Oscar’s First Flight as a Service Dog

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Rachel Zampino

Rachel Zampino

Sharing my travels, digital nomad life, and current hyper fixations!

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I decided to start documenting Oscar and I’s travel journeys, along with his service dog journey, so that I can personally keep track of our progress but also to share tips with those of you who are interested in doing the same.

I get a lot of questions about the service dog process and how it all works, and I have learned a LOT over the last few months…especially with this trip. So here goes…

This past weekend, Oscar got to fly for the first time!

*cue mom (me) stressing tf out*

I was incredibly nervous for this first voyage. This whole process feels very intimidating the first time, but now after a round trip to Vegas, I feel relieved, and prepared to fly again.

Front seat privileges on the airport shuttle bus 🤣

We traveled to Vegas for the When We Were Young festival, which was about a 2-hour flight, to and from Denver. Plus, lots of time spent in the airport going through security, getting food/drinks, bathroom trips, and just sitting around waiting. Overall, it was a great practice run with lots of distractions and he did very well!

Patiently waiting for our luggage
Very unamused by Vegas Airport’s Pet Relief area

Requirements for a service dog to fly:

  1. DOT form filled out (see example here)
  2. Relief form filled out, if flying for more than 8 hours consecutively (see example here)
  3. Airport staff can and WILL ask you if your dog is a “service dog” to verbally confirm (even if they’re wearing a vest/tags)
  4. Staff can also ask what tasks your service dog is trained to perform (I personally didn’t have this happen, but it’s good to be prepared)—read up here on the different types of tasks your service dog can perform. Oscar and I went with “tactile stimulation” (a.k.a. licking) and “deep pressure therapy” (a.k.a. laying on top of me)
  5. No bad behavior whatsoever— no barking, jumping, lunging at others, or acting like a wild animal
  6. Must fit either on your lap (for small dogs) or in the space in front of/under your seat on the plane
  7. I personally got a letter from CertaPet from a licensed professional, which says I need Oscar for my “psychiatric disability”—this isn’t required but I think helps add credibility and eliminate doubt

I have another post about service dog training and the “Public Access Test” here if you’re interested!

“Mom, I’m bored.”
Waiting for our Uber to the Airbnb

Lessons learned:

  • The “pet relief” areas in the airport are uh…not great. They’re very small, and smell very bad. Oscar wouldn’t use them, I think with all of the concrete and turf, it feels too much like being “inside” so he thinks he’s going to get in trouble if he goes there.
  • The check-in process is much simpler than I expected. They just glance at your DOT forms, grab your checked bags, and let you in.
  • Service dogs get priority boarding, and all you have to do is ask! Before each flight, I went to the gate and asked to board first and they printed me a new boarding pass. I used Southwest, but from what I’ve read, all airlines seem to have the same rules.
  • Another unexpected surprise was getting to sit in the first row of the plane, which has a LOT more legroom than anywhere else. This was glorious. There’s no way Oscar would’ve fit in one of the regular rows.
  • TSA—for both flights with Oscar, I got pulled off to the side to check my hands for explosives…I guess they think Oscar is holding a bomb in his belly. So that was kind of odd, but not a big deal. Otherwise, he was able to just walk through security with me.
  • Dogs make the world go round. Aside from helping me, Oscar was doing a service to the entire airport. Everyone who saw him instantly smiled. 😇
Chilling at a restaurant in the Vegas Airport
Waiting for our flight back to Denver after a very long day/weekend

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