LIFESTYLE

Flying With A Dog: A Travel Guide for Man’s Best Friend

Dog and airplane
John Walton
Written by John Walton

Traveling is something that most of us tend to enjoy, because let’s be honest, who doesn’t like to get away from work and other commitments every once in a while? We travel to discover new and exotic destinations, to visit family, we travel for business and to meet people. Regardless of our reasons, many choose to fly when going somewhere, and for dog owners flying can be a bit of a hassle.

It often requires research, preparation and money to bring our four-legged friend with us on the plane and to complicate things further – each airline has a different pet traveling policy. Airplane travel with dogs isn’t always easy, but sometimes it is unavoidable. The best way to deal with it is to start preparing yourself and your dog well ahead of time.

There are multiple motives to why you would want to bring a dog on a plane. Perhaps you feel your favorite pup deserves a vacation too, or perhaps you are moving somewhere to where land cannot take you.

Dogs are parts of millions of families out there, so naturally they will have to come along. Some airlines allow small dogs to travel in-cabin as part of our carry-on, while others require all dogs to travel in cargo. Bigger dogs are always required to travel in the cargo area, unless they are certified service dogs and travel with their handler.

This guide will provide you with some facts regarding the rules and regulations you need to be aware of before planning a trip with your dog. You want to make sure that you have thought of everything, or else you could be in for a troublesome surprise upon arrival to the airport.

Preparations – do your homework

If you are planning on flying with your dog, rest assured that you have some homework ahead of you. In most cases a less than 10-day old health certificate from a licensed veterinarian is required, but if traveling internationally your pouch could need a lot more.

You could be looking at rabies shots, vaccinations and paperwork, just to mention a few potential things. Because of this you should always start investigating well ahead of time (as some preparations could take several months) before your thought-out travel date.

For an extensive list of what you’ll need for your flight, please take a look at our in-depth article about flights for dogs.

It is your responsibility to make sure your dog has everything he or she needs before arriving at the airport, as you could otherwise be denied to board the plane with your fur baby.

Small dogs traveling in-cabin

If your dog is small enough to go in-cabin with you – great. It is by far the easiest way to take a dog on a plane and it also allows you to keep an eye on your furry friend for the whole duration of your trip. You will be transporting your dog in a travel crate or carrier small enough to fit under the seat in front of you.

It is important that your dog has enough space in the crate so that he or she can stand up and turn around without problems, as you are not allowed to remove the dog from the crate during the trip.

Petmate Two Door Top Load 24-Inch Pet Kennel

Most airlines seem to allow small dogs and animals to travel in-cabin, yet it is not a given fact and should be properly investigated before booking your tickets. There are usually restrictions regarding how big the carrier is allowed to be, what type of carrier you should have for your dog etc. etc.

Also, many airlines allow only a limited number of dogs to travel in-cabin on each flight, so make sure you contact them well in advance to let them know you wish to bring your pup.

When approaching the security checkpoint with your dog, it is always good to be prepared of what is to come. The procedures can vary depending on the airport and departure city/country, but in most cases you will check in as usual and then proceed to the security checkpoint.

Once it becomes your turn, you walk up to the security officer and present your dog to them. They usually ask you to pass through the metal detector together with little Fido, but you will never be asked to put him (or her) through the x-ray machine.

If for any reason you would be unable to take the dog through the metal detector, the security officers are likely to want to perform a quick inspection. Either way, you might have to remove the dog from the carrier so that it can be x-rayed on its own.

Dog on airplane

Allow yourself enough time to get through security and to your gate. Also, try to keep personal items to a minimum as keeping track of a dog could often require two hands. During the flight it is of out-most importance that you do your best to keep your dog calm and content. Think of the other passengers, do not remove the dog form its carrier and respect any instructions from the crew onboard the airplane.

Dogs traveling as checked baggage or cargo

Air travel is a bit more complicated for those dogs that are too big to go in-cabin. When flying a dog as checked baggage or cargo you will have to drop off your dog at check-in, leaving you unaware of its condition and wellbeing for the entire flight.

This is often stressful for both owners and dogs and warnings go out every year for flying your dog like this. It is advised to avoid flying your dog as checked baggage or cargo unless you absolutely have to.

Although most of the hundreds of dogs that fly every year arrive safely at their destination, there are also those that don’t. Accidents happen regularly, both due to weather conditions, poor handling at the airport and it being such a stressful situation for the animal.

There are existing reports of dogs having hurt themselves and gotten out of their cages before being loaded onto the plane. There are even reports on dogs having been left a bit too long on the Tarmac in extreme weather conditions. This is very unfortunate, but none the less a reality. As a dog owner you need to be aware of the risks before choosing to put your precious dog in the belly of a plane.

This is, however, only the nightmare stories, and as mentioned it works out well in most cases. There are times when we have no choice but to fly our dogs, such as when we move abroad and when driving or going by land is not an option (if moving within the country, driving or hiring a by-land pet moving service might be a better idea).

You do not leave a family member behind, so in such scenarios the best thing you can do is to make sure your dog is properly prepared for the trip. Does he or she have all the necessary vaccinations and paper work to enter the country to where you are going? If possible, book a direct flight with no stop-overs, as that greatly reduces the risk of anything going wrong.

The next thing to do is to get an airline approved (IATA compliant) crate for your dog. The requirements for a crate when traveling by plane are often strict. The dog must be able to stand, sit and turn around in the crate – that is the number one requirement you are likely to come across.

The crate must also be made of a solid material such as rigid plastic, metal or plywood, and no collapsible crates or wheels are permitted due to risk of accidents.

Many airlines also require the crates to have only one door (no door on top) that close and that can be secured with cable ties. When you purchase a crate they tend to come with plastic fasteners to hold the bottom and the top part together, but these almost always have to be replaced with metal hardware.

You can find specific instructions regarding crate requirements on the website of the airline you intend to travel with.

Airplane Travel with Dogs

Once you have purchased your crate it is time to get your dog accustomed to it. This helps prepare the dog for the flight, so if you can make them feel safe in their crate, chances are higher they will feel safe while onboard the plane as well.

An idea is to place the crate at home and leave it there for a couple of months before traveling. Leave it open, fill it up with snuggly blankets and try to see if you can encourage your dog to go in.

Throw in some treats and let the dog get used to it at its own speed. Don’t force it in there and don’t close the door in the beginning, as the last thing you want is for your dog to associate the crate with something negative. The idea is for you to help your dog understand that the crate is a safe haven and a great hideaway.

No matter the size of your dog, however, some airlines or state laws may require you to have a muzzle on your dog for safety reasons. If you’re not sure about the kind of muzzle you should be getting for your dog, here is a list of reviews of the best dog muzzles to help make your choice a lot easier.

At the airport when flying cargo

When the day arrives and you have done all the necessary preparations, it is time to head to the airport. Take some time to let your dog relieve itself before entering as it might be a while before he or she gets a chance to pee again.

There is no toilet option in the cargo hold. Once you get inside the airport you walk over to check-in, where they are likely to first attend to you before turning to your dog. In many cases you will be asked to remove the dog from the crate so that an airport employee can have the crate x-rayed and searched.

Make sure your dog cannot get away from you during this time, as even the calmest dog can get stressed and scared in an unfamiliar situation. When the crate is returned to you it is time to put your furry love back inside and secure the door with the cable ties. It is time to fly.

As difficult as it might be for you to see airport personnel load your dog onto a truck and take it away – act normal. Dogs are great at picking up on their owners’ state of mind so try not to upset them any more than necessary.

When boarding the plane you could always inform one of the flight attendants that there is a dog onboard and ask her to let the pilot know. He should know already, but in case he doesn’t that could remind him to keep an extra eye on the temperature and the air pressure down in the cargo hold.

It is always better to be safe rather than sorry, so letting a flight attendant know is just another way to give your dog a chance at a pleasant flight experience.

Arriving to your destination

If you traveled with your dog as checked baggage or cargo, the first thing you want to do when arriving at your destination is to pick him or her up. If you are also picking up bags luggage, it is advisable to go for the dog first. It is better to let your bag wait than to let your dog wait.

Look for signs or ask someone where special luggage is supposed to come in, then go there and wait for someone to bring your dog to you. Live animals are often loaded off the plane first.

Dog in the airport

Once you have your dog with you, quickly check that everything is okay and proceed to customs if flying internationally. This also applies for dogs flying with their owners’ in-cabin, as all dogs arriving in a new country require paperwork checks and sometimes also physical examinations.

In some cases customs require you to notify them 24 hours in advance of your planned arrival, so if make sure you double-check that before leaving your home country.

The customs officer will most likely want to see your dogs’ vaccination papers, health certificates and proof of rabies vaccination, so make sure you have all that at hand when it becomes your turn. If you have done the proper research and preparations before departure then neither you nor your dog should have any problems being let into the country.

Please keep in mind

The majority of today’s airlines do not allow flat faced dogs (such as bulldogs, Pekingese dogs and pugs) to fly as checked baggage or cargo. The reason for this is that their short nasal passages makes them a lot more prone to heat stroke and oxygen deprivation than other types of dogs with longer snouts. Even if an airline would allow these types of dogs to fly then you might want to reconsider, as the health risks remain the same.

Yes, there are risks coming with airplane travel with dogs, but there are times when we don’t have much of a choice. Nobody knows your dog as well as you do, so in the end you are the only one who can answer the question as to whether or not flying is the right option for you.

If you do decide to fly, take into consideration everything mentioned in this article. Use the internet to gather as much information as possible and try to book a direct flight at the right time of the year.

Don’t fly in the middle of the summer if your departure city or arrival city tends to experience very hot temperatures, as the airlines might have heat restrictions and it might also be hazardous for your doggy friend. If needing to do so, choose a late-night flight.

The same applies for extremely cold temperatures, but there it might be a better idea to try and fly during the warmest hours of the day rather than at night. There is plenty of precaution that you can take to make sure your dog arrives safe and sound at your journey’s end.

If you are one of the lucky few that has a dog that fits under the seat in front of you, then you will not have to worry about any of this. All you need to do is to get a good carrier, the right paperwork and enjoy your trip as well as your destination.

Still not sure flying with your pet is worth it? Here is a more in-depth article on the costs you can save, how to fully prepare for your flight, and what to do when you get to your destination.

Traveling with a dog can be a wonderful experience, but it lies in your hands to make sure that everything runs as smoothly as it possibly can. Preparation is key to a successful flying experience for you and for your dog.

About the author
John Walton
John Walton

John Walton lives in Somerville, MA, with his two dogs, two sons, and very understanding mate. He is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a mentor trainer for the Animal Behavior College, an AKC Certified CGC Evaluator, and the Training Director for the New England Dog Training Club.

  • Seth Weaseley

    I’m planning on taking my Yorkie on a trip soon, and I’m afraid how it will turn out and whether I’ll find a suitable airline… This article helped a bit, thanks.

  • Emily Parks

    Most airlines have different policies regarding doggy travel, or is it the same for all airlines now? My sister is traveling with her Yorkshire Terrier overseas and this article will provide information she needs.

    • Glad to help, Emily! Doggy travel can be challenging and exciting at the same time.

  • Dennis Hughes

    Just wanted to notify, that before buying a travel crate you also need to pay attention to the quality locks and plastic. Sometimes they are made of poor materials, weak and flimsy. This can lead to breakage or insult your dog. Be careful and have a safe journey!

  • Pet parents who frequently travel with their fur babies should really invest in a durable travel crate. It can be a bit pricey, but it pays for itself from all the trouble and worries of breaking one during one of your trips.

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