Flashback Friday: the Going Home Lecture Part I, Airports

This will be another multi-part series similar to the one on access questions. In the old blog it only took me two posts tos ummarize the infamous lecture, but since then I have learned the term “TLDR.” So, you’re welcome.

Original Post Date: 6/16/2023

The re-trains had warned us multiple times before they left about the Going Home Lecture. It was long, full of information. We needed to take notes, maybe drink a little extra coffee before-hand because it was an evening lecture.

Well, I don’t like coffee, and I don’t like nights. It was a grueling evening, but well worth the effort to absorb all the vital answers to questions that had been rattling around in my brain for months.

In the Going Home Lecture there was information about how to handle conflict over pet fees applied to service dogs when flying. I haven’t run into that, but there have been recent changes made to how dog guide handlers can get permission for their dogs to accompany them on flights. This is complex and deserves its own post, which will be forthcoming in the near future.

And also, for the record, I am a total coffee addict now.

I’ve been flying fairly regularly for over 10 years now, and I have never had the same TSA experience twice. That being said, I’ve also never had a bad experience with TSA. What follows is an ideal scenario, with a lot of room for flexibly responding to others’ uncertainty.

You as a service dog handler have some very specific rights when passing through airport security. TSA cannot require you to remove Juno’s harness, nor can they separate you from Juno. There is no reason you should be asked to surrender your dog to anyone when passing through security.

The Seeing Eye instructors recommend avoiding passing thorugh the air-puff detection devices and requesting to pass through the metal detectors instead because the former can stress out the dog. It will also save time if you send the harness through with your carry-on, but this is your choice.

Suggested TSA Protocol

1. Work Juno up until you’ve reached the front of the line and are ready to remove shoes and other accoutrements to be sent on the conveyor belt.

2. Make sure you communicate your visual impairment to the TSA agent operating the detector you’re about to walk through, then remove Juno’s harness, maintaining control of the leash. Place the harness in one of the provided bins, then use your hand to guide yourself along the edge of the conveyor belt toward the metal detector.

3. The TSA agent may offer to help guide you once Juno is no longer harnessed. Accepting this is your choice. Inform the TSA agent if and how you would like assistance.

4. When you reach the metal detector, command Juno to sit, then re-configure the leash to its longest setting. Inform the tSA agent the detector will likely beep on Juno’s collar, and that she will accept being patted down.

5.While holding the leash, command Juno to rest and then walk through the detector. When the TSA agent indicates you’ve passed through without setting off the alarm, command Juno to come. She will race toward you through the detector, her metal collar setting off the alarm.

6.The TSA agent will pat down Juno, who will likely interpret this as petting so long as you remain calm and reinforce how normal and fun this is.

I have frequently been asked to allow them to swab my hands since I’ve made contact with my dogs on both sides of the metal detector. It’s quick, easy, and I can keep hold of the leash while it’s happening so I don’t object.

7. Ask the TSA agent to help you find and collect your belongings, re-harness Juno, praise her, and carry on with your carry-on.

In most airports airline security is noisy, chaotic, and disorienting. I have found that having a plan in mind for how to handle things helps me confidently advocate for my needs and preferences. Having extra treats along to reinforce the idea that this is an exciting adventure helps Juno, too.

Here you can find FAQs about traveling with a service dog from TSA’s website. And here is a very thorough guide on service dogs and airports in the United States.

Today your favorite blindfluencer asks “What occasional stressful situation can you make a plan for today?”

I wrote last week about how to fit Juno into an airline seat. Now I’ll go into more detail about how dog guide teams can navigate airport security.

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