Tickets in hand, trekking down the jetway, 25 students boarded a plan and sat attentively in their seats.
This plane is not going anywhere. Instead, the students here are embarking on a learning experience.
“They’re being socialized to the crowds, to the noise.”
The Labrador and Golden Retriever puppies are from an organization called Guide Dogs for the Blind. And they’re learning how to help their future owners navigate an airport.
“So, once they are a working guide, then they have to travel with their user. They can have the attitude of, ‘I’ve been here, I’ve done this, I’m comfortable and confident.’”
The volunteer “puppy raisers” expose these future guide dogs to the entire air travel process — everything from check-in and going through the TSA security line to getting on a plane.
“Getting into that tight, narrow space…We all know how small airplane seats are, and then you have a Labrador sitting between your legs, and also if you happen to need to use the restroom on a plane…trying to navigate that with your puppy as well.”
Most of the puppies in training are between six months and a year old.
If you think about it, airports can be a chaotic place under the best circumstances — so this experience allows the dogs to get used to the environment beforehand.
“It is so helpful to have a guide dog that is trained very well and knows how to handle the airport.”
Theresa Stern understands the benefits well. She is visually impaired and relies on her dog, Wills, to travel frequently for work.
“The airport can be a confusing place for anybody.”
This is the third year Alaska Airlines has hosted the training at Oakland Airport. They hope to help to coordinate the whole thing again next year for the next generation of guide dogs.