Somewhere in the world there is an excited dog flying for the first time. Whether this lucky pooch is flying economy or business class, it’s best to be well prepared for the big day. Flying with your dog takes planning and it’s important to prioritize their needs and follow airline requirements. As a travel writer I have put several jet setting pooches on my flights with happy wagging tails and a sense of adventure. But that is not to say all dogs love to fly, even if they do get a window seat on a private jet.
The Humane Society of the United States advises that if you are traveling by air with your dog, bring your dog in the cabin with you. Transporting a dog companion by air in the cargo area of a plane is controversial with many risks and it can cause extreme stress and anxiety for your dog. Animal welfare organizations advise against it unless absolutely necessary. Therefore, the focus of this article is small dogs that fit safely in a carrier traveling in the main cabin.
Be sure your best furry furriend is up for an airline journey and in good health to travel by visiting your veterinarian. Many airlines require a recent health certificate (often within 10 days of travel) and vaccine records so ensure you have all your paperwork in order, especially because entry requirements may vary by country. Printed copies of everything are always a good idea and knowing the location of the nearest emergency vet clinic in the city you are visiting is important too.
Airline Pet Policies
Not all airlines have the same rules regarding dog travel and some don’t allow them to travel with you in the cabin. If flying WestJet you must call them to book and pay the kennel fee as they limit the number of pets permitted on each flight.
“Pets traveling as carry-on must have room to stand, sit and move naturally in their kennel. Depending on the type of aircraft, you may be required to sit in a window seat due to space limitations beneath non-window seats.” – WestJet
American Airlines allows carry-on pets but they are “limited to cats and dogs that meet the size, age and destination requirements.”
On Air Canada, “Your pet’s carrier must be big enough to allow them to stand up, turn around and lie down safely and comfortably, with no part of them extending outside the carrier. Your pet could be refused travel if the carrier is deemed to be too small for them.”
Other airline policies for dog travel may include breed, weight, and age. Delta Airlines requires dogs be “at least 10 weeks old for domestic travel (and) must be 16 weeks old if traveling to the US from another country and must be at least 15 weeks old when traveling to the European Union.”
For specific country restrictions and rules regarding flight routes always check airline websites.
If dogs can wear trendy and fashionable clothing they can certainly have stylish luggage. Pack their bag with favorite toys and a blanket. Include treats (long lasting ones are good), food, a water bottle (filled after security), dishes or pop-up bowls, chew toys for take-off and landing, and any medications. Bring a roll of poop bags, puppy pee pads, and paper towel in preparation of accidents. Dogs should be wearing secure collars with current ID tags. Don’t forget a leash or safety harness but never leave the leash inside their carrier because your dog could become entangled in it.
When purchasing a carrier, American Airlines recommends soft-sided collapsible kennels that can fit under the seat.“They must be secure, padded, made of water-repellant material and have nylon mesh ventilation on 3 or more sides.”
Preparing For Adventure
Introduce your dog to their carrier a few weeks before your trip with toys and treats so they see it as a cozy and safe place. Proper exercise before leaving for the airport is advised because some airports require dogs to stay in their carrier at all times. Before boarding, visit the airport pet relief area. The United States Department of Transportation requires all airports to have animal relief areas for passengers traveling with service animals, and now airports across the country have created potty areas available to all traveling pets. These range from a small grassy spot to hyped up doggy parks. If you get lucky your pooch will have one with a bright and colorful fire hydrant.
It’s advised to reduce water and food a few hours before your flight or as directed by your vet. Some experts suggest a small sip of water right before dogs enter their carrier. Smaller meals leading up to the flight may reduce risk of an upset stomach.
Whenever possible, book a direct flight and avoid plane changes to reduce stress and anxiety. Try to avoid busy travel days and fly off season if possible. On longer flights consider flying overnight when your dog is in their natural sleep cycle. Airports can be stressful and it’s important that during delays you remain calm and positive. Dogs (and all animals) pick up on our stress levels, so put on a smile and do your best to go with the flow.
American Veterinary Medical Association warns that because short-nosed dog breeds are more prone to respiratory problems, flying on a plane with them can be deadly. “In July 2010, the US Department of Transportation released statistics that showed short-nosed breeds of dogs—such as pugs, Boston Terriers, boxers, some mastiffs, Pekingese, Lhasa Apsos, Shih tzus and bulldogs—are more likely to die on airplanes than dogs with normal-length muzzles.”
If your dog is one of these breeds or too big to fit safely in a carrier in the main cabin, you may want to consider a fun road trip adventure as an alternative to flying.