Whether it’s a family visit, emergency, move or something else: traveling with a dog by plane can be stressful whatever the reason. Not only do you have to make sure you know the rules in and out to avoid unexpected charges or being refused to board, you also need to figure out how to keep the whole thing as low-stress as possible for your furry friend.
Worried about an upcoming trip? No worries: these 7 dog travel tips will make traveling with a dog by plane less daunting.
Before we start…
We want to make it clear that taking your dog on a plane trip shouldn’t be something to take lightly. Being ripped from its familiar surroundings, stuffed in a travel crate, the sounds and sensations on a plane, the unfamiliar people… this stuff is pretty hard on your pooch. If you just want to go on a holiday, we strongly urge you to reconsider.
Although we all want to have our pets with us all the time, this is one of those cases where having a friend stay over or hiring a pet sitter is the preferable option, unless there is really no alternative.
If you’re in the Maryland or Washington DC area, we can help out! Have a look at our Services page to see whether we make a good fit.
7 important dog travel tips
1. Try to choose cabin
If you do need to travel by plane with your dog, bringing him or her along in the cabin as a carry-on is the best option. The cargo hold should be safe, but can be terrifying for your pet, with the added disadvantage of you not being present to calm them down. If there’s no avoiding it, at least check whether the cargo hold is climate controlled. You can also check air travel consumer reports to ensure you choose an airline with few incidents.
Traveling with your dog in the cabin tends to cost around $100-125, although it can vary drastically by airline.
2. Choose a calm flight
Avoid traveling during the busiest times (some airlines even prohibit traveling with a pet entirely over the holidays). Make sure you get a direct flight to avoid the hassle of a transfer and try to fly when the weather isn’t expected to be extremely cold or hot.
By the way, it’s also handy to book early: there’s usually a maximum number of pets allowed on a flight. Ensure you have absolute confirmation that the reservation for your dog has been made correctly.
3. Check the regulations
They can vary vastly between different airlines! To avoid surprises, dive into your chosen airline’s rules for traveling with a pet or pick the airline based on whose regulations you’re most comfortable with.
A few things to check for include:
- Unfortunately, dogs often can’t travel as carry-on unless their crate can fit under the seat in front of you. Some airlines allow do allow larger breeds as cargo. Others choose not to let them travel at all.
- Some snub-nosed breeds are partially or entirely banned from flying due to health concerns.
- Whether your dog is allowed to fly can depend on your destination (or origin, if you’re flying from a country that’s considered high risk for rabies).
- You may have to arrive a certain amount of hours before your flight or drop your pooch off at a designated point if it’s flying cargo. You can’t always check-in online.
- Some countries have additional steps to follow after bringing in a pet, like a mandatory quarantine period. Take a peek beforehand if you’re flying internationally.
4. Follow the rules
This can include some things that you need to organize beforehand, like your dog’s vaccinations being up to date and listed properly in their vaccination passport. There are also usually rules as to the types of carriers your pooch can travel in, and a chip is mandatory pretty much everywhere.
Are you having trouble figuring out what to do? Give the airline a ring to prevent being turned away at the gate.
5. Check with a vet
Try to find a veterinarian who has experience helping people who are planning to travel with their dog. Having someone to guide you through the health-related parts of air travel with a dog (health check-up, chip, vaccines, etc.) can make things much easier.
6. Prepare a comfy kennel
Whether your furry friend is traveling in the cabin or hold, you want them to be as comfortable as possible. Include some familiar items in the kennel, like a favorite bed or toy. Food and water will be needed, especially if your dog will be in the hold. Most importantly? Make sure you’ve got plenty of puppy pads.
If your dog isn’t 100% comfortable in a kennel yet, some training is in order. You want them to be as relaxed as possible when the time comes to catch that flight, because sedation won’t be an option in most cases. This is because the effect of sedatives on dogs at high altitudes isn’t entirely known, so it’s generally recommended against.
Did you know? Speaking of comfort: many airports in the US have pet relief areas.
7. Have a Plan B
Sometimes things just don’t work out. For example, during the dead of winter or the hottest summer months, you may find yourself being turned away last minute because it would be unsafe to place your pet in the cargo hold. Also, make sure you have a recent photo of your dog with you, as well as one attached to its kennel.
We can’t always have a plan B in place, but what we’re trying to say is, try to think ahead as much as possible. For example, why not save the phone number for a vet at your destination in case your dog doesn’t react well?
After reading through these dog travel tips, you can probably see why we recommend leaving your dog at home if possible. A small number of incidents do happen every year. And from experience, we can tell you that bringing a pet can make the travel experience infinitely more stressful – for both of you.
If you do decide to go for it, just make sure you’re prepared. I flew with a pet once and I could have recited the airline’s animal regulations for you from memory! By reading up on things and contacting the airline, you can minimize the risk of nasty surprises.