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Aimee’s tips for travelling with a guide dog
By Aimee Huxley

A smiling woman with shoulder-length blonde hair is standing against a light blue and purple background. She is wearing a royal blue dress with cold-shoulder sleeves and a sweetheart neckline. She has a black strap across her body and is wearing a delicate necklace.
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I am Aimee Huxley, a keen disability advocate and content creator, living with visual impairment and PTSD. In December 2023, I decided to unmask on social media after living 3 years of my life downplaying and trying to hide my disabilities. My goal in doing so, was to empower and support others to live authentically as themselves, whilst educating and raising awareness in this space. 

In 2020, aged just 29, my life took an unexpected turn which would lead to an entire identity shift. A series of events, led doctors’ to discover that I had a rare genetic eye condition. I was losing vision at a progressively rapid speed which has fortunately  stabilized—thanks to the incredible health professionals in Sydney, Australia. I now navigate my world with an Assistance Dog, trained by Guide Dogs Australia and certified through Assistance Dogs International  (ADI). Between then and now, I have learnt so much about myself and others. My journey has been incredibly challenging as I have adapted to doing things a different way in every aspect of life. Through the support of the Visually Impaired, Low Vision, Blind and Disabled communities on Instagram, I continue to work on processing and building confidence in my new identity. 

Six months after being placed with my Assistance Dog, we embarked on a bucket list adventure to Melbourne, Australia where we sat in the accessible area of the Rod Laver Arena to witness Novak Djokovic win the Australian Open title. Although the players were blurs and the tram lines double, the atmosphere and experience were incredible. This is the moment I realised that life could still be enjoyed with visual impairment. Since then, we have flown on 10 domestic flights together and two long haul flights to my motherland, England. 

The moral of this short snippet from my story is that there is always a way to find adventure, fun and joy. No matter what life events occur or what identity you take on as a result. I wholeheartedly hear and understand everyone on this journey. If you’d like to join me in helping to raise awareness, breaking through stereotypes and finding the joys in life, please give me a follow and we’ll tackle the world together: @aimee.huxley 

 
A woman with long brown hair, wearing a blue off-shoulder top and a black skirt, is standing on a carpeted floor with intricate blue patterns. She is smiling and holding the harness of a guide dog, a yellow Labrador wearing an orange vest. The background has a soft purple lighting with potted plants along the walls.

How do you navigate airports with your guide dog, and what strategies do you use to ensure you can find your way around efficiently?

Navigating the airport with your Assistance Dog can be challenging. In advance of travel, notify the airline that you need Special Assistance and have someone greet you at the taxi drop off point. Or have a family member or friend escort you to the check in desk, where you can meet a member of the Special Assistance team, who can help you from there. The Special Assistance team will be guided by you, as to what you need. They will take you through security and to the gate, where required, dependent on the individual’s level of useable vision and requirements. 

Speak to the airline in advance about the dog toileting facilities available at the terminal of departure and arrival, note where they are located in your phone. Not all terminals have dog toileting facilities so it is important to know this information in advance so that you can prepare your Assistance Dog for travel accordingly. The airline will always allocate you two seats, usually a window seat for your dog, to keep distance between them and the passenger next to you. By law, you should not need to pay for the extra seat.

What have been your experiences interacting with airline staff, and do you have any tips for effectively communicating your needs to them?

My experiences with airline staff have been mostly positive so it’s important to focus on those. Travelling for a person living with a disability can be highly stressful and it takes us time to prepare for adventures. It is important that we receive a high standard of customer service and kindness on our journey. The majority of airport staff that I have encountered have been fully educated on what to do and not to do around an Assistance Dog team and I have never had a situation where anyone has tried to pat or distract her. At the check in desk, I clearly communicate what I need—someone to help me through security and through to the gate. I also sometimes request that someone greet us at the plane door on landing and help us at baggage reclaim.

What steps do you take to ensure your guide dog’s comfort and well-being during flights, both short and long?

There are a number of preparations that you must consider before flying with your Assistance Dog. I would always recommend perfecting public transport together as a team before tackling a flight. Joey, my Assistance Dog and I, did eight domestic flights prior to the long haul flight to the UK. For the first two domestic flights, understandably, I was very anxious about how it would be and how well Joey would cope.

For short haul, I would do the following before the flight:

  • Go on a medium walk in the morning. Some people advise a long walk so that your dog is tired for the flight. I don’t recommend this. The reason being, because your Assistance Dog will use a lot of energy going to the airport and on a flight. It’s a new environment to navigate, there’s lots of new sounds, smells and many people around. Therefore, they need energy to be able to assist you in the best way possible. A medium walk (30 mins) is what I would recommend pre flight.
  • Ensure that your dog toilets before you leave the house. Number 1 and 2. 
  • Reduce their fluid slightly the morning of the flight. If you’re unsure on what is a safe amount of fluid reduction for your dog, please check with your vet.
  • Pack comfort items: fold up travel bed, favourite toy and treats.
  • You will need to bring a lead that can fasten around the base of the seat in flight, to secure your dog. A bit like a seatbelt. The cabin crew will usually offer to do this for you. If they don’t and you need help, just ask.
  • You will need to bring a puppy pad or two for your dog to sit on during the flight, in case of any accidents. The airline should also have these, so if you forget them don’t panic. However you should always try to bring these to avoid any issues with the airline.
  • Bottle of water and a portable bowl.

Pre take off

  • Cabin crew should ask you if you’re ok, ensure that you and your dog are comfortable and secure in your seats. They will go through the evacuation procedures with you. They should also explain to you what will happen on landing. Usually you and your Assistance Dog will disembark last so that you don’t get lost in the crowd and ensure you have plenty of space to operate safely.
  • Settle your dog, put out their fold up bed and a puppy pad for them to lie on and request a blanket for them. Put the blanket over them to prevent them from getting cold during the flight.
  • On your first flight with your dog, the sound of the engine starting, will be new and possibly scary for them. They need to learn that those are safe sounds. So reassure your dog with gentle strokes and pay attention to their body language to ensure they are ok.
  • As the plane starts to taxi, give them a small high reward treat. I usually defrost some shredded chicken on the morning of the flight and give little pieces throughout the journey. Small kibble would also work. Be aware of how many treats you have given your dog and take it out of their food allowance for the day.

Take off, in flight and landing

  • On take off, give your dog approx 5 pieces of kibble or small pieces of chicken at regular intervals, until you’re levelled out in the sky and stroke their head to let them know they are safe and doing a good job.
  • During the flight, pay attention to your dog’s body language. Are they lying down, are they sitting up, do they seem relaxed, do they seem anxious.
  • Avoid giving the dog a full bowl of water because they might have a toileting accident. Instead, if they are thirsty, pour them a small amount to tide them over.
  • On occasion, my dog Joey, will stand up and stare at me. To me, this means she is either cold, a little anxious or needs reassurance. I place the blanket around her like a burrito and give her regular head strokes to make sure she is happy and she usually lies back down and goes to sleep.
  • On landing, same as take off. Feed about 5 pieces of kibble as you near the destination airport. As the plane hits the ground, make sure that your dog is close to you and stroke their head, whilst feeding little bits of treat.
  • If. If your dog is showing signs that they need to go to the toilet, you can ask a member of staff to take you straight to the dog toileting facility on arrival. The Special Assistance team will usually greet you and your Assistance Dog at the door of the plane on landing, however it is always best to confirm this arrangement with the airline beforehand, if you need it.

How did your international flight to England differ from your domestic flights, and what additional considerations did you have to keep in mind?

Long haul flights take a lot more preparation. It’s essential that you do your research and discuss everything in detail with your vet. Paperwork, vaccinations, worming/tick/flea/parasite treatments and isolation/quarantine, could all be required and can come with high price tags. The requirements are dependent on the country of export and import. Always contact your countries biosecurity or live animal export/import team to find out. You will also need to carefully consider the airline that you fly with. Ensure you fly with an airline that you trust, who is familiar with Assistance Dogs on their route. You will need to seek approval in writing from the airline and bring this document with you for your flight. If you’re transiting through a country, you may also require a transshipment licence which also comes at a cost. Your dog will need to pass a health examination before they fly to ensure that they are fit to do so. 

If you’re flying long haul, I would recommend bringing a dog nappy and practicing putting it on your dog before you leave. Ensure that you use treats as rewards for them wearing the nappy.

Extra considerations for long haul flights

  • Additional layers (I bought a faux fur snood for my Assistance Dog, which acted a bit like a neck pillow for her).
  • Washable dog nappy x 2
  • Puppy pads x 2
  • Fold up dog bed
  • Water bowl and water bottle. Give them little sips of water throughout the flight but don’t give them a big bowl of water.
  • Treats
  • Food for their usual meals
  • Their favourite toy
  • Hard copies of all of your paperwork
  • Long lead to secure them to the seat
  • Blanket (the airline can supply)
  • Take your dog for little laps around the plane every couple of hours so that they can stretch their legs and maintain good circulation.
  • Baby wipes
A woman stands outdoors beside a service dog. The woman is wearing a blazer over a top and shorts, with sneakers. She has sunglasses on and her hair is tied back. The service dog, a Labrador Retriever, is wearing a service vest and protective boots on its paws. They are in front of a historic building with arches and a fountain in the background. The scene appears to be in a courtyard with paved ground and a circular grassy area.

I found the paperwork and preparation aspect to be quite lengthy and stressful. Documents are quite wordy and hard to understand, even for our vet. This process definitely needs to be improved, especially for individuals with visual impairment. 

Meeting the export and import requirements for live animals can be expensive, as well as purchasing other comfort items for your dog during the flight. It’s important to gather all of the costs before you commit to the journey. It’s also worth seeing if any local non-for profits will support you by providing some of the items such as; long leash, foldable water bowl, dog nappies and puppy pads.

Allow extra time prior to departure and on arrival to go through the paperwork with the airline staff and customs/biosecurity team. They will need to go through all the forms, vaccinations and proof of treatments, prior to you boarding the flight or exiting the airport at your country of destination. This can take up to 1 hour.

Understand that following a long haul flight, your dog’s toileting might be off for a day or two. Allow them a chance to run around and play/rest the day or two after the flight. 

Follow Aimee on Instagram @aimee.huxley 

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