Flying to Europe with a Service Dog (Redux)

Back in May I wrote about our plans to take Ethan, Oliver’s dog guide, to Europe with us for a family vacation. We’ve been there and back, and here are a few notes on how the experience went:

  • Condor, our airline from Halifax to Frankfurt, was simply fantastic: all of the arrangements I’d made with their special services office in advance were on our file, and so they were ready with us for both legs, with no fuss nor hassle.
  • Halifax International Airport has a wonderful area for dogs just outside the terminal beside the new parking garage. It’s clean, fenced-in, and has poop-bags at the ready. Every airport should have such a facility.
  • On the Halifax-Frankfurt flight we were boarded even before the “preboard” phase, and when the flight attendants saw us sliding into the economy seats with little legroom they immediately upgraded us to “premium” economy, which gave us just enough legroom to allow everyone to fit comfortably. Ethan spent the entire flight at Oliver’s feet, didn’t make a peep, and most of our fellow passengers had no idea he was there.
  • Clearing the border control in Frankfurt with Ethan was quick and easy: I showed the border guard our health certificate (record of an exam by Ethan’s vet, counter-signed by the “official vet” at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency) and we were through in less than a minute with no issues at all.
  • Our flight to Frankfurt was delayed enough that we didn’t have time to take Ethan out for a pee: we had to quickly make our way to the Lufthansa terminal, never venturing beyond security. Ethan, bless his heart, gamely held on.
  • Despite several email exchanges, and a telephone conversation with the medical office in advance, Lufthansa had no record of Ethan being a service dog accompanying us in the cabin. Fortunately we were taken under the wing of a helpful gate agent who made all the arrangements for us and so this ended up being only a small bump in the road.
  • Upon arrivel in Düsseldorf I enquired at the information desk about a place to relieve Ethan and was told that if I headed out to the sidewalk, turned left, and just kept walking I might find a patch of green somewhere; they seem perplexed by my request. We did find a patch of green, and Ethan had a long, long, long pee.
  • For the return trip, we arrived back at Düsseldorf with plenty of extra time, which was good because, again, Lufthansa had no record of Ethan and the very notion of a service animal riding in the cabin seemed novel to them. Again we were lucky: our gate agent was tenacious, made a lot of phone calls, spent a lot of time at her computer, and, after about 45 minutes came up with the magic certificate we needed to be allowed to board.

On all of the flights we took with Ethan he was the very picture of a well-behaved service dog: he scrambled into his place at Oliver’s feet and simply remained there for the duration of the flight. Even, as on our return flight to Halifax, when the flight was 7 hours long.

The oddest Ethan-related event of our trip was surely when the Düsseldorf gate agent asked his weight.

He’s 61 pounds,” I said, realizing that even as I said this she was expecting the weight in kilograms.

Oh, no, I mean, oh, around 120 kilograms,” I jumped in, forgetting that I needed to divide not multiply.

She looked confused and asked me to put him up on the scale. Which is how we came to this:

Ethan Flying

I was terrified that somebody was going to press a button that would suck Ethan, suitcase-style, into the baggage handling system. A delightful scene for a Disney movie: less delightful a prospect when it’s your family service dog. Fortunately it didn’t happen.

Our general marching orders from Dog Guides Canada when they sent us off into the world with Ethan was “life your life as you normally would, but with Ethan along side.” And so that’s what we did, and why we went to the trouble of arranging to have Ethan accompany us on the trip. Because this was our first experience, with a learning curve and two airlines, it probably added 5% more to the travel planning process, but I expect that for future trips this would be less.