Flying with your dog can be one of the best adventures you’ll ever have. There’s nothing like traveling with your best friend, even those with four paws! If you’re an anxious flyer, bringing your pup along can also ease your nerves and make travel easy and exciting.
How do you fly with your dog? Flying with your dog requires knowledge of airline animal policies for in-cabin and cargo travel, a checklist of items to bring along, as well as, up-to-date ID tags and veterinary records.
While there’s a lot to consider before taking your furry friend along for a trip, it can be one of the most rewarding experiences. This guide will cover everything from general considerations, such as deciding to ship your pet via cargo or bringing it in the cabin, to airline policies for traveling with pets.
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) provides up-to-date information and guidelines for traveling with your pet.
Considerations Before Deciding to Travel with Your Dog
The first thing you need to do when deciding whether to take your dog on a plane is whether your four-legged friend is up for a trip. Before booking that ticket, make sure your pet is comfortable with travel. If your dog has an illness, injury, or is older or ill-tempered, it may be best to leave them at home, at a boarding facility, pet resort, or with a sitter.
(One quick side note on pet resorts. I’ve used these pet resorts before and let me tell you, I’m pretty sure my dog had a more lavish vacation than our family did. These resorts usually offer lots of activities and pampering for your dog, including daily laundered beds, swimming, dog massages, and other one on one attention. )
Don’t forget to make sure your dog’s identification tags and microchip information is up to date. If you don’t have a microchip, get one, and keep the tag on your dog’s collar.
Take these additional things into consideration when deciding to travel with your pet:
Will Your Dog be Allowed Where You’re Staying?
If your accommodations at your destination are already set, make sure your dog can come along. If you’re staying with friends or family, ask them ahead of time to make sure your fur baby is welcome.
Look into hotel pet policies when making reservations. Some hotels allow pets, and some do not. Call ahead before making reservations to ensure your pet can stay there (there may be a fee involved).
If you’re going camping, research pet-friendly spots and keep your pet on a leash at all times. Be considerate of other campers and clean up after your dog. Don’t let your dog get too close to wildlife, either. It can quickly become a dangerous situation for you and your dog. It’s also wise, if camping, to make sure that your dog is on medication for fleas, ticks, and heartworm.
Should You Fly Your Dog in the Cabin or Cargo?
Once you’ve decided your pet is coming along, you need to decide whether you want to take them in the cabin or check them in the cargo. Flying your dog in-cabin is often determined by the size of your dog and the airline’s policy. Small dogs are typically able to fly in the cabin, while larger dogs have to be checked.
As a general rule of thumb, having your pet in-cabin is typically safer. It sounds scary to check your dog, but airlines have strict policies regarding cargo transport of animals, making it as safe as possible. Be sure to ask the airline specifically about their pet handling policies.
Is My Dog’s Breed Allowed to Fly?
Certain dog breeds are not allowed by many airlines, and the AVMA recommends certain breeds don’t fly as well. According to the AVMA, about half of the 122 dog deaths associated with airline flights in the last five years involved short-nosed breeds.
Short-nosed breeds, including pugs, Boston terriers, boxers, mastiffs, Pekingese, Shih Tzus, and bulldogs are often not allowed to fly. Many of these breeds cannot regulate body temperature and are more prone to respiratory problems. If your pup is one of these breeds, consider alternate transportation or leave your furry friend at home or a posh pet resort.
Airline Pet Policies
Every airline has its own policy about traveling with animals. Some restrict the number of pets allowed on any flight and hand out spots on a first-served basis, so try to book early. Most airlines also ask you to pay a fee each way to add a pet to your reservation, ranging from $75-$200. Checking or shipping a pet can cost several hundred dollars.
Most airlines also require you to call their reservation hotline to book a pet, but some offer an online system. Every airline has a unique policy; review it before booking.
IMPORTANT TOOL: Bring Fido provides a detailed list of pet policies for different airlines, but always double-check your airline’s website for the most up-to-date information.
Airline Pet Travel Restrictions
While restrictions and guidelines vary per airline, these general restrictions are nearly the same across the board:
- Pets must be at least eight weeks old to fly in the cabin and checked.
- In-cabin carriers must be a certain dimension to be able to fit under the airplane seat, and the pet has to have enough room to stand up and move around. See each airline’s policy for specific dimensions.
- Most airlines have a weight restriction for in-cabin animal travel. If your dog weighs more than 20 pounds, it may have to fly in the baggage.
- Carriers count as a carry-on item, meaning you’ll only have one personal item to have in the cabin with you. Pack smart!
- Most airlines don’t allow pets to travel in the exit row.
- Some airlines don’t accept dogs in the cargo hold, while some don’t allow dogs in the cabin.
- Some codeshares have their own restrictions. Contact your airline for more information.
- Certain airlines have breed restrictions as well.
- You may have to get a veterinarian-signed health certificate and/or acclimation certificate to fly with your dog.
Health and Acclimation Certificates
In many cases, your pet must be examined by an accredited veterinarian to receive a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection. This tells the airline that your pet is healthy and ready to fly. Certain vaccinations also need to be up to date, including rabies. Your vet may also prescribe preventative medicine for heartworm if your dog is not already actively treated.
For dogs traveling in cargo, some airlines require an acclimation certificate, which can only be completed by a federally accredited veterinarian. This certificate will waive a federal regulation regarding low temperatures in the cargo hold.
According to the AVMA, if the airline can’t guarantee an animal won’t be in temperatures lower than 45 degrees for more than 45 minutes OR more than four hours when a pet is being transferred from the plane or in a holding facility, your pet will not be allowed to fly without an acclimation certificate.
Choosing Your Flight with Fido
Reserving the best flight possible will ensure a safe and comfortable experience for you and your pet. Book early to ensure your pet can get a spot on the plane. These tips from the AVMA website will help you find a great flight:
If Possible, Get a Direct Flight
Flying is tough on a dog (especially those in the cargo hold). The shorter the travel period, the less stress your dog will experience. Handlers aren’t always the gentlest with baggage, so the fewer amount of times your pup in cargo will encounter baggage handlers, the better.
Consider the Weather and Time of Year
In the winter, choose a flight during the day to avoid extreme cold and low temperatures for your pet in the cargo hold. In the summer, find a flight early in the morning or late evening to avoid sweltering temperatures.
Avoid traveling with your pet during the holidays. Busy airports can add stress to an already stressful situation for your furry friend. This will also minimize the chance of something going wrong.
Don’t Book Your Flight Until You Know Your Pet Can Come
One of the biggest mistakes is booking a flight and then trying to add your pet to the reservation – only to find all available pet spots have been taken. The number of pets in each cabin is limited on airplanes to improve the comfort of all travelers onboard. Do not book your flight until you know that your pet can grab a spot.
Consider Your Destination and Potential Restrictions
International travel comes with its own restrictions. If you’re heading out of your home country, consult the foreign embassy or consulate about pet travel regulations at least a month in advance. Some countries (and Hawaii, which is a rabies-free state), require animal quarantines upon arrival.
The Pet Travel Essentials Checklist
Flying with your four-legged buddy means you need to be prepared for all situations. Use this list of essentials to pack for your trip:
- A comfortable airline-approved dog carrier or crate
- Pet identification: up-to-date tag and photos
- Medical records and health certificate, if necessary
- Acclimation certificate, if necessary
- Your vet’s contact information
- A list of vets and 24-hour emergency clinics at your destination
- Medications: enough for your trip and a few day’s surplus
- Collar, leash, harness
- Food and water (and dishes!)
- Animal first aid kit
Crates and Carriers
Whatever container your pet is in must be in good condition when you arrive at the airport. Most airlines will reject your carrier if it has cracks or shows other signs of wear and tear that might allow your dog to escape or injure itself.
Cargo crates should have strong handles or grips, have a leak-proof bottom padded with absorbent material, have ventilation on opposite sides, and should have a sign with “live animal” and arrows showing which way is upright and clearly labeled with your name, address, destination, and contact information.
Preparing Your Dog to Fly
Traveling with your pet begins long before the drive to the airport. Make a plan and pack ahead of time.
Weeks Before Your Flight
As some airlines require a health certificate to fly (many times no longer than a month to 10 days before the travel date), schedule a visit with your vet. Make sure your dog is up to date on immunizations and healthy enough to fly.
Buy a pet carrier ahead of time and familiarize your dog with it at home. While at home, bring the carrier out and let your dog explore the space. Put treats inside and let it get comfortable. This will ease some of the stress your pet may experience on the day of travel. Feel free to put a shirt or towel with your scent on it in the crate. This can help with stress as well.
The Day of Travel
Feed your pet lightly, and don’t feed it sooner than four hours ahead of time. You don’t want any accidents mid-flight! Dogs can go anywhere from 6-10 hours without food, so no need to worry about your fur baby going hungry. Don’t change your pet’s food before a flight or give any new treats as it can cause an upset tummy on the flight.
Exercise is very important on travel day! Walk your pet as much as possible before boarding and as close to the flight time as possible – find a place to walk, relieve, and get some fresh air. You can walk your pet outside, at a park on the way to the airport, or inside near a pet relief area.
Should I Sedate My Dog for Air Travel?
Many pet owners over the years have sedated their dogs to reduce anxiety and keep it drowsy during air travel, but it’s a gray area. Today, some airlines ask you to submit a signed statement that you have not sedated your dog. Regarding sedation and tranquilization, the AVMA states:
“In most cases, it’s not recommended that pets be sedated for air travel. Discuss this with your veterinarian well in advance of your expected travel date. If your veterinarian recommends tranquilization for your pet, be sure to follow the veterinarian’s exact dosing recommendation.”
What to Do When You Arrive at the Airport with Your Dog
You did it! You booked your flight with your pup, acclimated him with his carrier, and lightly fed him, and now it’s time to get to the airport!
If your dog is traveling in the plane’s cabin, arrive early to allow ample time to exercise. However, if your dog is getting checked, arrive as late as possible to decrease the time it’s stuck in the cargo hold.
Checking in With Your Dog
To check-in with your pet, you usually have to go to the airline’s customer service desk and not the self-serve kiosks. The desk agent will ask for your dog’s health certificate or vet records (if required). If you and your furry friend are traveling in-cabin together, you’ll be on your way to security.
If you’re checking your dog as baggage, make sure you’ve attached a current photo to the outside, and keep one with you just in case. Attach a small bag of food as well so airline personnel can feed it in case of delays.
Bringing Your Dog Through Security
Once at security, take off your shoes and jacket and take out your laptop/electronics before handling your dog. You have to remove your dog from the carrier and take off metals (leash/harness) and you’ll carry it with you through the metal detector.
Oftentimes, TSA will also swab your hands since you can’t go through the big metal detector. It’s a simple process that takes a few seconds. If you plan on traveling with your dog a lot, consider signing up for TSA Pre-Check. You won’t have to take electronics out, and you can keep your shoes on, making security easier on you and your pet.
At the Terminal with Your Pet
You’ve checked in, made it through security, and now it’s almost time to board the plane. Keep in mind that busy airports are strange and unnerving for furry friends. Do what you can to comfort your dog and help them avoid tension.
Hopefully, you’ve gotten to the airport early enough to exercise your dog and take it to a relief station. Immediately take your pet to the bathroom once you arrive to avoid any accidents in the middle of the airport and take it back right before boarding. If you don’t have outdoor access, this list from Pet Friendly Travel provides a map of relief stations at airports in the U.S.
On the Plane with Pets
As you board, notify the flight attendant(s) that your pet is in the cabin. If your dog is in the cargo hold, try to reserve a seat near the front of the plane so you can get off more quickly upon landing. Consider this with in-cabin pets as well so you can get to a relief station quickly at your destination.
Once the plane lands and you’re off, take your pet immediately to a relief station or outside. If your pet is in cargo, head straight to pick up your pet and take it outside for a walk. If you have a layover and are flying in-cabin with your pet, walk it in the layover terminal and visit a relief area if there is one.
If you need a rental car or taxi, make sure your company or driver allows dogs. Lyft and Uber leave the decision up to the driver to allow animals.
If you’re going to be very busy, set up a dog walker to make sure your pet is getting enough exercise while you are out and about in places that don’t allow animals. Services like Rover work well for this and are available in most destinations in North America.
Check whether you can get your dog’s regular food at your destination. If not, make sure to pack some or order online and ship it to your destination before arriving.
Happy and safe travels!!!