Written by Colt Rosensweig
If you have to get stuck in an airport while traveling with a service dog, you can’t pick a better one than Detroit Metro (DTW). Still, it isn’t the most fun you’ll ever have.
Kaline, my mom, and I spent a wonderful week doing fall things in southeast Michigan.
We spent a few days at the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village, where we enjoyed the Hallowe’en Nights celebration. We saw the Michigan musical theatre department’s fall production, which had the entire audience all but rolling in the aisles with laughter. We hit all our favorite restaurants and basically ate ourselves silly. I even spent a night watching Hocus Pocus in bed with cinnamon-sugar doughnuts and apple cider.
So, by the time we got to the airport on Sunday, we were all pretty tired and ready to get on the plane without a hassle and head for home. Alas.
After dropping off our rental car, we got a ride back to the airport and headed toward the baggage check-in.
Instantly, a woman wearing a bright pink shirt and a fake smile placed herself directly in front of our baggage cart. “Traveling with puppy?” she said, smiling ever wider and staring at Kaline. He studiously ignored her. We replied that we were here to check in our bags; Kaline’s presence has nothing to do with that process. She continued to block our way and insist that because of “puppy” we would have to lug all our things up another level and check in there.
My dog is four years old. He is fully trained, and the equivalent to a wheelchair or oxygen tank. He is not a puppy.
“The agent who did his pat down wanted so badly to pet him during the process, but restrained herself most admirably.”
“He’s medical equipment,” I said firmly, steering the cart around her and up to the baggage desk while she protested.
At the desk, we were met with further insistence that we had to go up one level. I fly in and out of Detroit Metro twice a year at the least, always with a service dog. Never have we had to check in at a separate place. I continued to inform them that we would not be going anywhere, and handed over our boarding passes and IDs (human IDs, Kaline doesn’t have one) and prepared to wait.
Well, by this time I was starting to shake—prolonged confrontation isn’t great when you have an anxiety/panic disorder—so Mom told me to just hang onto Kaline and she would handle the rest. Eventually, after a supervisor got called to the scene, we got our stuff checked in like regular people. But thanks to the completely unnecessary hassle, I had to go get deep pressure therapy from Kaline off in a corner so that we’d be able to continue through security.
Security was a breeze, thankfully. All the TSA agents were in love with Kaline, who was his usual handsome and polite self.
The agent who did his pat down wanted so badly to pet him during the process, but restrained herself most admirably. So when she was done, I let her give Kaline some chin scratches. He happily settled the weight of his whole head in her hand and closed his eyes.
Once in the terminal, we headed for the relief area. Detroit has what can only be described as the most fabulous relief area in the history of airports. (I may be biased.) It’s private, so you and your dog don’t feel like a spectacle, but the back side of it is one huge window looking over the runway, so it feels much bigger and more spacious than it actually is. It has two separate relieving platforms, each covered with fake grass and with a cheerful red hydrant perched in the middle. Sprinklers pop up to clean it when you press the “rinse” button after your dog has finished. Kaline’s first time at this relief area, he took a while to believe that I really did want him to pee inside. This time, he not only peed promptly, but for the first time ever, he made a perfect No. 2 right on the relieving platform! It may seem weird that this excited me, but if you ever travel with a dog, pet or service dog, you will quickly develop a major interest in every aspect of their relieving.
“…there’s the fact that the relief area is in the terminal. Not having to go through security and come back in to use it makes such a huge difference. “
The fact that Kaline completely emptied himself was great on its own, but then we got to our gate and discovered that our flight was already delayed by an hour, due to rain in Seattle, where the plane had taken off. Detroit, it should be noted, has one of the best records of getting planes off on time; a little rain in Michigan is nothing. They can get planes off in basically any weather short of a blizzard or ice storm. The powers-that-be of San Francisco, our destination, were losing their minds somewhat, as well as the Seattle people. You’d think they’d be used to dealing with rain, but apparently this is not the case.
Our plane ended up not taking off until about several hours after its scheduled departure.
This is annoying to any passenger, but when you’re traveling with your living breathing medical equipment, it’s kind of a crisis. Kaline hadn’t eaten since early that morning, and I couldn’t feed him in the airport—we didn’t know exactly when the plane would get off, or if more delays would happen. There’s nothing worse than finding out your dog needs to answer a call of nature at 35,000 feet with three hours or so to go before he can get outside. For the same reason, I had to limit his water intake. Then there was the fact that he had a long down stay in a tiny space for five hours coming up. You have to decide whether to keep him in a slightly more sprawled down stay while you wait for the delay to end, or to explore the airport with him. If you choose option two, you keep his brain working and burn off some energy as well. But you also make him thirstier, because momentum pull in a busy airport is pretty hard work. It was a bit of a balancing act.
Kaline and I ended up doing two jaunts through the airport, one short trip to the very end of our side of the terminal for some pop, and another longer one to the exact middle of the Delta terminal where there’s a pretty fountain (and a store that sells Detroit Tigers and University of Michigan gear). Momentum pull and crowd work are two of the things Kaline does best and most enjoys, so when he was bored with sitting at the gate, exploring was fun. The terminal in Detroit is big and beautiful, with tons of shops and restaurants to check out. The full building is a mile long! It’s much better than being stuck in a tiny, short terminal with only one restaurant. Plus, there’s the fact that the relief area is in the terminal. Not having to go through security and come back in to use it makes such a huge difference. Without the option to let Kaline relieve himself a couple more times before the flight, I would have worried about giving him any water at all.
When we finally got onto the plane, Mom and I had our fingers crossed that our middle seat would be open (we had lucked out and had a free middle seat on the way to Michigan). Unfortunately, not only was the middle seat occupied, but the man there was clearly not very comfortable with Kaline’s proximity. Kaline slept for most of the flight, but over five hours, you’ve just got to shift positions a few times. During these inevitable moments, my main goal was keeping Kaline in our tiny personal space bubble, and out of our neighbor’s. Happily, he was so tired from everything that he spent far more time sleeping, usually with his head on my seat, leg, or foot, than he did awake and wishing he could get up.
As you might imagine, we were incredibly relieved to get home.
During the time Mom spent waiting for our bags to appear, Kaline got to slurp down a big bowl of water, anoint a handy fire hydrant, and pick his way through a bowl of food. A Dober-diva can’t be rushed through his dinner, even when he hasn’t eaten in about 18 hours. Gotta love him.
We don’t have another plane trip planned for almost a year. After our journey getting home this weekend, that is just fine with me!