eurostar, which was even easier than travelling by plane as you have more access to outside toilet areas, lots of space inside the carriages and much shorter travel times. Luckily the process of preparing for our trip, checking in and returning to the UK was almost identical to our journey with British Airways. Meaning Fliss was very comfortable with the entire process, and I felt confident enough to take her with me! So please feel free to message me with any questions you may have about flying with a working dog and remember to click on the links below for more information!
Thank you to the following companies for sponsoring this collection of blog posts! I will be sharing more information on each of the sponsors at the end of the series, but in the meantime you can click on the links below to learn more about their products and services: