A floofy butt prancing around the airport always turns heads, not just because they're cute, but because people wonder how dogs can travel on an airplane. While many people don't think it's PAWsible to fly with your furry friend, thousands of doggos take flight every day.
We've been traveling with Maya (link to www.instagram.com/minihuskyy) since she was twelve weeks old. She took to the skies at an early age, but we didn't just up and decide to take her on a trip one day. A lot of consideration and preparation went into traveling with her. We've broken down our process and the steps we took to prepare for air travel with Maya.
Before you Fly
Is your dog suited for air travel?
The first step is to ask yourself, will your dog be okay on an airplane? Just as some humans are not built for air travel, not all dogs can manage the stress and anxiety that accompanies air travel. Consider the following: How will your pet handle the roar of the engines during takeoff? Severe air turbulence during flight; a rough landing; being confined to cramped quarters on a full flight; delays on a tarmac; and screaming babies? You might want to consider all of the stressors of travel when thinking of adding Floofy to your reservation. If your dog stresses easily, your dog will be uncomfortable and so will the people around you.
Which method of air travel is right for you and your dog?
There are a few options when choosing to travel via airplane with your furry friend:
1) Check as cargo (crate checking)
2) In-cabin (size and weight dependent)
3) Working dog - either a service animal and/or emotional support animal (ESA)
Check as cargo is the only option for larger dogs that are not working dogs. There are quite a few steps you must take to prepare your dog for the check as cargo option. Requirements to prepare may vary by airline, destination, and age/size of your animal. For this option, it is best to refer to the airline's website for specific details. You will need to have a specific crate size, proper food and water supply, and proper medical records. Airlines typically have a help hotline to call and assist with preparation. If this is the option for you, we highly recommend taking time to research airline pet travel history, their steps and policies, and all of the recommendations provided by that airline.
If your dog meets the size requirements, they will be allowed to travel within an airline-approved pet carrier. The carrier must fit under an airline seat and your dog should be able to stand and turn around comfortably. Some airlines are more lenient with this rule than others, but if your dog does not meet these requirements, then the airline can refuse to let your dog board the aircraft. For in-cabin travel, there is typically a $75-200 fee depending on the airline.
A working dog is either a service animal or an emotional support animal, which are not the same. A service animal is an animal trained to perform a specific task to assist a human with a disability. An emotional support animal (ESA or ESAN) does not need any specific training but must be prescribed by a licensed medical professional to comfort a person. While an ESA does not need a specific training, you should make sure the animal is trained and can be comfortable on an airplane if you choose to travel via air with the animal. ESAs can be outside of a pet carrier, but airlines require that the animal does not interfere with anyone or put anyone in danger. For specific details, refer to the airline's ESA policy on their website - we have linked their pet policies below for your convenience.
(we will write another blog post soon about which airlines we prefer)
Getting Floofy familiarized with its travel carrier:
Practice makes PAWfect. Your dog will be cramped inside of a pet carrier for a few hours, which will certainly not be enjoyable for them. Prior to flying, we suggest getting your dog familiarized with your pet carrier and creating a simulated environment. Place your dog in the pet carrier on a regular basis, for short time periods. Work up to the full duration of a flight. It may also be helpful to take a car ride with your dog inside the carrier. Reward your dog when he or she has been quiet and well behaved.
What to pack?
When packing for a trip, we pack everything Maya will need into our carry-on bag (this bag will be with us the entire trip). Our checklist includes:
1) Travel blanket (for Maya to lay on and to keep her warm if needed, also as a home "comfort" item)
2) Small trainer treats
3) Chew treats (or another treat that lasts a while, preferably non-scented)
4) Water bottle to fill up at the airport
5) Potty pads (just in case)
6) Doggy wipes
7) A day or two worth of food (in case your checked bag gets lost)
8) A non-squeaky toy
9) A copy of medical papers (vaccinations)
11) Poop bags
How to prep the day of your flight?
On the day of travel, you should take a few steps to ensure your dog's utmost comfort during flight. Make sure your dog receives sufficient exercise and outside time, as they will be inside in a confined space for the duration of your flight plus a few hours of airport security and waiting time. The chance of flight delays is always possible as well. Try to limit your dog's food and water consumption just before the flight to avoid uncomfortable bloating during flight and be sure your dog has sufficiently used the bathroom before heading to the airport. Most airports also have a dog relief area. Check your departure and arrival airport’s websites for the location of relief areas.
Upon Arriving at the Airport
Make sure to factor in additional time for pet check-in at the airport. You should check-in with the airline at the main service counter inside the airport (curb-side check counters generally do not assist with animals). The airline will ensure you have proper documentation and that your pet meets the requirements for the chosen method of travel (cargo, in-cabin, or working animal).
If your dog is traveling in-cabin or as a working dog, you will need to accompany your dog through security. We highly recommend TSA Pre-Check because the security process is simplified (you don't need to remove shoes, laptops/electronics, liquids, etc). Place all of your items on the security belt. The last item on the belt should be your dog's carrier. Your dog does NOT go through the x-ray machine (Yes, I have seen this happen before). You will take them out of the bag and carry them through the metal detector with you. Ensure your dog's collar or leash is detached if there is metal on it.
Once you are through security, proceed to your gate and board as usual. Place the carrier under the seat in front of where you will be sitting. The carrier does not need to be pushed all the way under the seat until right before take-off. (Flight attendants will announce when all items must be placed under the seat). Be sure to comfort your dog and give them a treat or two to feel comfortable. Typically we give Maya a chew treat to last a while as we board. Make sure you have the blanket, pet wipes, treats, water, and potty pads accessible in case you need them during the flight.
If your dog is traveling as an ESA or service dog, your dog is allowed to be outside of the carrier. Guide the dog under the seat in front of where you will be sitting and comfort them into a laying down position. If you have a travel blanket, put it on the ground for your dog to lie down on. Your dog also has the option of sitting in your lap. If there is an open seat next to you and the flight attendants don't mind, you can sometimes invite your dog up on the seat. Usually, airlines do not allow this, but occasionally we get lucky and Maya can sit on the seat next to us - we ALWAYS cover the seat and make sure Maya is not actually touching the seat (the travel blanket also works well for this).
Be sure to have necessary items easily accessible - pet wipes, treats, water, and potty pads. Check the ground area to make sure there is nothing around that could harm your pet (peanuts, other harmful snacks, and even medication).
During the flight, do your best to keep your dog comfortable. During take-off and landing, we always give Maya small treats, which will help clear her ears if pressure builds (the act of swallowing will help eliminate the pressure). Give your dog pets and extra attention to ensure their overall comfort. Most of the time, Maya falls asleep because the airplane is dark and any background noise is drowned out by the engine roar. We always give Maya a few treats, but nothing that will make her overly thirsty. We give her ice cubes throughout the flight and usually more water towards the end (when we are closer to the opportunity for her to relieve herself).
One question we are frequently asked is if we use drugs to calm Maya on the airplane. We absolutely do NOT give her any type of sedation drug. If she was not comfortable in the airplane situation we would not put her in the situation. If you are traveling for the first time with your dog and are unsure how they will react, you may want to look into some natural calming options to bring along on the first trip, in case they have a bad reaction to the environment.
As with anything, practice makes PAWfect. The first time traveling with your dog will require research, planning, and patience. Be prepared for the unexpected, and first and foremost, do everything you can to ensure your dog’s comfort and safety.