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Comfort animals are used to bring comfort to a wide range of chronic and mentally ill people. Due to the fact that this privilege is often taken for granted by those who don't suffer from such illnesses, new rules and regulations have come into place. In order to better understand the process of traveling with ones comfort animal, I am going to map out some tips based on my own personal experiences.
1. Check the airline.
Each airline has its own personal pet policy. Whether it is non-comfort or service animal to the rules in place for certification. For example, Alaska airline now has a policy in place to provide the owner's certification for needing said comfort animal. This includes the presence of a mental health providers medical number and your own personal information. The proper information needs to be provided at least 48 hours before the flight. Although this is one specific example, it is important to research your specific airline's policies beforehand. These policies can be found on their website under pet policies.
2. Packing for a Pet
Depending on the animal and length of the flight pack your pals favorite things. When packing up Mr. Darcy I was sure to bring treats, food, leash, toys, and a travel dog bowl. Having a dog bone kept him occupied during the plane flight and the portable water bowl was key to easy feeding. Sometimes puppy pads are used on the inside of pet carriers for longer trips.
(Pro-tip: Many airports have pet relief areas for your pet to be walked during layovers.)
3. Security and Beyond
Security is stressful in itself and a comfort animal is meant to bring a chronically ill person comfort. However, not knowing how the process goes with your pal can raise anxieties. The TSA actually provides a rather simple process. After checking in with your airline and making sure everything is in order, head on over to security. Here you will gather your belongings. Try to minimize as much as possible. Many airlines count your pet as a carry on which has its pros and cons. Con - you might want to bring a bag with you. Pro - it means that you can better manage your pet and personal bag while traveling in and out of security. Once at the front of the line remove your pet from their carrier and send the items through as normal. With your pet, you will walk through the security scanner.
4. The Flight
Some airlines are particular about pets and carriers. It is common practice to keep ones pet underneath the seat, specifically dogs, cats, etc. However, I was allowed to have my dog in my lap as he is certified as my comfort animal and is a little living heating pad for my chronic pain. After speaking with a stewardess she gave it the okay. This is when it is key to have good communication with the flight staff before boarding and during the flight. Treats are a great way to give your pal a pick me up, especially if they are remaining underneath the seat in front of you.
(Pro-tip: International travel is different as other countries might not have the same policies in place for those with comfort animals. Be sure to look into both the country and airline before traveling.)
I was lucky enough that Darcy is a very calm dog, especially for his age. Some dogs and animals don't like flying so be sure to know your own pet's abilities. Comfort animals are meant to bring you comfort both on and off the plane and are a part of a persons medical regimen. This is not a way to get your pet onto a flight for free but is instead extremely pivotal for someone who is sick to be able to travel. Although it can seem stressful and a bit daunting, navigating an airport with your pal doesn't have to seem impossible. With the proper plans in place and these helpful tips, you should be well prepared for your adventure.