Guide to Plane Travel With Your Pup

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Guide to Plane Travel With Your Pup

A furry friend is more than just a pet—he or she is a part of the family. If you’re a jet setting paw-rent, luckily long-distance travel is possible with little Fido. All it takes is a little preparation and planning and you’ll be on your way in no time.

If you’re hesitant about your pup’s safety, there’s no need to worry. It’s safe to bring your dog along on your flight, as long as it’s approved by the airline and you take the right precautions based on your dog's size and health. In this guide, we’ll walk you through all you need to know to make sure your best friend’s journey is just as comfortable as yours.

  1. Before Travel
  2. Travel Costs With a Pup
  3. Dog Size: Small + Large
  4. Service Dog Rights
  5. Stress-Free Travel Tips
  6. Packing List For Your Pup

Before Traveling With Your Pup

According to a survey by airfarewatchdog, the top reason people fly with their pets is that they can’t (or simply don’t want to) leave him or her at home. That’s true love! Additional reasons included moving to a new location and the need for emotional support.

There's a lot to consider before planning a trip with your dog, but what's most important is you and your furry friend's safety. Stay in-the-know with health updates around current viruses like the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), regardless of where you're traveling to or from.

Can Dogs Get Coronavirus?

World Health Organization states “At present, there is no evidence that companion animals/pets such as dogs or cats can be infected with the new coronavirus. However, it is always a good idea to wash your hands with soap and water after contact with pets.” Before you make travel plans, it's a good idea to check for updates from the Center for Disease Control

Airline Pet Policies

Airline policies vary by dog size, breed, temperament, and cabin vs. cargo rules, so carefully weigh all options before booking your next mountain getaway or trip to Tahiti.

International Air Transport Association (IATA) has compiled a list of requirements to ensure humane travel conditions on any flight, regardless of the airline. These requirements address food, water, and carriers based on ventilation, size, temperature, and more. Airlines won’t allow your pet to fly if it will be in unsafe conditions.

Plane travel with pup policies.

Most airlines will not allow your pet to fly if they are in a kennel that is too small or if your pet is obviously sick or injured. Always double check your specific airline’s website for up-to-date information and pet policies.

Check With Your Vet

Before embarking on your trip, a check-up with the vet is always a good idea, especially if your pup is senior. In some cases, a certificate of veterinary inspection is required to fly. Make sure your pup is up to date on all of their shots and microchipped for extra safety precautions.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for example, require all dogs entering the United States to be immunized against rabies.

Age and Breed

Most federal regulations require pets to be at least eight weeks old to fly, but be sure to check your destination country for specifics. For example, dogs entering the U.S. on international flights must be at least 16 weeks old.

What breed is your best friend? According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, short-nosed breeds such as “pugs, Boston Terriers, boxers, some mastiffs, Pekingese, Lhasa Apsos, Shih Tzus and bulldogs” are most at risk when flying due to respiratory problems. Some airlines even restrict these breeds.

American Airlines, for example, doesn’t accept “brachycephalic or snub-nosed dogs of any 'mix'” and provides a list of 21 restricted breeds. Check if your airline has specific breed restrictions (they are usually listed online).

Type of Carrier

Airline compliant carriers are made out of hard plastic—the wire or metal crates are not allowed for plane travel. The crate must meet IATA guidelines which include ventilation on the sides, no top door, not collapsible, and more.

Make sure you purchase the right size carrier for your dog. Carrier dimensions and restrictions will vary based on the airline. Be sure your pup has enough space to stand up, turn around while standing, sit, and lie down.

Plane travel approved pet carrier requirements.

It’s a good idea to familiarize your dog with the carrier before taking off on your trip. If your pup isn’t already crate trained, try leaving him or her in there for a couple of hours at a time to prep for long stretches of time with no potty break.

If you are flying in-cabin, most airlines allow for a compliant and soft-sided carrier. Double-check your airline requirements before investing in an airline carrier.

Cost To Fly With Your Pet

Keep in mind that flying with a pet isn’t free. Prepare to pay extra fees, typically around $100-$200+ each way. You’ll also need a compliant pet carrier which can range from $35 to 250 depending on the airline and the size of your dog.

Some airlines restrict animals in the cabin (such as British Airways), while others simply don’t fly animals (like EasyJet or RyanAir). Check your airline costs or restrictions before booking your flight to avoid any scheduling headaches later on.

Dog Size Restrictions

The weight of your dog is important when it comes to plane travel regulations. For most major airlines, small dogs under 20 lbs are typically allowed in the cabin once they’ve been approved. Some major airlines allow large dogs over 20 lbs to travel in the cargo hold area of the plane.

While planning your trip, weigh your pup to be sure you’re meeting the airline requirements or restrictions.

Plane travel dog size requirements.

Traveling With Small Dogs

On most major airlines, your small dog can accompany you within the cabin, as long as you register, pay a fee, and your pup stays in its approved carrier.

Keep in mind the following before booking a flight with your small furry friend:

  • Registration, Fees, and Paperwork: Most airlines limit the number of dogs on board, so it’s best to inform the airline as soon as possible. You’ll have to pay a fee, varying based on the airline, to bring your pet on board. Pet policies also vary by airline, but Delta, for example, requires health and vaccination records as well as a behavior record.
  • Check-in and Security: If you’re bringing your pet in the cabin, you will be required to check-in in person with your pup. Leave ample time since kiosk or online check-in isn’t allowed. Prepare to take your dog out of its carrier to walk through the metal detector, and then your pet may have to undergo a second screening or physical inspection. Your carrier will be sent through security x-rays, then once cleared you can put your pup back in.
  • Carrier and In-Cargo Rules: An approved pet carrier should remain under your seat, where a traditional carry-on bag would go. Carriers are not permitted in the overhead bin or in your lap, and all pups must stay in the carrier at all times. For most major airlines, your pet carrier will count as one piece of carry-on luggage, so pack accordingly.

Flying with a Large Dog

Larger dogs are more difficult to travel with due to size restrictions. If you have a service or emotional support animal, these restrictions typically don’t apply. Because the cargo hold needs to be pressurized to transport animals, some airlines don’t allow pets at all.

Keep in mind the following before booking a flight with your best friend:

  • Registration, Fees, and Paperwork: Documentation varies based on where you’re traveling from and where you’re going. Contact the consulate of the country you are traveling to and your vet to make sure your dog has all the required paperwork, such as health certificates. Travel fees for pets via cargo are usually an additional $100-$200 one-way.
  • Check-in and Security: If your pet is traveling cargo, you’ll have to drop him/her off and pick up in a specific area that’s separate from baggage claim. Check with your airline for the locations and allow for extra time in your travel schedule.
  • Crate Requirements: You’ll likely need to purchase an airline-approved carrier big enough for your large dog to move and stand freely. Crates need to be made of rigid material that does not bend when there’s pressure.

Service Dog Rights

According to the Department of Transportation, a service animal is one that’s “individually trained or able to provide assistance to a person with a disability” or an animal that provides emotional support. If your furry companion is registered as a service or emotional support animal, he or she can legally accompany you onto the cabin of an airplane during flights. Typically, they can travel free of charge, as long as you prepare the paperwork and he/she can fit comfortably on the ground below your seat.  

Plane travel service dog requirements.

If you’re traveling abroad, research whether your destination requires animals to be quarantined upon arrival. Some countries include Australia, Japan, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Singapore, and Iceland. If you have a service animal, you aren’t exempt from the laws of the destination country government.

How To Make The Trip Stress-Free

Plane travel can be stressful for some pups, depending on your dog’s temperament and breed. Follow these tips to make the trip as smooth as possible, to ensure your pup is comfortable:

  • Limit water intake before the flight: Prepare for long stretches of time until your pup can relieve him/herself.
  • Avoid motion sickness: Don’t feed at least three hours before take-off.
  • Tire your pup out: Go on a long run, walk, or dog park trip so your dog is well-exercised and sleepy for the flight.
  • Health check-up: Make sure your dog’s shots and meds are up-to-date before leaving on a long trip or traveling abroad.
  • Make the carrier comfortable: Pack a soft blanket that smells like home to line the crate. Your scent may be calming.
  • Keep anxiety at bay: If you have a scared or anxious dog, check with your vet about the pros and cons to giving him/her a sedative.
  • Research pit stops: Check your destination or connecting airports for designated doggy areas where your pup can relieve him/herself.

Airport Amenities

The AMC lists the top pet-friendly airports in the U.S., some of which include fenced dog parks to grooming spas. Check your departure or destination airport for extra amenities that will make your dog feel happy and extra special. At the very least, pet relief areas are a must when planning your trip.

Vacation Packing List For Your Pup

Check for the essentials before embarking on your trip. While some items are necessary, others are optional to make him or her feel at ease.

The Basics

  • Collar, leash, or harness: Make sure your pup will get from place to place safely.
  • Food and water: Keep little Fido hydrated during travel and pack their regular food to avoid extra stress.
  • Waste bags or scooper: These are essential to clean up after your pup.
  • ID Tags: If anything happens or your dog gets lost, be sure you have identification with your contact info.

Health Care

  • Health or vaccination records: These are required by some airlines or to cross borders.
  • Meds or medical needs: If your pup is older or requires medication, don’t forget these.

For Transit

  • Approved carrier or crate: A requirement by all airlines.
  • Safety restraints: If you’ll be traveling by car, bring an appropriate leash to keep them safe.

Extras

  • Toys or treats: These help to keep your pup occupied during transit.
  • Bed or comfortable blankets: Help your dog feel comfortable with scents from home.
  • Pet-friendly stay options: Check with your hotel or room to make sure your pup is welcome.

Check out our full packing checklist to help you pack your suitcase with your best friend in mind.

Download List

While air travel can be stressful for some pets, it’s completely doable. Do your research with airlines to find the right fit for your travel plans, and most importantly, your furry friend.