Saturday, September 3, 2011

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Airport Meeting

Our Tuesday night meeting was held at the Clearwater Airport. We had a combined meeting, which was fun as we got to see some familiar faces from down south.

The purpose was to get an exposure to some very specific travel hazards that visually impaired people and their guide dogs might encounter. The first one that we went to was the baggage claim area.

Normally, you would just think of baggage claim as an annoying place to wait for your luggage. In fact, it is a noisy, potentially scary place for puppies. think about the alarm that sounds before the baggage claim luggage mover starts to move (and what is the name for that?!!). There is even a revolving police light! I have NEVER noticed that light before.

So we all crowded around and waited for the siren and lights and the baggage claim thingy to move. then they placed some baggage on it and let it come around. Jam was curious, but unfazed. Jam is so super cool. Really, nothing fazes him.

Then it was on to security.

Security is a major deal. ANYTHING can happen. You can check back to our previous posts about taking a dog through the airport to see that you can have a great experience on a flight out and a horrible one on the flight back. With THE SAME AIRLINE. It all depends on the attendant and whether they are feeling the love.

So it all really rests on you and how you handle the situation. So, some things you can do:

1. Always remain calm, cool and collected.
2. If there is a way to exploit your dog's cuteness, use it. It never hurts.
3. When making your reservation, make sure to tell the airline that you will be traveling with a service dog. They put a special code next to your reservation. It might also be a good idea to call the local airline a day before and ask if they have it noted on your reservation.
4. Be confident. Approach the ticket counter with a smile and have your dog sit and stay. Never use the word puppy. You have a service dog in training. If possible, try to get them to list your dog carrier as an assistive device and not charge you for it. Some managers have done this for us, some haven't. You may not always get this, but it worth asking for.

Now, I recommend that you don't get the largest dog crate to travel with and that you don't travel with it put together (see previous post). It exceeds the largest luggage allowance and if you get a cranky attendant they are going to stick it to you ($125 fee). Then you have to deconstruct the crate and somehow get it to stay together. Better to travel with it deconstructed or buy the smaller one and never have that problem. TRUST ME!!!

When going through security, there are a myriad of things that can happen. You can have a security guard go off her meds and run screaming from the security area:

"I'm afraid of dogs! I'm afraid of dogs!" As happened to one of our puppy raisers. No problem with the puppy getting excited about that hysterical person. Right!

Or you can have the person selected to give you a pat down be afraid of dogs and ask for backup, as happened to me. Making it a menage a tois of a really weird sort with a distracted, jumping 70-pound puppy leaping up and the security guard trying to pat me down shrieking and veering away from me. Lovely. I thought Fred was going to cry he was laughing so hard.

Trust me. You want security calm and happy.

Approach them and tell them what you would like to do.

1. I would like to go through the machine first.
2. I will have my dog sit and stay on the passenger side and I will walk through.
3. Once I have passed through, I will call my dog.
4. Once he has passed through, you can pat him down.

Explain that leaving the leash and collar on will make sure that there isn't a loose dog running around. Ask if this procedure meets with their approval or if they have another procedure they want to follow.

Sometimes they have special short line they put you in. Yea! I love it when that happens.

If you can get the bulkhead sit, take it. There is lots of room. Make sure though, that you keep your dog in your seat area and don't allow him to spread out to the other passenger's space. Encroachment is rude.

If you don't get the bulkhead, don't despair. We have traveled with two dogs, one tiny and one large. They both fit under the seat, no problem. Do a down under and you're good to go.

It was an amazing meeting. Our thanks to all the employees at Clearwater Airport, Michele Routh, the head of marketing, for arranging it, Clearwater TSA and Alligiant Air for letting us board a plane. They really helped us out! And to Judy and John our ACs for making it happen.

Here's a video of some of what we did at the airport!

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