Thursday, February 07, 2013

Flying with a Dog

A dog in coach.
Last month we flew nonstop from Miami to San Francisco aboard American Airlines. Our half of a three-seat row had a fourth passenger. Incredibly, a woman and her full size standard poodle took the window seat. Initially, I was very concerned about sharing the space with a large dog. I am allergic to most pets but fortunately poodles do not bother me. Poodles are often cited as a hypoallergenic dog breed because they don't shed. For most of the six hour flight the dog scrunched down into the space under the seat in front like it was carry-on luggage. I was amazed to see it curl up into the space.

The dog was groomed as a show dog. It also had a service dog vest on when it boarded the plane. The woman that boarded with the dog didn't have any obvious signs that she needed a service dog. But one never knows and I didn't ask. I do know that they were transferring planes in SFO to continue on to Palm Springs that was hosting a dog show that week.

One personal item must be stowed
under the seat in front of you.
This made me wonder about service dogs. I googled them when I got back home. Apparently it is very easy to claim that your pet is a service dog and to claim all sorts of exceptions and exemptions for it under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Apparently registration or certification is not required as a condition of using a dog as a service animal. However, a business does have the right to ask what the dog is trained to do and to exclude any dog that disrupts business through inappropriate behavior or poses a direct threat to others. The animals must have sufficient training to behave appropriately in public (no barking, making unwanted contact with other members of the public, or disrupting business by misbehaving).

There are several sites on the Internet that with a few clicks of your mouse and a credit card number will sell you a fake certification. They are a haven for pet owners wanting an easy way get a pet on to airplanes, into hotels, or to take Fifi into stores or restaurants. There are also plenty of online stores that will sell one official looking gear such as vests, tags, patches, harnesses, collars, saddlebags and leashes.

Other than asking where she was traveling, I didn't ask the woman any other probing questions to try determining if it was a legitimate service dog. It may have been on the up and up. The dog was extremely well behaved.

I checked the American Airlines website. ( and learned that  “American Airlines and American Eagle accept service animals used by persons with disabilities at no charge. An animal may accompany a customer with a disability in the aircraft cabin, provided the animal can be accommodated without obstructing an aisle or other area used for emergency evacuations.”
However if your dog is just a pet then the charge is $125 to travel in the cabin. In addition, it has to travel in a pet carrier under the seat (cabin pet carriers are 19" long x 13" wide x 9" high.) Pets traveling as checked baggage are charged $175 per kennel.

Hmmm, it seems that a well trained show dog (Is there any other kind?) could travel for free if it is called a service dog. I'm just saying...

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