Wednesday, February 20, 2013

I've Got Those Puppy Raiser Airline Blues

On Feb 4, I posted "Off We Go, Into the Wild, Blue Yonder!" about the positive experiences a pup in training receives visiting an airport and flying. However, there is another side to the story. Unfortunately, some airlines refuse access to service dogs in training. To name a few:  Southwestern, Delta Airlines and American. In a nutshell, since the dog's handler does not have a special need, access is denied. No special need - no access. It's enough to make a puppy raiser sing the blues.

Talking with a Delta Air rep at the airport, I mentioned that denying access denies a service dog in training! Those early experiences flying could greatly benefit this dog and its future partner when they fly as a working team for the first time. She stopped short. Never before had this notion crossed her mind. Her expression said, "Hey, that kinda makes sense!"

Flying with Sandy, a Southeastern Guide Dog in training, May 2010. The Atlanta Airport is a huge, bustling hub but Sandy loved every minute of the trip and behaved beautifully. Later that summer Sandy accompanied me to Chicago. Now she works as a guide dog.

Last fall, I started dialoguing with Delta Airlines over their denial of access. Personally, I have a strong interest in Delta changing their policy because: 1) they fly out of the terminal nearest us, 2) they fly to Alaska where our family periodically visits and works, 3) we have a Delta Skymiles credit card and, 4) flying with our service pups is important to us.
My annotated letter of 9-24-2012 to Delta Airlines customer care/complaint/other:

Case Number 7161582

1. It is important for service dogs in training to get the exposure of working in an airport and flying, since someday their owner with his/her particular disability may need to fly with him. The animal cannot get this valuable training if denied access. Flying as a pet in a carrier in the hold of the plane is no replacement for accompanying a person in the cabin, sitting quietly at the person's feet.

2. Several airlines do allow service dogs in training the same rights/privileges as a service dog. Continental/United changed their policy about 1 year ago. Maybe it is time for Delta to change theirs?

3. Service animals are becoming more necessary and widespread in our society, used to assist people with many types of special needs. Many of these people travel extensively. These people need service animals experienced with traveling on all modes of transportation, whether bus, train or plane, which means training them as young dogs to be familiar with the associated sights, sounds and smells. 

4. As a raiser, I've flown approx. 25 times with 9 different pups in training. Their behavior has never created a disruption or incident in the airport or on the plane. My job as a conscientious puppy raiser is to make sure this experience is positive for the animal as well as for the airline and the public. Most raisers of service dogs are equally conscientious and determined to show the best possible face to the public.

In conclusion, I ask that Delta Airlines reconsider their service animal policy to include service animals in training, granting them the same rights and privileges. It would reflect well on your company and their consideration of people who need service dogs. It would be an action you would not regret! Thank you for your attention!

Response from Delta Airlines. The final outcome dated Nov. 8 reads:   
Dear Ms. Cole:
We appreciate receiving your suggestion to change Delta's policy on prohibiting service animals in training from flying in the cabin. Many customers share their feedback with us, and these observations oftentimes form the basis for improvements in our service.  At this time, no changes are planned for this policy.  Be assured I will be sharing your suggestion with the responsible leadership team.
Ms. East Cole, I want to thank you, again, for writing with your request to permit service animals in training to travel in the cabin.  We value your business, as a SkyMiles member and appreciate your feedback on our current service animal policy.

Molly Walton
Coordinator, Corporate Customer Care
Delta Air Lines Case Number 7161582

Was that a brush-off?....Oh well, at least I tried. Happily, several airlines do allow access, and grant dogs in training the same rights and privileges as service dogs. I applaud their vision. These airlines include:  Continental/United Air, US Airways, Alaska Air and Northwestern Air.

For the future, the pups and I will stick with flying on "service pup-friendly" airlines like United Air. My Delta Skymiles credit card? Guess it's time to cancel it, because I'm tired of singing those Puppy Raiser Airline Blues.


  1. Hi! I'm a Denver puppy rasier for Canine Companions for Independence and I applaud your efforts with Delta. I wish Southwest would change their policy since their ticket change and baggage policies are so great; I like flying them when I don't have a puppy with me. Another airline that is great with pups in training is Frontier. Should you have an opportunity to fly with them, I think you'll be pleased. They are my first choice, United my second. Great blog, by the way -- I'm reading through all your posts and enjoying them!
    Marianne McKiernan

    1. Hi Marianne, glad you like the blog and nice to "meet" another PR! I will have to keep Frontier Air in mind, thanks for that tip! I'm planning a flight in Oct. with Piper, his first.

  2. US airways does not allow service dogs in training. We were just denied access to the plane.

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