How to Fly with a Dog
There are a few reasons that you might want to fly with your dog. Maybe you are taking a vacation and want to travel with your dog. Your vacation may not feel complete without man’s best friend tagging along. If you are planning a move across the country, you are going to need to bring your dog on the plane. You certainly cannot pack your four-legged friend in the moving van with all of your belongings, which means that flying with your dog is the only option.
You love your dog, and you want him or her to be safe while flying. To make the entire process easier for you, we have compiled all the information that you will need before boarding the plane. Your dog is your best friend, so their safety is your number-one priority.
Table of Contents
- How to Prepare to Fly with Your Dog
- Should Your Fly Your Dog in the Cabin or the Cargo Hold?
- Airline Policies for Flying with a Dog
- Preparing Your Dog to Fly
- Precautions When Flying with a Dog
- Tips for Flying with a Dog
- Schedule an Appointment with the Vet
How to Prepare to Fly with Your Dog
Proper preparation is essential if you are going to get on the plane without any delays or issues. Waiting around and standing in lines is part of the airport experience. The last thing that you want is to need to wait around even longer because you didn’t do everything to prepare ahead of time.
- Your dog’s health: Your dog will need to be old enough to fly. Your dog must be at least 8-weeks old and fully weaned in order to fly. Your dog also cannot be ill, violent, or in physical pain.
- Know the costs before flying: Even though your dog won’t have his own seat, it is going to cost money to fly with him. The cost depends on the airline and how you are planning to fly.
- Research your options before flying: Before booking your flight, you should know which airlines allow dogs to fly and which ones don’t. If you buy a ticket with an airline that doesn’t fly animals, they aren’t going to make any exceptions no matter how cute the dog is. You also need to do research on breed restrictions. Certain airlines won’t allow specific breeds on the flight for safety purposes.
Should Your Fly Your Dog in the Cabin or the Cargo Hold?
Choosing where to put your dog during the flight is one of the biggest decisions that you need to make. Your choice needs to be what you are comfortable with. You might be uneasy knowing that your pet is alone in the cargo hatch, so it isn’t going to be the best choice for you. There are a few other factors that you should keep in mind before making this decision.
- Flying in the cargo hold: You should understand that flying in the cargo hold isn’t going to be easy. It’s going to be loud, turbulent, and your dog will be alone in an unfamiliar place. You also need to consider the temperature. Some airlines such as American, Delta, and United won’t allow your dog to fly in the cargo area if the ground temperature is too hot or too cold. This is something you need to consider before booking your flight. The last thing that you want to hear is the trip is off because of the ground temperature.
- Flying in the cabin: If you are planning to fly with your dog in the cabin, you are going to need to buy your dog’s ticket at the same time you buy yours. Most airlines restrict the number of dogs that can be on a plane at any given time. If the flight that you are planning to book has no room left for dogs, you will need to book another flight. It is also essential to check with the airline about the dimensions of space the airline allows because it varies from airline to airline. For example, United Airlines requires that your soft carrier be no larger than 18 x 11 x 11-inches, while American Airline’s maximum is 19 x 13 x 9-inches.
- Flying “Cuddle Class”: You don’t have the option to fly cuddle class on every flight from every airport. You will only have the opportunity if you are flying First Class on American Airlines. Your dog can fly in their own compartment adjacent to your seat. If you are flying from LAX, SFO, or NYC, you have this option. Your dog will still need to be in the airline’s approved carrier, and there is a carry-on fee, but you will have more legroom, and your dog will be more calm and comfortable.
Airline Policies for Flying with a Dog
All airlines have policies regarding the dog you are flying with. If your dog doesn’t meet the restrictions, you are going to need to rethink your travel plans.
- Weight restrictions: If you are planning to fly with your dog in the cabin, they cannot weigh more than 20 pounds. Any pet over 20 pounds will need to travel in the cargo area. However, there are some exceptions to this rule. For example, Southwest Airlines doesn’t have a weight limit, but your dog will still need to fit beneath the seat in front of you.
- Breed restrictions: All airlines have breed restrictions. If your dog is on the restricted list, you will need to make other arrangements. Short-nosed dogs like Boston Terriers, Boxers, Pekingese, Lhasa Apsos, Shih Tzus, and Bulldogs are not allowed on planes. Short-nose breeds are brachycephalic, which means that they are prone to respiratory problems, and flying only makes this worse. Because of this abnormality, these dogs are more vulnerable to changes in air quality and the temperature in the cargo hold of a plane. Flying with these dogs is just too risky. Many airlines ban Pitbulls from flying as well. The only airlines that allow you to fly with a bull breed are Southwest, JetBlue, Frontier Airlines, and Allegiant Airlines.
Preparing Your Dog to Fly
Your dog will need to be ready to fly on the day of your trip. To prevent a delay, it is essential to have everything in order before heading to the airport.
- Proof of a veterinarian check: Unfortunately, the airline won’t take your word for it that your pet is healthy enough to fly. You will need a valid health certificate for your pet before boarding the plane. It will need to show that your pet is healthy and up-to-date on all relevant vaccines. You will also need your dog’s rabies vaccination certificate. Without this documentation, your dog won’t be getting on the plane.
- Invest in a high-quality kennel: Your pet will need to be in an airline-approved carrier or crate. If your pet is flying in the cabin, you are going to need a soft or hard-sided carrier that will fit under the seat. Pets who fly in the cargo area will need to be in a hard-sided carrier that will be large enough for your dog to sit or stand without their head touching the top. The carrier needs to be well ventilated, and the words “Live Animal” will need to be written on the top side of the carrier. Two dogs are allowed to fly in the same crate as long as they weigh no more than 20 pounds each and are between eight weeks to six months.
- Handle training and separation anxiety ahead of time: You need to make sure that your pet is emotionally ready to fly. A few weeks before the trip, start crate training your dog. You want him to get used to being in the crate before he uses it. If your dog has never been in a crate, he isn’t going to be happy about getting in one on the day of the trip. When you let your dog see the crate can be a safe and happy place, it will make his trip a lot easier. If your dog has issues with separation anxiety, you should start scheduling appointments with a trainer before flying. Choosing the right dog training school will be able to help with the anxiety before you get on the plane.
Handling Your Dog at the Airport
When you arrive at the airport, let your dog walk in on a leash. It will help keep him calm before the flight. The dog won’t want to be cooped up in a crate any longer than he needs to be, so allow the dog to walk on their own. You can carry a very small dog, but they will still need to wear a leash. The airline won’t allow you to check your pet more than four hours before your flight leaves, so don’t arrive at the airport too early. When you check your pet in, you will need to do it at the ticket counter. Airlines don’t allow self-service or curbside check-in for pets.
Handling Your Dog at Your Destination
If you were flying with your dog in the cabin, you could pick up the bag from under the seat when the plane lands. If your dog traveled in the cargo hold, your first priority should be to get to your dog. They will likely be scared and anxious and shouldn’t be left alone longer than necessary.
Precautions When Flying with a Dog
Flying with a dog isn’t always easy, and the necessary precautions need to be taken. This will ensure that your pet is as comfortable and as happy as possible before, during, and after the flight.
It’s always safer to fly with your dog in the cabin, because there are fewer risks associated with it. However, dogs weighing over 20 pounds may be required to fly in the cargo hold, which comes with a few associated risks.
Exposure to Extreme Temperatures
Exposure to the elements on the tarmac prior to boarding and after deboarding can take its toll on animals, particularly in the winter and summer where heat and cold can be extreme. The cargo bay can also be a source of extreme cold, as it is more prone to temperature fluctuations at high altitudes that could lead to hypothermia.
Turbulence and Falling Luggage
Within the cargo bay, there is also the risk of turbulence causing the dog’s kennel or other luggage to fall, which can either force the crate open or cause it to fall over, endangering your dog’s health.
These precautions are important to keep in mind when choosing to fly with a dog. While incident rates are low, as many as 35 pets are reported as being killed during air travel per year, with an additional 25 reported injured and 3 reported lost. If you’re intending to fly with your dog, be sure to do research into how each airline handles pets and what their track record is regarding animal death and injury.
Tips for Flying with a Dog
You want your dog to be safe and comfortable on the plane, so there are a few tips that you should follow.
- Fly Direct: If possible, you should book a direct flight. Your dog is already going to be nervous and stressed out. If the crate needs to be moved and the dog is cooped up during a long layover, it will just add to the stress.
- Travel on the same flight: When you book your flight, you should fly on the same plane as your dog. If your plane gets delayed and the dog doesn’t, it will mean the dog will be cooped up for several hours longer. If your plane lands first, you are going to need to wait around for hours for your dog to arrive.
- Notify the flight staff that you are flying with a dog: Whether your dog is in the cabin with you or the cargo area, it is a good idea to mention it to the flight attendant. If anything happens below, they will need to know who the dog belongs to.
- Don’t fly with short-nosed dogs in the cargo hold: As mentioned above, short-nose dogs can develop respiratory issues on a plane. If your airline allows these breeds on the flight, keep the dog with you in the cabin. This will allow you to check on them periodically to make sure they aren’t in distress.
- Be aware of extreme temperatures: You are going to need to know the ground temperature before flying. If it is extremely hot or cold, your dog won’t be allowed to fly in the cargo hold.
- Use the right collar: Your dog will need to wear a collar, so make sure that it can’t get caught on a door. These collars put your dog at risk of strangulation if the collar gets caught.
- Affix a travel label to the crate: As mentioned above, you need to put a “Live Animal” label on the crate. You should also include a sticker with your name, address, phone number, and the dog’s name.
- Clip your dog’s nails: Before flying, clip your dog’s nails. If they get caught in the wire on a hard carrier or the mesh on a soft carrier, it will make the flight painful and uncomfortable.
- Don’t give your dog tranquilizers: Giving your dog a pill to help them sleep during the flight may sound like a good idea, but it isn’t. According to the American Veterinary Association, your dog’s ability to maintain and balance equilibrium is altered when they are sedated. This can make it dangerous for the dog when the kennel is moved. Unless your vet has prescribed tranquilizers, don’t give them to your dog.
- Feed your dog 4 to 6 hours before the flight leaves: Feeding the dog right before the plane takes off may sound like a good idea, but it won’t be good for the dog. Flying with a full belly will be uncomfortable, and it will be hours before the dog can go to the bathroom.
- Avoid flying during the busy travel season: If possible, don’t fly during the busy traveling season. The lines are going to be longer, which means the dog will be crated for a more extended period.
- Carry a photograph of your dog: If you are like me, you have about 500 pictures of your dog on your phone. If you don’t, take one before you leave. If the tag on the crate falls off or if the airline has trouble locating the crate, the photograph will be beneficial.
Schedule an Appointment with the Vet
When you arrive at your destination, you should schedule a quick visit with the vet. It is a good idea to have your dog checked out to make sure they weren’t injured or became ill during the flight.
Flying with or without a dog can be stressful, but it may be easier than taking a road trip with your dog. If you are planning to fly with your dog, it is essential that you understand all travel regulations, costs, and, most importantly, how to keep your dog happy and calm.