Booking a flight for your pooch isn’t quite the same as flying by yourself or your family. If you plan on taking a trip with your dog in tow, you’ll want to be sure you research the process ahead of time—possibly even months in advance. From federal aviation regulations to the rules and restrictions imposed by individual airline carriers, it's important to check all of the boxes to ensure a smooth flight for both you and your dog. And, of course, you'll want to know how to keep your pet comfortable and safe during what can often be a stressful experience. Here are some tips for flying with your dog.
Do Your Homework
For starters, be sure to add your pet when you book your ticket. Depending on your destination, you may have to get your dog tested or undergo a waiting period (this is primarily for international destinations or states such as Hawaii), and so you’ll have to get started several weeks if not months before your flight.
It’s always a good idea to check in with your vet and get the okay for your dog to fly, particularly if they have certain health conditions or any other issues that could be exacerbated by the stress of travel. Most airlines are going to want to see a health certificate from your pet’s veterinarian, anyway. Dogs must be at least eight weeks old and in good health to be allowed on most airlines, and they will likely request proof that your dog’s vaccinations are up-to-date (rabies in particular).
And be prepared for a bit of sticker shock: the fees for flying with your pet can range from as little as $100 to as much as $600 (or more) depending on the airline, the size of your dog, and the destination. Carry-on pets are usually more expensive to pay for than checked pets.
The rules may vary between airlines as well, so it’s important to check in with your airline to ensure that you are meeting their requirements. Some airlines may charge a one-way fee for small dogs, and have specific requirements for the size of your animal as well as the type of carrier they can fly in. Larger breeds will likely be subject to “excess baggage” fees and their carrier will also be subject to inspection to ensure that the airline's requirements are met.
Know Your Rights
If you happen to be considering a flight with your service dog, be sure to brush up on both state and federal regulations that may apply. The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) allows any properly trained service animal to be able to provide assistance to a person with a disability during a flight. Though service dogs typically don’t require documentation, the majority of airlines do have several requirements for support animals that must be met, so you’ll want to be sure to meet these requirements before you check in for your flight. Service and therapy dogs are also treated differently from airline to airline, although many will let a service dog fly with you in the cabin at no additional cost.
When flying with service animals, the airline might require documentation from a physician as well as ample notice (at least 48 hours) prior to your flight. They may even require documentation that your dog can either go without using the bathroom (or can do so in a sanitary manner) for longer flights.
Don’t Forget Bathroom Breaks
Your dog can't just pop into the restroom before the flight — and once onboard, it won’t be ideal for your pet to relieve themselves — so an advance potty plan is always a good idea. Depending on the size (and bathroom needs) of your pet, you may want to bring a potty pad and maybe even a small trash bag with you, just in case. A preflight walk is always a great idea whenever possible (some airports may even have a dog park or other play area for your pet).
It’s also a good idea to avoid feeding your dog right before the flight, or offering any sort of “people food” or other treats that may upset their stomach while they're in the air. A general rule of thumb is to offer your pet’s meal about four hours before the flight.
Strategically Book Your Seat
It’s not a bad idea to book your seat well in advance, and you may want to make it a window seat. If your dog is small enough to fit in a carrier that will be stowed under the seat in front of you, a window seat can ensure that you're not infringing upon the legroom of your fellow travelers. When flying with a larger animal (such as a service dog), you may want to arrange for a seat with extra legroom or ask your airline about other options to allow your dog to fit in front of you without blocking the aisle.
Keep in mind that airlines have regulations that will not allow dogs to block the aisle for safety reasons, and they are not required to upgrade your seat to accommodate your pet.
Keep Them Cozy
Flying is stressful for both humans and canines alike, so it’s important to plan ahead to ensure that your dog remains as comfortable as relaxed as possible throughout your journey. Be sure to invest in an appropriately-sized carrier that your dog can turn around in. You may also consider taking a blanket or special toy that smells like home (particularly if your dog won’t be flying in the cabin with you).
If your dog isn’t used to traveling in a carrier, you’ll also want to take some time in the weeks before your flight to help them acclimate to the tight space (try offering meals in the carrier as well as rewards for any time spent in there). Talk to your vet about any other anxiety-reducing strategies that might be necessary for your pet, including calming medications for particularly nervous dogs.