Get Your Small Dog on a Plane–For Free!

Bella in St. Martin

Bella in St. Martin

Damn, I hope this blog doesn’t blow up my spot, but I’m about to change your life (or at least the life of your wallet and your dog) by letting you in on this little secret: I travel on a plane with my dog, Belladonna, for free. Now this advice only applies to small dogs–Bella is just 5 lbs. The dog must be able to fit in an approved travel bag underneath your seat. This advice applies for U.S. travel only.

How do I do it?

Well there is a right way and a wrong way. And, I do it the wrong way. Let’s start there. I was tired of paying nearly $200 round trip to bring Bella–as my carry-on–just to shove her under my own seat. It’s such a rip off! But once, after paying for my pup to travel with me, not one person asked to see her ticket at the airport. In fact, I didn’t receive a special ticket for her and there was nothing on my ticket indicating that I had a dog with me. This got me to thinking–“Why the hell did I just pay all this money!

The Wrong Way

So the next time, I just took her with me. I kept her in the bag, except for at security, and not one person said anything to me. I put her under the seat, and exited through customs at my destination and no one said a word! It was a revelation! Of course I had prepared all her documentation–vaccinations and the like–in the event that I was questioned. But even that turned out to be unnecessary.

A friend of mine, let’s call her Stella, was hip to this long before me. She casually recalled her experience doing it one day as we walked our pups in the park.

“I actually didn’t intend to ‘sneak’ my dog onto the plane in the beginning. I was extremely nervous about how she would behave and if she would be sick, so I was more preoccupied with her more than the boarding procedure itself,” said Stella. “I was fully prepared just as it instructed on the airline site (I had all of the proper documentation required for pet travel including shot records, certificate, etc.), but once I boarded the flight I realized that no one ever asked for a ticket, documentation or anything! And it helps that my dog is so well-trained and a great traveler–we’ve gone to restaurants, movies, weddings, showers (and even sneaked into a club one night–long story, lol) without anyone detecting her!”

But what about security?

To that, I pondered, “But doesn’t security see the dog and ask for the ticket?

Stella said that all it takes is a great poker face! If you look like you and your dog belong then people will believe that you and your dog belong. “I quickly discovered that each airport’s rules on pet travel weren’t enforced the same (some are more lax than others) so I just went with the flow!” said Stella. “If check-in or staff positioned at the security gate asks for your pet ticket as you are preparing to board and you don’t have one, they’ll simply instruct you to go back and purchase one. If they ask for it on the plane, and you don’t have it… well, you may have a problem.”

So what’s the worst that can happen?

Stella recalled once boarding without a pet pass and discovering that her assigned seat was in the front row of the section, so there was no “under seat” to put her dog bag!

“I had to tell on myself,” she said. “The attendant was surprised to find that another dog was on board without their prior knowledge (I think there was a two-pet limit per flight and there were already two on board!) She was nice enough to ask a passenger to switch seats with me without further questioning or making a stink, but she had every right to kick me off the flight! Thank God for nice people.”

But that wasn’t her worst experience–“The worst experience was actually getting caught without a ticket at the security gate, and having to rush back to wait on line and pay a whopping $175 for a pet pass for my 8-lb. doggie. It only happened once, but my wallet really felt it. That hurt.”

The Right Way

So one day I was imparting my little scheme to a colleague, let’s call her Darla, and when I was done she told me I was doing it all wrong! She had taken her small, two-year-old pup on over eight trips–and all for free–and all legit!

How’d she do it?

She got her pup registered as a service dog for anxiety. A regular doctor can make it happen–actually, the vet really has nothing to do with it. Although you probably need to check with your state law about what type/size of animal can be a service animal. In Darla’s state, California, any pet can be a service animal.

The perks of having a service animal go beyond your flight, explained Darla. “I save $150 each way on a plane and he can be out of his bag. I also save at least $50 to $100 hotel-cleaning fee. And all hotels have to let you have your dog in the room. We put the “no clean” on our doors when we’re out so that the pup doesn’t get bugged. We also bring him plenty of things to chew on so the hotel pillows isn’t one of them!”

And at the airport, do you have to tell anyone that you have a service pet?

“No one asked me for any paperwork whatsoever,” said Darla. “If I call the airline and tell them I’m bringing my pet, eight times out of eight when I arrive the crew has no idea about it.”

“If I check-in to tell them about my pup I have to stand on a long line. If I check-in at the self check-in and someone sees me checking in with the dog they tell me that I need to stand on line, even if I’ve called in advance. Now my husband does self check-in for both of us and when we get to the gate we tell them we’ve got our service pup. We’ve never had an issue. Don’t need to stand on line.”

Have you ever had any issues?

“The one time we did have an issue is when I had him out at the self check-in and the idiot flight attendant was yelling IS HE AN ANXIETY DOG? YOU NEED TO STAND ON LINE…to which I pointed out, it’s probably against a law for you to be screaming that out in a crowded airport!”

The moral of this story?

The TSA and the airlines never talk to each other, so even if you’re bringing your small dog without the service dog license chances are that you’ll breeze through the flight unquestioned. But if you want to do it the right way, then book an appointment with your doc asap.

It’s certainly best to over-prepare. So bring your pet travel documents and your service dog tags if you have them. If you have a doctor’s note, bring that too, just in case.

A note of caution: Everything above is true for plane travel in the United States. I do not know if the experience would be the same anywhere else. Yes, I’ve traveled with Bella to St. Maarten and The Bahamas with no problems, but I’ve been hesitant to do this in Europe, for example. Because, there, if something doesn’t check out, the worst that can happen is that my pup is detained and/or shipped back to the U.S. alone. So take care!

Now enjoy these photos and video of Bella living it up at exotic destinations!

Bella and Nikki

Bella and Nikki

Bella with Becky

Bella with Becky

Swim companion

Swim companion

Bella in St. Martin

Bella in St. Martin

Taking a swim

Taking a swim

Buried alive

Buried alive

Hanging in there

Hanging in there

Wind-tossed hair

Wind-tossed hair

Got my hair done

Got my hair done

Bella in the Bahamas

Bella in the Bahamas

Bella in the Bahamas

Bella in the Bahamas

Bella in the Bahamas

Bella in the Bahamas


33 responses to “Get Your Small Dog on a Plane–For Free!

  1. As a truly disabled individual who has a service dog that was trained for a year and a half to do her job right, people whose dogs don’t perform essential functions and aren’t super well trained hurt the disabled community, especially service dog handlers. I understand that you would like a cheaper way to travel with your beloved dog, but if that dog DOES act out and is labelled a “service dog” that puts a bad taste in many people’s mouths and makes it even harder for the next person who does have a legitimate disability and service dog. I urge you and all of your readers to consider this when thinking about doing this on your next trip. It may not be illegal, but it is seriously unethical. Last, but not least, an Emotional Support Assistance Dog is an assistance animal, not a service animal and does not have the legal rights they do as they are not covered under the ADA. They are not task trained. Thank you for reading this and I sincerely hope you take into consideration what I had to say.

    • Thank you Jessica for adding a totally different perspective to this post. My pup has been going everywhere with me from restaurants to movies to planes (as I mentioned above) for years and I only can manage that because she is so well-behaved. But you’re absolutely correct that many dogs are not trained and have absolutely no business in a restaurant and especially a plane. And I see how they would give service dogs a bad name. I will certainly consider this and my readers should as well.

      • Nicole, being someone without a disability I do understand how you would not know the implications the action you are promoting brings. Having a pet dog pretend to be a service dog puts hundreds of thousands of individuals with disabilities in the United States alone at a serious disadvantage. Yes, that’s right.. you are promoting something that hurts HUNDREDS of THOUSANDS of people. I don’t know the statistics for other service dogs but currently there are approximately 100,000 working guide dog teams in the US.

        It is against Food and Health guidelines to allow a non-service dog in most food establishments and therefore I have a feeling that you are portraying your dog as a service dog to allow her into all of those places, once again.. so wrong. Even if you aren’t, my guess is that most of those places assume your dog is a service dog.

        I encourage you to read my post about your blog post ( , as well as the comments several of my readers have left. One is an advocate for individuals with disabilities and a crazy dog lover, another is one who has seen the benefits a service dog brings to an individual with a disability. Another is an individual with a disability who has been waiting YEARS (literally) for a service dog. Another is someone who is blind and does have a service dog, and last but not least another is a puppy raiser who dedicates an entire year of her life per puppy to PROPERLY raising and training service dogs for individuals with disabilities. I will say this, you did get a lot of publicity to your blog for this post, even though I would hope thats not the kind of publicity you are going for.

        My hope isn’t to make you feel attacked but to show you how HUGE of an issue this is. Maybe some of the other perspectives on my blog’s comments can also convey this.

        Thank you.

    • Take it easy Jessica. I highly doubt anyone is being put in danger because of a dog less than 5 lbs. Yes, it’s insulting to pass him off as a service dog but want to know what else is insulting? Charging for a lap dog when babies are allowed to fly free. Aren’t dogs considered babies and their kids to most dog owners? Unless a fake service dog came up to you and scratched your eye, it’s really none of your business. I HATE these trolls on the internet that ALWAYS feel like they are entitled to share their factual and personal opinion, and not make you see their side, but make you feel dumb and reckless for someone’s information posted on SOMEONE else’s blog. How is your ESA dog trained, does he tell you you actually don’t look fat in those jeans and that no one is staring at you? Get off your soap box, pet your service dog’s head to calm you, and leave.

      This is GREAT information you provided Nicole and I’m definitely going to use it for my 4 lb pup! If only I could pass my husband off as a “service person” and get him on for free. He does reduce my anxiety 😉

      • Hi Heather. Thanks for your response, however not based in fact it may be.

        Actually, my guide dog and I have been in many difficult situations due to those small dogs – they are usually the one that give us the most trouble with trying to attack my guide dog, barking obnoxiously, etc. This has affected my guide dog’s willingness to interact with other dogs, pets, etc. and has affected her well-being so it is totally my business. Thanks though. 🙂

        And yes, dogs are considered to be babies by many owners but the truth is – they aren’t. Humans and animals ARE different in our world and that’s just the way it is. Humans are allowed to be there, as are service dogs, by law – lap dogs are not given those same rights so that point’s kind of invalid.

        Not sure why you decided to talk about “my ESA” as I don’t have an “ESA”, as those aren’t service dogs – duh. 🙂 I have a guide dog and she is trained well, to guide – 🙂 I’m on my “soap box” because it’s ignorant people like you that make the lives of people who truly do need our service dogs so much harder and make the public view them so differently, when in fact if people were just ethical and followed the law, not trying to fake stuff like this post recommends, this would be a non problem. There are others who have commented on this blog that feel the same way, who are service dog handlers or hope to get a service dog soon. I’m sure there will be others that will reply too after your lovely post.

        Oh, and my service dog does calm me, but I have the right to advocate for topics that I”m passionate about, as I’m sure you do too – so I won’t pet my service dog’s head and leave – I’ll stand my ground just as I would expect you to stand yours. How dare you tell me not to do so. (Ignorance, again).

        It’s okay – there are laws that are being written to get rid of fake like you.. they will happen sooner or later and there are many of us service dog handlers that are now informing airlines of what to look for – thank goodness right? 🙂 We have seen several of the fakes get turned away, making our experience SO much better. 🙂

      • I agree. If I bring clothes in a bag or a small pup.. whats the difference. .it doesn’t hurt anyone

      • Love your reply…thanks for the information, my stress level goes way up when I have to leave my little Taylor(Shi-Tzu) home when I fly to visit my grandchildren. The airlines rip us off anyway so I am grateful for the info. As far as Jessica N and Makiko there is always someone who has to stir the pot so enjoy your trips with your sweat Bella and keep the great info out there.

  2. Pingback: Fake Service Dogs — Read this person’s blog | The Way Eye See The World·

  3. Wow! How dare you do that! Being a person with a disability on a waiting list to get a service dog and having many friends that have service or guide dogs we ACTUALLY need those dogs to help us in everyday life. We don’t do it just because we want our dog with us! You should really think about you are doing, passing your dog off as a service dog when your dog does no service for you just to save money! I am very disgusted with your post!

      • You are basically telling people to go get your dog documentation stating that they are in fact “emotional assistant animals” just so they don’t have to pay the pet feed. TRUE service/guide/emotional assistant animals are more then a pet that we want to keep with us!

    • Skylar makes many good points. While we do love having our WORKING service animal with us and do have a deep bond with them, so much of that is because of the interdependent relationship. Even if you personally don’t do this, which by your post it really sounds like you do, encouraging others to do this is so unethical. Skylar made two very bold statements, “How dare you do that” and “I am very disgusted with your post..” and they are honestly spot on.

  4. I’m not vision-impaired or in need of a service animal, but I am totally in agreement with Jessica and Skylar above. You’re scamming the system. This isn’t the “right” or “legit” way as you claim, it’s the sneaky, dishonest way. I am shocked that you not only defend this practice, you even brag about it!

    • I agree, Valerie. I appreciate you having that perspective on this and promoting it. You made a good point about she is not only defending the practice, but bragging about it. I think that’s what got me the most.

  5. This makes me sick. There is so much that goes into having a dog become a service dog that no one else realizes. It’s things like this that make people with real service dogs lives so much harder. You cannot just have a dog registered as an anxiety service dog. There is no such thing. It’s called psychiatric service dog, and to be legal they have to be able to perform 3 tasks that mitigate a person’s disability. Note, you also have to be disabled. Your anxiety would have to be extreme. A dog that is not trained and just there to comfort you is known as an emotional support animal. There is a big difference. Stop spreading false information and encouraging others to do things like this. A service animal can be the difference of a person being able to function in society. Do not deface what a real service dog is by faking it. I’m sorry for ranting, but people need to be informed, and being a service dog owner, this disgusts me.

    • Right on! I especially like your explanation of psychiatric service dogs versus emotional support animals. Wonderful comment. I”m wondering if she’s got the hint now that what she has been advocating for is so entirely wrong.

      • I hope so. People with real disabilities shouldn’t have to worry about people like this and their actions possibly making laws stricter or establishments discriminating against service dogs. There’s already enough of that.

      • Exactly!! She never responded to your post or others and she hasn’t deleted the post. I really can’t believe she hasn’t deleted it yet honestly. It’s giving her a bad name and it looks like she has a pretty cool blog otherwise.

    • It’s really funny how after all these years you still feel the need to make a statement. Does this make you feel relevant or something? rofl. You are too funny, Jessica.

    • I can’t believe you took so much time to write all of these massive comments. Each one is an essay in martyrdom. Yea it sucks you have to have a service dog for your disability , but I’m not feeling so bad about it that I would be willing to shell out close to $200 per flight for my 5lb dog to fly. If people with legit service dogs allow themselves to be offended by that , I couldn’t care less. That’s the problem with the world now , people wake up in the morning looking for something to be offended about. People need to toughen up and save their sob stories for when they actually have something that warrants complaining. Toughen up people!!! Please for the sake of our children and the terribly weak and fragile world they are going to inherit from us , due to the likes of the easily offended.

  6. I get the frustration of people misrepresenting dogs as ESD to get on a plane. It is sketchy.

    People who use this to bring their dog into restaurants or other places dogs don’t belong, well that’s just plain wrong.

    The real crime here is the audacity of charging me $300 dollars round trip to fly 14 lbs of lazy dog around. Its just silly. Its not really on option for me to travel sans dog sometimes.

    If you want to pick a fight with someone, take it up with the airline. Not too many of us have an extra $300 dollars around for our pound puppy.

  7. Sorry I am late to this thread but I just had to comment. I LOVE animals; with that said I am so tired of stepping over dog feces and urine in the airport. Trained service animals do not do this. I know this because my husband is a service dog trainer and they “go” at his command. Please people with with ESA, clean up after your pets.

  8. I take my dog on planes, trains & ubers, busses, subway, even on a boat to go snorkeling in the keys. He’s very chill and loves to travel. I never pay. I have smuggled him on countless flights like literally I can’t even guess how many. I just tell myself that if anyone ever tells me anything I’ll just act dumb. I’m sorry but I’m not paying $100 each plane trip for a pocket sized chill dog who might as well be a stuffed animal for all anyone knows. People sitting right next to me sharing the arm rest don’t even realize I have a dog under the seat. And I use a regular soft dog carrier and I don’t give him any drugs. I’m actually on a train right now and he’s at my feet. I wouldn’t make him a fake service dog though because there’s no point and also it kinda delegitimizes the whole service dog thing if there’s a ton of fake service dogs everywhere.

  9. I have had two dogs in my life and have lived between Italy and the US always with them in tow.
    With the first dog I endured 15 years of whims from airlines, forget about the cost of the ticket alone ($200-$400 a pop), but also the airline’s sudden change in policies without warning. Once in Milan they told me they had changed aircraft and I couldn’t” bring my dog on board because the seats were “flat beds” and the dog could get hurt (as if I would leave the bag under the seat while it grinds my dog into mush?). The airlines decide you can’t bring a dog in Business, or in Economy, or on certain routes or internationally. I had a flight attendant tell me I had to move to the window, then her supervisor told me to move to the back, then another said “no she need a bulkhead”. Fast forward to my second dog and the “ruse” of the service animal and everything became easy. Yes it is not great that we have to do this, and it’s even worse that people think that peacocks or pigs can be brought on board as service animal, but I’m sorry…my perfectly behaved chihuahua is quiet and calm and invisible, and I would gladly pay a fee if the system was as easy and seamless as HE is when he travels. The world is becoming more and more pet friendly, people are rescuing dogs, traveling with them..if the airlines came up with a straightforward system to book them on board, pay online, without their complicated rules, nobody would try and stick it up to them. At the end of the day I don’t know one dog owner who wouldn’t want to pay a small fee to bring their pup with them, if only it was as easy as adding a bag to your ticket!

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