The moment Sir Thomas steps into an airport, I wonder how he functions at all with the sensory overload. Suitcase wheels clatter and whir from behind. Neon blinks in every direction. Strangers’ hands reach toward him as they push past, pull ahead and pause to unlace shoes. He cuts a wake through air thick with the drone of announcements and the deep-fried, burnt-coffee odors of the food court. Airports exude stress.
I’ve learned from him that if I keep to my senses, we can keep our stress levels down. Here are some travel tips that help us from getting swept up with the hurried masses:
The first impulse when entering the airport is to rush through the steps of baggage check, security clearance and gate wait. I now give myself oodles of time so we can sit and regroup when needed.
When entering the airport, I find a seat where Thomas can lie at my feet and take it all in. This transition time allows him to adjust to the energy of the place rather than be caught up in it. It takes about 10 to 15 minutes.
If security is zooey or there is more going on in another area of the terminal we need to pass through, we sit for another 5 to ten minutes.
Check bags. My focus needs to be on navigating, not on hauling.
My carry-ons are a small backpack (filled mostly with snacks for both of us) and a blanket that folds up into a square with a shoulder strap.
Don’t talk to strangers. It seemed rude to me at first not to respond to people’s questions and comments. I’ve changed my mind.
I’d still be at the airport answering “What kind of dog is that,” “What’s his name,” and “How much does he weigh” questions if I didn’t choose to simply smile and keep moving forward.
I don’t want to stand out, which can be a challenge given how handsome Tommy is. But I believe that a passenger with a service dog should not be an anomaly any more than a fat, thin, hat-wearing, cane-bearing, bespectacled passenger.
Request the bulkhead specifically. I wrongly assumed that the airline would seat me there. (I alert them when I’ve booked the flight that my service dog is a Great Dane and I figured it was clear to the gate agent that he’s not going to fit anywhere else.)
When traveling with a service dog, airline policy is to find space for the dog. Bulkhead seating is typically reserved for disabled passengers who request it. That request can be up to an hour before boarding; agents will reseat non-disabled passengers seated there.
Ask for silent boarding. I didn’t know what that meant before my most recent flight. Check in with the the boarding gate agent and make the request. It means that a few minutes before the pre-boarding for first-class and families with children, the agent allows us to board, which gives me time to spread Tommy’s blanket and settle him into place.
Bring a dog blanket. I found a handy picnic blanket that is fuzzy-soft on one side and water resistant on the other. It’s big enough to double up for extra padding (those Dane elbows are bony). It also has a zipper pocket (which holds his expandable travel water bowl) and an attached shoulder strap. It folds up into a compact square for easy carrying.
Airport and airplane floors are dirty. Uber dirty. Bring a blanket.
The floor can get quite cold during flight. It’s much more comfy for Tommy to be on his blanket.
His blanket is familiar to him. It’s calming. It helps turn off the sensory overload switch. I’m thinking I’ll bring my blanket on our next flight.
*Note: My most recent flight was with Jet Blue and the staff – from the booking agent to the airport personnel to the attendants on board – were stellar.