Service Animals in Airports

Between checking bags, clearing security, getting to your gate on time, and trying to get that seat you want, traveling can be stressful. But what about traveling with a service dog? While service dogs can be of tremendous help to their owners, on top of all the normal stresses of traveling, the owner also has to worry about their service dog. Among the many questions you may ask yourself before traveling with your furry service companion, you may wonder: What if my dog has to use the bathroom after we've gone through security?

Pet relief area sign in Denver International Airport

Well, in July 2015, the Department of Transportation ruled that airports with over 10,000 daily passengers must have wheelchair accessible service animal relief areas and at least one service animal relief area per terminal. While designing these areas, airports must consult with service animal training organizations and, with exceptions, locate them in the sterile area of each terminal to make sure that they are accessible to travelers, especially during layovers.

About a year ago, Denver International Airport (DIA) added three new pet relief areas to comply with these rulings. Now, each terminal features an indoor pet relief area with artificial turf, a drainage system, bags and disposal containers, and a sink, soap dispenser, automatic hand dryer, and paper towels. A fenced-in outdoor relief area is located before security and is equipped with a bench for owners to sit on. According to Heath Montgomery, DIA's Senior Public Information Officer, "These new rooms were designed to be bright, welcoming, and artificial turf, disposable water bowls, and more." These new airport amenities bring convenience, peace of mind, and most crucially, relief, to service animals and their owners like Kirk Williams and his service dog, Bella.

A service dog using the pet relief area in Denver International Airport

Kirk travels a lot with Bella. When he is traveling, he makes sure that he has Bella's official badges and vests. When checking in, he lets the agent know that he is traveling with a service dog. You can do this online as well, but it can be easily overlooked so it is a good idea to remind them the day of your flight. Next, they head to the security line. Since Kirk uses a wheelchair, security gives Kirk, Bella, and her vest a pat-down. After getting through security, they head to their gate. They do not use moving sidewalks in the airport after hearing a story about a service dog who had tensed up on one, did not get off at the end, and ripped its toenails off on the ridges. Although Bella has never had a problem with them, it's not worth the risk. When they get to the gate, Kirk usually asks if they have any bulkhead or extra room seating available. Whether or not he gets one of these seats mostly depends on how early he arrives, the airline he's flying on, and the individual who is helping him. A few times, when there was an empty seat, he has been upgraded to first class. During the flight, Bella usually sleeps and prefers a window seat because she can curl up next to the wall.

So, what happens if Bella needs to use the bathroom? Their flights are usually short, so most of the time Bella does not have to use the pet relief areas. She is confused by the indoor relief areas, but the majority of the areas she has used have been outdoors. If Bella has to go and an airport only has a pre-security relief area, Kirk and Bella have to go through the security line all over again before going back to their gate. This is a pain and time consuming.

Service dog using the pet relief area in Denver International Airport

Rulings and updates like the ones at Denver International Airport are making traveling with a service animal easier. "For many years we provided a pet relief area at the main terminal, but there really wasn't a good option once passengers were on the concourses," said Heath Montgomery. These new pet relief areas save you the hassle of having to go through security again after your service dog uses the relief area and are quicker to get to, especially if you are trying to catch a connecting flight. Of course, there are still challenges but hopefully they continue to be addressed!

Most of the stories here on RideQuickie were submitted by readers. Do you have a story to tell? We'd love to hear it. Submit your story here.


Date: 11/21/2017 12:00:00 AM


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