This weekend Leni and I had a unique opportunity thanks to our friend, Charlie Wentz, and his connections at the local small airport. Nick and I have a couple of trips planned for later this year that will require flying to get to our destinations. While Leni has been on the DC metro, a couple of boat rides, and is great in the car, she has never been on or around airplanes. Nothing much seems to phase her, but we still wanted to at least expose her to planes and airports prior to actually having to fly.
I met Charlie at Kent State a few years ago and remember him sharing about his experience as a flight instructor in the aviation program at Kent. He still has connections at the Kent State Airport, and called one of his colleagues who graciously agreed to allow me and Leni to stop by for some training.
When I got to the airport, I actually didn't know where I was supposed to go. I knew the name of the instructor who was going to show us around, but that was about it. When I walked in, though, he immediately introduced himself to me. I realized that while I didn't know who he was, I'm a bit more identifiable with Leni! He might not have known what I looked like, but knowing you're meeting up with someone with a service dog probably narrows the field considerably =P
Leni got the chance to jump into one of the 4-seater planes and sniff around a bit. We were able to practice some of her commands in the tiny space, and she was able to perform her "tuck" command (down stay, but with her legs, tail, and nose tucked into a nice ball) comfortably. The space we were working in is most likely much smaller than we will have on a commercial flight, so that gave me confidence that she will be fine if she was great in such tight spaces.
After we finished our short training session in the plane and Leni was done sniffing around, we went over to what was called the ramp. It was basically the dock for the airplanes. The planes were parked there and would be returned to their spot after the flight was over. We got to watch a bunch of planes start up, taxi, take off, land, return to the ramp, turn around, park, etc.
At first Leni was definitely a bit unsure. The small planes are very loud, especially when we were standing out on the ramp. Once the propellers started up, it was hard to hear anything else. They were much louder than a commercial airplane, as well, so knowing that she was okay with these noises also gives me confidence that she will be fine on a big plane. After a few planes came and went, she lay down, tucked her nose, and started dozing. I'd say Project Desensitize Leni to Airplanes was a success!
The only parts of the flight that are still unknown to Leni are take off and landing. We will just have to cross that bridge when we get there =) Once we are at cruising altitude, I'm pretty confident that she will be fine since she is so good in the car. Take off may be a bit unsettling for her, but hopefully with some treats and a toy, she can be redirected until things even out. I'm not too worried about landing since even if she does get anxious, the flight is just about over and we'll be off pretty quickly after.
Fun fact: Dog ear canal anatomy is different from human ear canals. I'm sure there are lots of implications for that, but the important part for this blog is that their different anatomy means dogs do not experience the ear popping sensation that humans get on planes. Their ears adapt to pressure changes differently so they don't experience that discomfort that we often get on flights.
Leni and I had a great time on Saturday, and this was a great training opportunity for Leni! Thank you so much to Charlie and the Kent State Airport for making this possible.