To fly or not to fly—that is the question faced by thousands of pet owners itchin’ to get away this summer.
Luckily, we’ve got you covered with everything you need to know before you book Fido’s flight. Read on to make preparations for a (mostly) stress-free and unforgettable plane trip with your dog.
1. Choose your airline wisely
Not all airlines are created equal. Pet protocols run the gamut from enforcing no-dogs-allowed policies to welcoming canines with open arms.
Because every airline has a different approach to pets, flying with your dog requires a bit of research. Compare several airlines policies on pet travel: what kind of fees can you expect? What type of carrier will you need? How much advance notice does the airline require? Will your pup be able to stay with you in the cabin?
Some airlines employ size and breed restrictions, and others require a vet-approved certificate of health for dogs to fly. Keep in mind that policies can change overnight, so it’s good practice to give your airline a ring every time you plan to travel with your dog.
2. Book early
Anyone who’s ever flown sandwiched between two strangers for several unpleasant hours knows this undeniable truth: planes have finite space. They can only fit so many dogs on each flight—usually just one or two. Before you buy your ticket, call the airline to confirm there’s still a space for your dog.
3. Fly direct
Make life easier by booking a direct flight, if you can. Dragging your poor pooch through a crowded O’Hare is never good for your nerves (or your dog’s nerves, for that matter). If a non-stop flight isn’t in the cards, try booking on a weekday when airports are less busy.
If your dog is traveling in the cargo hold, remember that it can get uncomfortably hot or cold in there, depending on the weather. In the sticky heat of summer, fly in the morning or evening. In the winter, travel midday to avoid extreme temperatures.
4. To check or not to check
Whether or not your dog will travel with you in the cabin depends largely on his size. If he’s on the smaller side—say, under 20 pounds—he should be able to fit in a carrier under the seat in front of you.
One of the pros of in-cabin travel is the peace of mind it will give you. You’ll know how your dog is doing at all times. On the other hand, sometimes knowing how your dog is doing at all times can cause more stress than peace. If your dog is particularly barky or you’re concerned about his potty habits, keeping your dog close-by could be agonizingly stressful.
Your other option is to check your dog into the cargo hold. Not every airline offers this option, so if you have a larger dog, check ahead of time. The Humane Society of the United States warns travelers to be prudent if they plan to check their pets into cargo. For the most part, pets will enjoy an easy flight, free of incident. But, unfortunately, several tragedies have occurred over the years, so do your homework and look into an airline’s performance history before committing to a flight.
5. Prepare the right crate
Flying with your dog in-cabin? A soft-sided carrier is your best bet. If you’re unsure if a carrier will underneath the seat in front of you, remove all doubt by purchasing a carrier directly from the airline.
For folks flying their dog in cargo, choose a crate large enough for your dog to stand and turn around in. Keep the door securely closed, but don’t lock it. You want airline personnel to have access to your dog, in the event of an emergency.
Whether in-cabin or in-cargo, carriers should be labeled with your name and cell number. Line the floor with absorbent towels (just in case), and consider securing a small bag of dog food to the outside of the crate, so airline employees can feed your dog during an extended layover.
The ASPCA advises pet owners to advocate for their dog’s safety. Don’t be afraid to vocalize any concerns, and alert flight attendants that you have a pet in cargo. The more people who are aware of your dog’s presence, the safer he’ll be.
A final word about pet carriers: introduce them to your dog ahead of time. Weeks before your travel date, take little trips in the carrier, and let your dog familiarize himself with it. Always shower your dog with praise and treats when he’s calmly enjoying his crate.
6. Double-check your dog’s ID tags
Before you jet off on your grand adventure, make sure your dog’s ID tags are legible and up-to-date. If time permits, get your dog microchipped (if he isn’t already). Microchipping is a safe and noninvasive way to prevent your dog from becoming permanently lost.
7. Visit the vet
Get the all-clear from your vet before boarding. If you have any reservations about your dog’s health when it comes to air travel, your vet should be your first stop. He or she can advise you on whether or not your pooch will be able to handle the stress of flying. You can also make sure his vaccinations are up-to-date, and obtain a health certificate, which may be required in certain states.
8. Pack a doggie bag
Be prepared for anything by packing a bag with doggo essentials. Include treats, food and water, feeding bowls, toys, a leash, poop bags, any medications your dog takes, and his medical paperwork.
9. Fly on a (mostly) empty stomach
No one wants a pup with an upset tummy, so avoid feeding him right before your flight. If it’s feasible, aim for a meal about four hours before takeoff.
It’s equally important to get some exercise in before your dog is stuck in his crate for the long haul. A nice walk will tire him out and keep him calm during travel.
10. Plan potty breaks
Once you’re on the plane, there’s nothing that can be done about Fido’s full bladder, so give him plenty of outdoor time to do his business beforehand. Did you know that many airports actually have “pet relief stations?” They’re exactly what they sound like—a small area with fake grass and baggies. Beyond brilliant, if you ask me.
11. Board early to get settled
Traveling with a dog can be tedious, so take full advantage of your airline’s early boarding option. If they call for people who need extra time boarding, this includes you! Get to your seat before the mad rush so you don’t need to climb over passengers with your clunky dog carrier.
Traveling with pets can be overwhelming—but it doesn’t have to be. Plan ahead, be prepared and follow these guidelines for a comfy and safe trip. Happy traveling!