Nouveau and I recently traveled from Vancouver to San Francisco to visit her puppy raisers and a group of friends I have down there. The trip was an absolute blast, and the journey there is a perfect example of what it’s like to travel with a guide dog.
We left the house on a crisp fall morning with wood smoke in the air and crunching leaves underfoot. Nouveau did her business quickly and efficiently, which spelled a good, smooth travel day for her. The journey to the airport was uneventful. Nouveau guided like a pro and didn’t care one bit about the suitcase rolling behind us. Pedestrians commented politely on Nouveau’s gorgeous coloring and obligingly refrained from interacting with her in harness.
We arrived at YVR airport ahead of schedule and disembarked from the shuttle bus at internationals. I had figured there would be a check-in desk close by where I could request assistance to the airline I was traveling with. This was optimistic on my part. The shuttle bus driver explained it was a good ten minute walk from where we were through a maze of corridors, elevators, and general airport chaos. He cheerfully asked one of my fellow passengers if he would mind walking with me, as he was headed in the exact same direction. The fellow cordially agreed, offered to take my bag, and introduced himself as Mike. He asked the best way to guide me, and I said I could take his elbow if that was alright with him.
“Lucky me,” he replied with a smile in his voice, and we waltzed inside with his brother and another female passenger also flying to the US.
I go sighted guide most of the time in airports, as crowds tend to come out of nowhere and I figure we have enough to worry about what with making our flight and keeping track of luggage, personal items, passport, and boarding passes. Also, sighted folks who are unaccustomed to walking with a blind person often resort to talking to my dog or forget to give me the appropriate directions needed for me to direct my dog. I don’t want Nouveau to feel confused or stressed before we even really begin our travels.
Mike brought me right to the end of the check-in line for Air Canada, the airline I was flying with that day. We wished each other safe travels, and he went off to his gate. Nouveau and I toodled through the line, and check-in appeared to go smoothly. I requested ground assistance, a service airports offer to people who require extra assistance like a wheelchair or a guide through the airport. I also requested a window seat, so Nouveau would have a nook to tuck in out of the way of other passengers and flight personnel.
A lovely woman, Emma, escorted me to security, and I went through the usual motions of taking off my shoes, removing my laptop from my suitcase, and sorting everything into plastic trays. I put Nouveau in a sit in front of the metal detector and set her leash to the longer configuration. She waited patiently as I headed through the metal detector. I held the leash behind me with my left hand so the metal rings wouldn’t set off the alarm. After I had been approved, I called her through and she bounded forward to join me on the other side. She set off the alarm because of her harness, and we waited a couple minutes for an extra security person to pat her down. She thought this was great fun and wagged her tail like a happy little maniac throughout the entire process. We proceeded to a hand testing station, it is most definitely called something else but I have no idea what, where my hands were swabbed for something illegal. I held out each hand in turn, palm up, and they ran a small object over each one.
“You look like you’ve done this before,” the hand tester person remarked with a chuckle.
“Only about a million times,” I laughed, as I switched Nouveau’s leash from one hand to the other and held up my second palm.
Emma and I collected our stuff and strolled through the airport toward my gate. We chatted about her kids and the trip they had taken to Disney Land. She asked about my plans for San Francisco and complemented Nouveau on her gorgeousness and saint-like composure. She showed me to the ladies and offered to go on a coffee run with me. We meandered up to my gate two hours early. I had her show me where the front desk was, and we bid each other goodbye.
I spent most of the time before boarding typing away on my laptop, busily editing the second novel in the fantasy series I’m working on. Nouveau spent most of the time curled up on the floor under my chair, snoring peacefully in a lucky ray of November sunshine.
The pre-boarding calls for persons with disabilities, those flying with young children, and zone one passengers were announced in quick succession. Normally, an airport personnel approaches me directly after the first pre-boarding call and escorts me to the desk and onto the plain. That wasn’t happening this time. I always locate the check-in desk in case of this exact situation. I picked up Nouveau’s harness in my left hand and tucked her leash, my passport, and my boarding pass in between my fingers, slung my purse over my shoulder, tied my jacket around my waist, and picked up my suitcase with my right hand. Then we trundled up to the check-in desk.
“Hi, I’m here to board the 1:40 flight to San Francisco.”
“Oops, sorry, we must have forgotten you.” The lady sounded stressed and frazzled. Kind of like me when I attempt to text and give directions at the same time.
“No problem. You’ve got a lot going on. If you’ll just scan my boarding pass and point me toward the airplane, I’ll get out of your hair.” I let go of my suitcase, shifted Nouveau’s leash to my right hand to put her in a sit, and held up my passport and boarding pass in my left hand.
“Just wait for someone to come and get you.” Her tone was much more brusque this time.
I frown and wait as passengers stream past. The more people who board the plane ahead of us, the more difficult it will be to scooch Nouveau into her little out-of-the-way space.
My escort shows up, and I stroll to the plane with Nouveau guiding me. It’s almost a straight shot, and she’s confident and excited. My escort barely says a word, meaning they might as well be an invisible shadow to me. Nouveau and I figure out when, where, and how to board, while my escort stands off to one side, silent and shadow-like as ever.
I greet the flight attendant, who directs me down the aisle to my right and says her colleague will meet me at my seat. The narrow walkway isn’t wide enough for Nouveau to walk next to me and guide. I send her ahead of me, and she trots along with a flick of her ears as if to say, “you’re doing this all wrong. Don’t you know you’re supposed to hold my harness?” We have to stop every five rows or so to wait for passengers to move luggage and what not out of the way. A small child shrieks in delight at the sight of Nouveau.
Her mother turns to me with a giggle. “Don’t worry, she’s buckled in and restrained.”
“Have a great flight,” I call over my shoulder, also laughing.
I arrive at my seat and find that no, they did not give me a window seat. Nouveau and I are sitting next to the aisle, and there’s a snarly emotional support dog in the aisle seat to our right.
Every guide dog has a weakness. My first guide, Susie, was a perfect angel until she saw food on the floor. Nouveau is a perfect angel until she sees a potential dog friend. She’s a very social lady.
I told the flight attendant I had requested a window seat and explained why it would be a good idea for everyone if I got one. She said we couldn’t change anything now, but that she would wait and ask my seatmates if they would mind switching. Neither of my seatmates had arrived yet.
I uncomfortably settled myself in my, hopefully, temporary aisle seat and kept a close watch on Nouveau’s socializing. To her credit, she glanced at the dog every once in a while but stayed close to me tucked in front of my seat. Not for the first time that day, I was deeply impressed by her behavior. The other little dog growled every once in a while but stayed thankfully well contained.
My seatmates showed up separately, and neither of them offered me the window. Nouveau and I had to stand each time to let them get to their seats. Each time, Nouveau gave the other dog a quick glance but stayed 99% focused on me. Both my seatmates were friendly gentlemen, and I likely could have asked for a switch, but Nouveau was handling herself well and I didn’t want to cause a fuss. I doubted the flight attendant had had time to ask for the switch, and I just let it go.
The guy in the middle seat on my left introduced himself as Cody, and we chatted the entire flight. Great company made the journey quick, and soon Nouveau and I were moving out of the way again so my companionable seatmates could disembark. One of the annoying drawbacks about getting ground assistance is that I deplane dead last after every other passenger.
After everyone else had gone, I scooped up my stuff and zoomed through the now deserted walkway to the plane door. I got another escort, this one much more talkative and chill, to arrivals, where Nouveau and I were delighted to meet up with Terri, one of Nouveau’s puppy raisers. Terri and I walked to her car and stopped along the way to give Nouveau a chance to go to the washroom. We then began a weekend of fun, sunshine, and great times with friends.
That, my friends, is traveling with a guide dog. Now for the bonus surprise! I have been working on my first novel for years, and it was finally published over the weekend! It would mean the world to me if you gave it a peek or decided to read it because it is one hundred percent my baby. It is offered in three versions so far: paperback, kindle, and braille. It might make a great Christmas present for the book worms in your life. 😉
Nouveau and I wish you all a wonderful day.
Be kind, and be aware.
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