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Dog in Flight: Safety tips for planning to fly with your dog

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It’s hard to believe, but the holiday travel season is just around the corner. If you’re planning a Christmastime vacation this year, you’re probably looking at booking your flight sooner than later. As a dog owner, you probably want to bring your buddy with you but might be a bit apprehensive or even uncertain of how to fly your pet with you. Having a dog in flight can be nerve wracking, but good planning can make for smooth skies. 

Because of tragic events involving dogs and flights that made the headlines recently, you might be afraid to let your dog fly with you. We love dogs; they are our business. We would never minimize the loss of a pet or the horrible things that have happened to dogs on flights over the past few months. 

Here, however, is a startling fact. The US Department of Transportation reports that a staggering number of almost 2 million live animals fly in the United States every year. The overwhelming majority of pets that fly each year make it to their vacation destination safe and sound without incident. 

I recently researched this subject while planning my own vacation. The bottom line for flying your dog safely is that it takes months of planning and preparation on your part. Here are a few hints to help you plan.


Book by phone

Ok, I admit it’s easier to click a few buttons to secure your flight. However, you should call the airline directly to an agent with the airline. Make sure that they are 100% aware that you are bringing a dog. Ask all their policies.

You might be surprised that dogs are classified as “cargo” for those too large to carry on or “baggage” for dogs you can fly in carry-on kennels under your seat. Knowing this in advance will help you ask the right questions to determine if you can keep your dog in the cabin with you.

In addition, there will be a pet fee incurred that’s beyond the price of your ticket. These fees vary from airline to airline.

Keep note of the agent’s name, date, time of call, and any pertinent information. Keep your receipts and remember to bring all this vital information with you to keep handy when you check in for your flight. If at any time, a desk agent or flight attendant instructs you to do anything that doesn’t sound quite right, speak up. Respectfully state that you weren’t advised of a procedure and give them the booking agent’s name and the details of your conversation with him. It’s up to you to protect the safety of your dog.

Book A Non-Stop Flight

If at all possible, book a non-stop flight. This will eliminate the chance of your dog ending up with the wrong baggage. If a non-stop isn’t possible from your destination, look into booking a flight out of a larger nearby airport. The extra driving time to the airport is well worth the peace of mind and your dog’s safety.

Purchase a Flight Kennel Early

One policy you’ll find across the board is the requirement to have a TSA-approved in-flight kennel. Your pet must remain in this kennel throughout his time in travel. This is federal level policy, and it’s an investment you must make. The only exception to this is for service animals.

Purchase this kennel well in advance and let your dog get used to the kennel for shorter periods of time to help him adjust to that unfamiliar environment. This will help him avoid extra stress.

Shots and Records

You might have the friendliest dog in the world. But, remember that your pet is treated as cargo and is subject to inspection. To ensure the wellness of all pets and people, vaccines are part of the process. Plus, the stress of being examined by a strange man in a uniform could make even the most mellow of pups become a biter. Shots are mandatory so check over medical records carefully and take care of those shots early to avoid last minute confusions. Keep the shot records in your carry-on with you at all times.

Pet ID Needs

Of course, our entire If It Bark team believes that pets should always wear proper identification tags. However, it’s doubly important when your pet is flying. In addition to wearing id on his collar, make sure your pet’s information is up-to-date with the National Microchip Registry . The microchip is important in case your dog somehow escapes his collar while he’s not under your care.

Finally, make sure to have identification on your pet’s kennel. A luggage hang tag can come loose, so a printed shipping label stuck across the top of the carrier is recommended.

Pet Supplies

Pack a few supplies for your pet. Right before and after you put him on a plane, give her a light snack and a drink of water. You’ll need to slip a few basic supplies into your own carry-on bag:

  • small baggie of treats
  • collapsible water/food bowl
  • poop clean-up bags (because it happens!)
  • small zip top bag of food (in case a flight is canceled, and you need to head to a hotel)
  • some folded up paper towels
  • leash
  • pet medications

Purchase these supplies in advance so you can pack them easily when you get ready to leave for the airport.

Flight Day!

Have a plan in your mind to your flight day. Bear in mind that your dog could possibly go hours without food, drink, or a place to relieve his bladder.

  • Food and water: Plan to rise early enough to feed your dog a very light feeding, just enough that he’s not uncomfortable from an empty stomach. Hydration is more important than feeding, and you should give him a good drink of water before you leave home.
  • Pet Medicine : If your dog takes medications, stick to the normal schedule on flight day.
  • Carry-on Bag: Also, check to make sure you have packed the needed booking information, shot records, and pet supplies that you need in your carry-on bag. Don’t leave home without these!
  • Exercise: Some airports have a small exercise area for pets or at least a strip of green grass. Allow your pet to relieve herself before checking in for your flight.
  • Boarding: If you have a larger dog who will fly with the cargo, make sure his kennel is well-secured. Say goodbye to him as he boards very naturally, and don’t let him pick up on any of your fears. He might already be anxious at this point. If you have a small dog who is “carry-on”, be ready at security checks to handle him calmly and keep a firm hold. Don’t let curious people pet her as she is probably already stressed out.
  • Post-flight: After the flight, get your dog outside to relieve himself asap. Don’t scold if he’s had an accident, it’s natural. Keep him secured by leash or kennel at all times as you make your way to that awesome destination.

Fly with Confidence!

When you’ve done all this planning, you’ll be able to fly with confidence knowing that you’ve done everything possible to secure safe passage for your beloved pet. The airlines do want to get both you and your pet to your destination safely.

So, how did my dog’s flight go? My little guy flew under my seat in his carry-on kennel. He contentedly snoozed away the entire flight. All of my anxiety about how he’d react to being stuffed under an airplane seat for 3 hours was unfounded. Turns out, he was cooler about it than I was. And the vacation? He found it very relaxing.