Thursday, March 21, 2013

United Airlines - Two Opposable Thumbs Up!

Last week my trusty guide pup and I traveled across the United States to visit my father. From the extreme east side of the United States to the west coast of California - and back again, this is a distance of some 5,000 miles or 8,000 km.


Map of the US, showing our flight routes. Outward bound we flew from Raleigh, North Carolina via Houston to Los Angeles. Going home we flew from Los Angeles via Washington, DC back to Raleigh.

 At 14 months of age, and a weight of 66 lbs, Dorian is a biggish Lab. Although he can fold himself into tight pretzel shapes and fall asleep like a good sport, still I was pleasantly surprised how much United Airlines ended up caring about his comfort.

The gate
Before arriving at the gate, I steeled myself for the long, cramped flight ahead. I had been warned we would have to rough it, since we were assigned a window seat with no extra floor room, and the adjacent two seats would be occupied. For this particular flight the bulkhead row doubles as the emergency row, so bulkhead seating was not an option. Just for kicks at the counter, I tentatively asked if there might be a better seat available. One of the staff walked around the counter, took a good look at Dorian, and nodded to the other attendant. "Yep, he's big," she said.

After a few minutes of computer wizardry, I was handed a new seat assignment. To my surprise upon boarding, we had a row to ourselves. Not just two seats, but three! Dorian could stretch out a little, I could too. I sent up a thank-you to God for sending the nice angels posing as United flight staff.

Tight quarters on the flight - no tails sticking out into the aisle!

Homeward bound, the last flight was out of Washington, DC. The airport runway was a chilly, windy 30 degrees as we walked across the tarmac and ascended the stairs past the jets and onto the plane. Dorian didn't hesitate. Good Boy! It turned out our seat neighbor was a man who had just arrived from the Middle East. He had bare feet with sandals and looked rather cold. We chatted, then I settled in for a short nap. Later I woke to find the man taking a picture of Dorian with his cell phone. Dorian was fast asleep, using his sandalled feet as a makeshift pillow! I started to apologize and move my dog. He stopped me. "Please don't," he smiled. "He's keeping my feet warm."

I sincerely commend United Airlines on their red carpet treatment of service dogs in training. And if my guide pup had opposable thumbs, he might rate his experience on United Air as "Two Thumbs Up." He got to stretch out a little, meet some nice people and even use a lumpy pillow. What more could a traveler ask for?

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