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Guide Dog – Travel Tips

Following are suggested travel tips for when you and your guide dog head out on vacation or a business trip. We have categorized these suggestions under headings for each mode of transportation.

Travel By Air

Perhaps one of the most frequently asked questions by the general public is, “Does your dog travel with you on the airplane when you are flying somewhere?” The answer, of course, is “Yes.” Trips that include travel by air can result in a very positive experience provided the guide dog handler undertakes some simple pre-flight preparations to ensure their guide is as comfortable as can be during the flight. Consider these items as your pre-flight check list:

  • When booking your flight itinerary, advise the travel agent or airline that you are planning to travel with a guide dog. Some airlines such as WestJet provides this opportunity to indicate this fact when booking online. Air Canada however, requires passengers to phone their reservation center following the booking to notify them of your intention to bring your guide dog on the flight.
  • Given some airlines may now legally restrict the number of guide or assistance dogs on any one flight, notifying the airline at time of booking will help to ensure you are not bumped to another flight at check-in because the service dog quota has been exceeded.
  • Be sure to request a seat that affords sufficient room to accommodate your guide dog. This is usually bulkhead seating but this will depend on the type of aircraft being used for the flight. Be sure to look to see the type of aircraft when booking on-line or ask the travel agent or airline representative as they can determine the type of aircraft being used when they confirm your booking. Air Canada, for example, will ensure the seat next to you is kept vacant if your guide dog is between 50 and 80 pounds.
  • Short flights of 2 hours or less often require little preparation other than to ensure your guide has relieved just prior to check-in at the airport. Flights which involve longer periods (including check-in, security clearance, etc.) do require some careful planning in advance. Postponing or cutting back on food and water will ensure your guide dog is comfortable during the flight and will avoid the need to relieve at 36,000 feet! Regardless of your dog’s food or water intake, it is still recommended that he/she is always given an opportunity to relieve prior to check-in.
  • For longer flights, including lengthy overseas international flights, consider placing a couple of adult diapers (such as Attends, Depends or a disposable incontinence pad) in your carry-on luggage, along with some plastic garbage bags. You will be extremely glad that you did should your guide dog find they cannot wait to get back on the ground or outside the airport to use the relieving area.
  • Water intake should also be reduced during the 12 hour lead up to departure time. Very small amounts of water or even ice cubes may be a good alternate.
  • Always give your guide dog an opportunity to relieve before you clear the security screening process. Accessing a suitable relieving area is often very difficult, if not impossible, once you are inside the secured zone of an airport.
  • Carrying a collapsible water bowl is handy should you wish to give your guide dog a small amount of water during the flight. Providing your dog with a small amount of kibble or a dog treat can often take the edge off is your dog begins to show signs of hunger.
  • Should your flight itinerary include a layover in another airport, consider having your file marked for “meet and assist” when you reach this layover point. If time between flights allows, airline assistance in escorting you and your dog out to a relieving area will increase the comfort of your dog. Keep in mind, you may have to re-clear security to get back to your aircraft so ensure you have sufficient time to do so.
  • As part of their training, Canadian Air Transport Security Authority Screening Officers are taught to provide clear and concise instructions and to offer to guide passengers with vision loss through the screening process. If you are blind or sight-impaired, the Screening Officer will offer you the following options:
    1. Pass through the walk-through metal detector (WTMD) with the service animal;
    2. bypass the WTMD and be screened by the hand-held metal detector; or
    3. undergo a physical search (the physical search may be conducted in a private search room at your request.)

    The Screening Officer will also visually inspect the guide dog and its harness. The guide dog’s harness is not removed during the process, but bags or pouches on the dog should be removed by the handler and presented to the Screening Officer for screening. Additional information regarding the policies and procedures of the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority can be found on their website.

  • For flights involving international travel, be sure to carry copies of up-to-date rabies and vaccination records which have been certified by your veterinarian. We would also suggest you include any photo ID, such as that provided by most guide dog schools, which certifies a the validity of your guide dog.
  • Some airlines require guide or assistance dogs to be muzzled while on board the aircraft. You will appreciate having come prepared with a gentle leader or muzzle should this requirement be presented to you.
  • Should you wish to make a complaint about an air carrier, you can complete an on-line complaint form for the Air Travel Complaints Program or mail or fax your complaint to the Canadian Transportation Agency at:Canadian Transportation Agency
    Air Travel Complaints Program
    Ottawa, ON K1A ON9Additional information can be obtained by calling the Canadian Transportation Agency (week days from 8:00 AM through 8:00 PM, Eastern Time) at 1-888-222-2592 or send a fax to (819) 953-5686.
  • Guide dog users who are travelling on US carriers and wish to obtain information regarding airline access issues or who may wish to file a service related complaint may call the US Department of Transportation – Disability Hotline at 1-800-778-4838. You also have the option to file your complaint in writing. Submit your complaint regarding a disability issue to the United States Department of Transportation – Aviation Authorities via e-mail or by post to:Aviation Consumer Protection Division
    U.S. Department of Transportation
    400 7th Street, SW
    Washington, DC 20590
  • The late Michael Osborn, a passionate volunteer advocate working in concert with Guide Dogs for the Blind on behalf of all guide dog users, delivered an extensive report at the May 24, 2004 International Guide Dog Federation Seminar in Switzerland, detailing the medical, documentation, and procedural requirements for travelling with a guide dog on a country-by-country basis. Michael’s research and report will be subject to change over time, but you can view or download Michael Osborne’s original 234-page resource guide entitled “International Travel With A Guide Dog” which is an invaluable resource for any guide dog user considering international travel.

Travel By Sea

  • Cruise ships are very accommodating when it comes to welcoming guests who are cruising with their guide dog.
  • As is the case when arranging air travel, notifying your travel agent that you are travelling with a guide dog will ensure the cruse ship has the necessary accommodations. Prior arrangements can be made to provide a relieving area – usually a sandbox of sawdust, wood chips or the like – positioned on an outer deck near your cabin. The ship’s crew will see to it that the relieving area is refreshed often but it is proper etiquette for you to pick up after your dog and to dispose of the waste — same as you would on land.
  • Be sure to research guide dog access legislation and the general attitude toward guide dogs for your various ports of call. Advanced preparation in this regard will usually prevent any misunderstandings or unexpected denials of access. The rights of access that you experience in your home province/state will not apply in a foreign country. Each country has its own access laws (or perhaps none at all) so you would be well advised to be familiar with them. Ask your travel agent to assist with this research but always double check. It is you that may have to stay on-board with your dog if guide dogs and their handlers are not permitted rights of access at a given port of call.
  • Many cruise ship lines will provide menus and other on-board materials in alternate format if notified in advance. Ask your travel agent to inquire on your behalf when booking your passage.