“Where are we going,” “which airline do we choose” and “where are we staying” are a few of the questions people ask themselves as they plan for a trip. However, for dog owners who enjoy (or would like to begin) traveling with their four-legged “children,” the question of “What is the best and safest way to travel with my pet” is an important one.
It’s estimated that about 2 million domestic animals travel on commercial flights each year – only 58% of them being dogs, according to PBS Travel, a U.K.-based company that specializes in transporting pets globally. Unless you’re a pro, it is crucial to know how best to fly with your dog, so it is a positive experience for both of you.
On TV and the big screen, it looks easy – even somewhat fun – to fly with your dog. But the reality of it is there are several things you should do the moment you decide to travel via air with your favorite canine.
- Contact the airlines when flying with a dog
Not all airlines welcome pets, so finding the right one that meets your needs and budget may take a moment. Million Mile Secrets lists nine U.S. airlines that permit in-cabin domestic rides for your dog as of 2021. The site provides prices and policies, however, verify all information yourself so that there are no surprises.
When contacting the airline, get clear answers to these questions:
- Can you to take your dog in the cabin with you, and what are the weight/size restrictions?
- Are there any special pet health and immunization requirements?
- What type and size of carrier is permitted in the cabin?
- Flying and traveling abroad with your dog
If you are traveling to another country or outside the continental U.S., there may be quarantine or other health requirements for your dog. You also may need to provide a specific international health certificate signed by a government-approved veterinarian or other government official, according to VCA Animal Hospitals.
The best thing to do is contact the Foreign Consulate or Regulatory Agency at least four weeks in advance of your trip. When inquiring about travel to Hawaii, visit the state’s Animal Industry Division website, or contact it via email (recommended) or via phone at (808) 483-7151.
- Flying with an emotional support or service dog
The American Kennel Club lists an Emotional Support Animal – or ESA – as “a pet that provides companionship to a person to help ease anxiety, depression and certain phobias.” A therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist must determine that the presence of, in this case, your dog, is needed for your mental health.
The Americans With Disabilities Act defines service animals as “dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities;” for example, a guide dog. While service dogs are permitted anywhere the public is allowed, emotional support animals are not.
In January 2021, the U.S. Department of Transportation revised its Air Carrier Access Act regulation on the transportation of service animals by air. This means airlines are no longer required to accommodate Emotional Support Animals. When wanting to fly with your pup, list which assistance your dog provides and have the proper paperwork as proof.
- Flight to-do checklist for flying with your dog
- Schedule an in-person or virtual appointment with your veterinarian and/or ensure all of your dog’s required health records are up to date.
- Make sure your pet has identification tags with up-to-date information.
- Microchipping your dog is not a requirement, but will give you peace of mind if your dog is “lost” during the trip.
- Items to include in or with your carryon:
- Dog’s prescribed medications (if any; enough for the duration of your trip and several days’ surplus supply, just in case)
- Any requested (by airline) paperwork on your pet needed to fly both in the U.S. and oversees
- A leash, collar and/or harness
- A soft- or hard-shell crate that fits under the seat in front of you
- A blanket (or bedding) for crate
- A toy your dog already enjoys
- Travel food and cool, fresh water (and dishes for both)
- How to avoid airport anxiety for your dog
The actual flight may be a somewhat uneventful for most dogs, but the trip through the airport might cause you both some anxiety. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest these to reduce stress for you and your dog:
- Purchase flights with fewer connections or layovers
- Pick departure and arrival times to avoid extreme heat or cold. For example, planning a nighttime arrival to a hot destination may be better for your pet
- Check into the cabin as late as possible.
There are also things you can do to help your dog have a more comfortable trip. Angela Passman, owner and president at World Pet Travel, says the most important thing your dog should do is get acclimated with their travel carrier.
Angela adds that your pet should walk off any excess energy prior to boarding the flight because there’s “nothing worse than a hyped-up dog.” She said they will travel much better if they expand any nervous energy before they board.
Additional tips about flying with your dog are:
- Your pet’s carrier will have to pass through the security screening along with you. Securely harness your dog so you can safely contain him outside his carrier while it’s being X-rayed or request a special secondary screening that won’t require you to take your dog out of his carrier.
- Try to have your dog go to the bathroom before you head to the airport. Sometimes your dog will need to relieve himself closer to boarding, but no worries. CertaPet – which specializes in providing clinical services to individuals seeking animal-assisted interventions (i.e., service pets, Emotional Support Animals) – lists pet-friendly potty spots (for many popular airports), including where to find them (before and after TSA security) and who can use them.
- Travel Alert – On June 10, the previous, temporary suspension for dogs entering the U.S. from high-risk countries for dog rabies was extended until January 2023. Learn more at CDC.gov..
How much does it cost to fly with your dog?
The price for flying with your dog varies with the airline, destinations and whether your dog flies in the cabin or cargo. There are also extra service charges for stopovers. For in-cabin the charge could be $125 each way, with an additional $125 for a stopover more than four hours. All airlines have a flying with pets section on the websites and will give you the costs. However, if you have a service dog, look on the airlines Service Animal page as the rules are different.
How to fly with a small dog, medium or large dog
There are stringent Federal Aviation Administration rules and things to consider when flying with a dog depending on your dog’s size and age. Airlines have rules about the size and age of dog allowed to fly in the airplane cabin or cargo hold. For example, airlines typically require dogs to be older than two months old for national flights and over four months old and with a rabies vaccination for international flights. Dogs must be below 20 to 25 pounds, depending on the airline.
Small dogs are usually easier to travel with due to their size. They can ride in a carrier under the seat in front of you (or leashed at all times on their owner’s lap if they are a registered/certified service animal only). Pups in carriers must remain in place from the time the aircraft door closes until arrival at the destination gate. Once on board, you and your dog are required by law to follow all directions from flight attendants.
At times, a dog’s size forces owners to fly their pup in the cargo hold. There are stories occasionally reported on how animals flying in the cargo hold are lost, injured or die during commercial flights due to rough handling, poor ventilation and/or extreme hot/cold temperatures. Dogster.com – along with several pet-related organizations – don’t advocate for this method for larger dogs, but sometimes there is no other option. The good news: Less than .01% of pets are harmed in the cargo hold of commercial planes, according to reports from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
If there are no other options, The Humane Society of the United States suggests the following when a dog has to fly in a cargo hold (such as you are moving oversees):
- Use direct flights to avoid unanticipated delays in getting your pet off the plane.
- Travel on the same flight as your pet, when possible, and ask the airline if you can watch your pet being loaded into and unloaded from the cargo hold.
- When you board the plane, notify the captain and at least one flight attendant that your dog is traveling in the cargo hold. The captain may take any special precautions necessary if he/she/they know that a pet is on board.
- Don’t ever ship brachycephalic dogs, such as French bulldogs, Pekingese, Shih Tzus and Boston Terriers, as they are prone to difficult, obstructive breathing because of the shape of their head, muzzle and throat.
- Fit your dog with a collar that can’t get caught in carrier doors and include on it a permanent ID with your name, home address and telephone number, as well as a temporary travel ID with the address and phone number where you or a contact person can be reached.
- Give your dog at least a month before your flight to become familiar with the travel carrier to minimize his stress during the trip.
- Do not give your dog tranquilizers. Both the Humane Society and VCA discourage tranquilizing or sedating your dog without first discussing it with your veterinarian.
- Have a recent photograph of your pet. If lost en route, a photo (digital is fine) of your dog will make it much easier for airline employees to search effectively.
- Upon arrival at your destination, open the carrier as soon as you are in a safe place to examine your pet. If anything seems wrong, take your pet to a veterinarian immediately and ask for the results of the examination in writing, including the date and time.
And last but not least, depending on the airline, you may be limited to the type of and the number of dogs you can travel with, regardless of their location on the plane.