Tips and Tricks on Flying with your Service Dog, Emotional Support Dog, or Dog

Since I’ve had Indiana he’s been on over 40 flights with the longest being from San Diego to Anchorage Alaska, which was his first flight ever.

Due to my love of traveling and me picking up a few tips and tricks a long the way the only thing I worry about now is my anxiety of thinking I might miss my flight or getting an airline worker who’s unwilling to accommodate me with Indiana.

For those who are too afraid to fly with their service/emotional support/pet dog because of all the horror stories I thought I’d share a few tips and tricks to help put your mind at ease so you can focus on the person sitting next to you stealing your armrest instead of if you’re going to have any issues with your service/emotional support/pet dog.    We all know that we don’t want our trained service dogs to poop on planes, be unruly, or just whine and bark the whole plane.  Same goes for emotional support dogs or pet dogs.


When it comes to flying with a dog that’s not a service dog you must contact the airline for rules and regulations.  Emotional support dogs must have paperwork from a therapist or doctor stating you need the dog.  Pet dogs must be small enough to fit in a carry on case under your seat.  Any other type of dog sadly must be in a crate in the cargo area of the plane.  

These are my top 9 tips and tricks for flying with your service dog. 

1. Take your dog to the bathroom before your flight

Whether it be before you leave for the airport or at the airport (outside on grass or if the airport has a pet relief area) it’s always a good idea so you can avoid mistakes while in the airport or on the plane.

2. Don’t let your dog eat before the flight.

For example, if your flight is in the morning don’t feed your dog in the morning or late at night.  If your flight is in the afternoon don’t feed your dog in the morning.  The purpose for this is to make sure your dog hasn’t eaten in 8 hours so their body has enough time to digest the food so they can go poop before you leave for the airport.  This way you don’t have to worry about them pooping in the airport or on the plane.

3. Let your dog have ice cubes not water right before or during the flight.

Some people will over water their dog and they could have an accident in the airport or on the plane.  By letting your dog only eat ice cubes you’re not going to dehydrate your dog.  You’re also able to regulate how much water they ingest.  A bonus is that it can also act as a way to pop your dogs ears while up in the air.

 4. Know where the pet relief areas are in the airportsDog-relief-area-airport-service-dog-restroom

This is huge for when you have a long layover and you don’t want your dog to wait until you’re done flying to go to the bathroom.  With that said, not all airports have pet relief areas.   Also not all pet relief areas are created equal, meaning, some are really nice with fake grass and a mini fire hydrant versus a 3×3 pee pad in a room or an outside patch of grass, forcing you to go outside to let your dog pee and go through security again.   You honestly have no idea which pet relief area you’ll encounter when it comes to an indoor pet relief area.  Keep this in mind if you think you’re big dog can pee on a small 3×3 pee pad.

5. Have a bag of small treats

For Indiana I will always give him a small treat every 15 min to help pop his ears as well as treat him for being good during the flight.  This also helps your starving dog since they haven’t eaten in 8 hours.  Not only that but it also reinforces good behavior as well as hopefully a good memory of flying.

6. To sedate or not to sedate

My trainer told me to give Indiana Benadryl to have him be a little drowsy to make it easier on him flying.  This did the complete opposite!  Instead he fought through the drowsiness and it made him even more scared on our first flight.   The only time I would suggest sedating your dog is with vet approved medication and if you’re going to be on a really long flight.  Otherwise if it’s a short flight your dog might not be ready to get up and move around when the flight is over, therefore, not being that effective as a service dog.  Since Indiana has been on so many flights I know now that the first hour will be him shaking because of the noise of the engine but after an hour he usually calms down and just falls asleep.  I would suggest talking to your vet about sedation and if they think it would be necessary.

7. Make sure your service dog vest has detachable pouches

This comes in handy for going through security.  I always detach Indiana’s pouches so they are able to go through the x-ray machine.  That way all they have to do is pat him down when we go through the metal detector saving me the time of having them go through each pouch.  Not only that but it helps you keep their collapsable bowl, treats, and paperwork near you when you’re on the flight so you don’t have to get those items out of your own personal bag that is most likely stored in an over head bin.

8. Make sure you have your paperwork!

While the ADA doesn’t require paperwork for service dogs, airlines are exempt to that rule.  The biggest reason for that is because you’re packed like sardines in a small plane and “fake” service dogs or untrained emotional support dogs created a bad reputation by pooping on planes, running lose on planes, barking, etc.    Now the airlines require a letter from a therapist or a doctor for service dogs as well as emotional support dogs to be able to fly.  When I first started flying with Indiana the only paperwork I had was from the trainer and the lawyer for the training program.  For awhile that was ok, but after 10 flights with no issues I ran into one rude airline worker that said my dog couldn’t be a service dog because he was for PTSD so he must be an emotional support dog which requires a doctors note not the paperwork I already had.  After arguing he was a service dog which was trained to perform tasks for my disability he finally gave me my ticket.  It was after that interaction that I got my therapist to write a letter for me so I could avoid this hassle ever again with another ill informed airline worker.

9. Know your rights when it comes to seating


Indiana is an 80 pound german shepherd.  Regardless of what airline we fly he’s always way too big to lay at my feet in regular seating allowing me or other passengers to put our feet on the ground.  This is why I always request bulk head seating for him which allows Indiana to lay down while everyone in the row with me can put their feet on the ground with out stepping on him.  Also since most airlines charge extra for bulk head seating most people with service dogs want to pay that.  What you need to know is if they are accommodating your service dogs size you cannot get charged for bulk head seating.  Once again it depends on the individual person you’re dealing with when you request bulk head seating due to the size of your service dog.  I’ve had an issue where no one would work with me to get me bulk head seating until I got on the plane and the flight attendants saw Indiana could fit laying down on the floor in back but then no one could put their feet on the ground because they would be stepping on him due to the lack of room.  They had to move people around so I could finally get bulk head seating.  That was by far the most nerve racking experience since one of the flight attendants wanted to kick me off the flight if Indiana didn’t fit in my assigned seat.  This is why it’s always best when you book a flight you say you have a service dog and also call the airline ahead of time to see if you can get switched to bulk head seating to avoid any issues. If they are unable to due to bulk head seating being already full I will try to ask the airline check in ticket worker if they can switch me to bulk head seating.  Last resort is asking the airlines gate attendant to switch me to bulk head seating.

Let me know if you have any tips or tricks you learned a long the way traveling with your service dog!

Dog Friendly Ratings:

American Airlines:  I give them 4 paws because I normally always fly with them.  1 out of 30 flights I had an issue.  It was when I was checking in and the attendant kept telling me my trained service dog was an emotional support dog since he was for PTSD and I needed paperwork from my doctor. He almost didn’t let me and my ex-husband on the flight until I raised hell, causing a scene educating the man on the difference between a service dog and an emotional support dog.  Not the best experience but one issue out of 30 flights is pretty good.

United Airlines:  They get 1 paw since I only flown with them 4 times.  I almost got kicked off one flight due to the flight being so small, two seats in one row and one seat in another.  Indiana laying down takes up three seats.  So on this flight he was halfway in the aisle.  When the flight attendant or other people would walk by I would have Indiana stand up so he didn’t get stepped on or trip those people.  The flight attendant kept harassing me the whole flight saying he needed to be laying down the whole flight no matter what.  I said I wasn’t going to put my dog or other people in jeopardy for him laying on the floor the whole time when people walked by.  Even the lady sitting next to me stood up against the flight attendant saying my dog was very well behaved and I only had him standing when people walked by.  The flight attendant at the end of the flight told me he was a bad service dog and got in her way when she was doing the initial flight departure dropping mask schpeal.  I did call United Airlines to complain but since they like to also beat up passengers, I’m sure nothing was done to this flight attendant for harassing me for 2 hours straight.

Southwest Airlines:  5 paws since I’ve not had a single issue with them out of 4 flights.  I get pre boarding so I don’t have to fight to get a bulkhead seat since I’m always the first one to board the plane.  I also get the window guaranteeing that I have enough room for Indiana and he won’t venture out into the aisle.  Not only that I’m also guaranteed to have dog lovers sitting by me.  Only downside some of them are airport drunk and Indiana doesn’t like drunk men at all.  Other than that I have no complaints about Southwest.

Alaskan Airlines:  4 paws due to having one minor issue with them out of 8 flights.  The issue was I requested bulkhead seating since he’s a huge dog and they told me they couldn’t give it to me since they have to wait for someone to buy the bulkhead seat.  I told them that’s counter productive since they’d have to give the seat to me due to Indiana’s size and refund that person money.  Eventually, no one bought the bulkhead seat and they gave it to me.  I’m not sure if that’s their new policy since the first time I ever flew with Indiana it was with Alaskan and I had no issues getting bulkhead seating.  This issue happened December 2016 flying from San Diego-Portland-Omaha for the holidays.

Delta: Unknown since I haven’t flown with them yet with Indiana.  I’m not sure I ever will either.

Indiana’s Final Thoughts

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2 thoughts on “Tips and Tricks on Flying with your Service Dog, Emotional Support Dog, or Dog

  1. Thanks for the post, I really appreciate you taking the time to write this.

  2. Thanks for sharing .Wonderful and interesting .

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