How to Travel with Your Dog on a Plane

By: Tracie Hotchner

Plane travel can take you and your dog to some amazing places.

Your dog is an important part of the family, so it makes sense that you want to include him when you travel. Traveling by car may be old hat, but airplane travel can present new challenges. Though many airlines have staff trained to provide care for animals while traveling, it is important to do your research and be proactive when it comes to the safety and comfort of your faithful friend.

Check out your travel options. The most common ways to fly with pets are:

  • Carry-on or in-cabin, if the crate is able to fit beneath the seat ahead of you
  • Checked in the cargo area of the plane
  • Through a pet charter service run by an airline that specializes in transporting animals; though pricey, some may prefer this option

When it comes to choosing an airline, you may want to check the US Department of Transportation’s list of pet related air travel incidents. It will help you decide which airline you feel most comfortable with when it comes to transporting your beloved dog. You’ll want to check with the airline you choose to be sure they will accommodate your dog; ask about any rules and restrictions prior to booking a flight. There are regulations all airlines must follow, but each may set additional rules of their own. You will want to be aware of:

Flight Restrictions

  • As required by the USDA, flights must be fewer than 12 hours in length, including the time it takes to pass customs at your destination, for your furry friend to fly.
  • Some locations do not allow you to fly in or out with carry-on animals, while others may have rules against pets arriving by plane at all.
  • Animals are not permitted to fly in the cargo area if the ground temperature is expected to be greater than 84° or less than 45° along your route. A veterinarian may provide permission for your dog to fly, citing “temperature acclimation,” however this permission will not be valid if the temperature drops below 20°. This is to protect your pet from the extreme temperatures that may be encountered during loading, unloading, and transportation on the ground. Though pet areas are pressurized and the temperature is regulated within the plane, it isn’t necessarily comfortable.

Breed Restrictions

  • Dogs with short noses (brachycephalic breeds), such as Pug and Pekingese, are unable to travel in the cargo area due to the potential for breathing problems; some airlines don’t allow them to fly at all.
  • Some large or particularly strong breeds are required to travel in reinforced crates, and the crate will need to comply with International Air Transport Association (IATA) container requirements.
  • Size and weight restrictions may also apply.
  • Restrictions may be placed on pregnant dogs, as well as very young, old, or sick dogs.

Get your dog’s ticket. Airlines allow a limited number of dogs per flight. This means that once you book your tickets you should call the airline right away to register your dog for that flight to make sure he is accounted for.

This would be a good time to ask about crate size and material requirements; some airlines require metal hardware and a spring loaded latch on the crate, others have specific size, construction, and material requirements to keep your dog comfortable and safe.

Quick tip: Using zip ties to secure the corners and door of the crate can add peace of mind; consider the reusable kind as you will not have a knife or scissors to remove the zip tie once you’ve arrived at your destination.

Practice makes perfect. Airports and flights can be scary for dogs; they come with unusual noises and smells and your dog will likely be jostled and bumped while being moved around. You can alleviate some of the stress of these new situations by getting him used to spending time in his crate ahead of the trip. The day of your flight should not be the first time your dog is in a crate; work with your dog to crate train him prior to your flight to help him feel more comfortable.

Safety first. Identification keeps your pet safe! In addition to his regular collar and identification, your canine pal should wear a temporary tag that also lists your destination. Permanent identification such as a microchip is a good option as well. Other labels to attach to a dog’s crate include:

  • A “Live Animal” label, and “This Way Up” markings
  • Your contact information, permanent residence, and travel destination details
  • You can also include information such as your dog’s photo, his name, and any details that you would like the crew to know

Regardless of the mode of transportation, when traveling in the United States and abroad you will need a valid health certificate from a veterinarian in order to bring your pet across state lines. It certifies that your pet has been vaccinated and is healthy enough for travel. This paperwork should be easily accessible in order to present it upon request.

If you are bringing your dog in a carry-on crate, be prepared to bring him through security. You’ll want a leash to secure him while you carry him through the metal detectors or get patted down; security agents will also check his crate and its contents while it is vacant.

Settle in for the flight. After checking your dog at the airline counter or boarding the plane with him in a carry-on crate he will be required to stay inside his crate for the duration of the trip. To avoid messes while flying, it’s best to withhold food for six hours prior to the flight and restrict his water intake just before the flight. Aside from a few designated areas in the airport, there will be nowhere for your four-legged friend to relieve himself during the fight, so plan accordingly!

Be advised that if your flight has a layover, any checked animals will not be transferred to the next plane. This means you will need to claim him at the baggage claim, head to the airline counter, re-check him on the next flight, and get yourself through security before your connecting flight departs. You should look at the pros and cons in this situation; it may cause undue stress for both of you, but could be beneficial if you are flying great distances as it will allow a break from the stress of travel and could give your dog a few moments outside of his crate.

In some cases, flying just isn’t the right choice for your dog. You may need to look into another transportation option, or even arrange a pet-sitter or boarding kennel so your dog can stay behind.

Flying with your dog doesn’t have to be a stressful event. There are rules and regulations in place to keep your pet safe while traveling, and airlines are available to advise you as you plan your flight. With the right research, preparation, and training, your canine companion can join you while you travel, by land or air.

A note on service animals: If you are flying with an official service dog and have proper documentation, airlines are not allowed to charge you when your service animal travels with you. You will need to provide the appropriate certification and comply with specific requirements, but the law ensures you are allowed the support you need from your service dog while traveling.

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