Flying with dogs

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flying with dogs

flying with dogs

While summer officially starts on June 21 each year, the busy travel season is definitely underway well before that. According to Bankrate, 63% of adults in the US plan on traveling this summer. And that had me thinking, will their pets be coming along? Will people be flying with dogs? With cats? According to Forbes, 66% of U.S. households (86.9 million homes) own a pet, so pet owners will need to start thinking about all the logistics involved with traveling with a pet or finding proper care for them while they are gone. If you know me, you know the latter option is not my favorite, as I even wrote a book titled No Pet Left Behind and my philosophy has always been to do what you love in the places you love with the people and pets you love. But I understand the difficulties involved with traveling with a pet in today’s world, especially when flying is involved.

As a former flight attendant and the woman who is responsible for changing the policy to allow pets in the passenger cabin of airplanes, it is sad for me to say this, but air travel might not be the best option this summer if you are traveling with your pet. I was not surprised when I read The New York Times article that discussed the frustration pet owners are feeling with flying with dogs, so much, that the ones who can afford it are opting for a private jet to fly their pet! I, too, have experienced those frustrations while flying this year with my dog, KoKo. The delays, the cancellations, and the disorganization on top of the increasing costs, it is just becoming too much. I know we can do better and am making it my mission to continue to work with the airline industry to improve traveling with pets, as I know that not everyone has the luxury of flying their pets on a jet!

In the meantime, I hope pet owners find that traveling with their pet in the car can be enjoyable and easier and consider making travel plans that are in driving distance so their pet can join in on the fun. Just remember, the journey starts at home. What I mean is you can’t just expect a pet to transition to a car (or plane) without proper training that needs to be done at home. From day one, it is your job as a pet parent to train your pet. If you are like me, and know you want to travel with your pet, the training might be more rigorous. Only you will know if your pet is ready to go on adventures with you after you put in the time at home! I previously shared tips on how to get your pet accustomed to traveling whether it be by car, train, foot, or plane!

If you are opting to travel with your pet by car, I want to share with you the best way to travel with your pet in the car. AAA wrote a great article, that is on my website, that provides great information including how pets should be seated/restrained, how to prevent motion sickness, how frequently you should stop for breaks, and more. I highly recommend reading the article!

I would love to know if you plan on flying with dogs this summer, or maybe you’ll go by train or car with your furbaby or furbabies? I will be traveling to Paris at the end of the summer, so air travel is a must for KoKo and me, but with every trip I take, know that I am trying to make the industry standard for pet travel better for us all!


Flying with dogs checklist

When you are flying with dogs internationally and taking along your dog (or cat) there are a number of things you need to get in order ahead of time.

flying with dogs checklist

flying with dogs checklist

Make an appointment with your vet. Make sure your pet is current on all vaccinations and travel with a proof of rabies vaccination. It’s also a good idea to get your pet microchipped and do so prior to the rabies vaccine if possible. This will not only allow your pet to be tracked should they become lost, but the immunization records will be recorded as available information on that chip.

When flying with dogs be sure to book your connecting flights if there are any on the same airline. If your pet is for instance, too big to stay in a carrier on the cabin with you and winds up in the cargo hold the airline will transfer the pet to another flight they provide but not to another airline. Also, even when the pet is in an approved carrier, like the iconic SHERPA pet carrier, you may need to have your pet clear customs more than once. Research ahead of time about this procedure and what steps may be needed in the country you are visiting.

Be sure to book a pet friendly hotel, whatever your destination.

Get your pet accustomed to the pet carrier or crate they will be traveling in well ahead of time. Have them use it like a bed if possible and love being in it. If you wait to spring this on them till just before you leave for the airport, they may not like being in the carrier and have a very stressful flight. Also in the future they will associate the pet carrier with a negative experience and be upset when you try to take them somewhere else, like to the vet.

Figure out a head of time how you’ll be feeding your pet once you arrive at your destination. Does the country you are visiting have the correct food? In most cases you can take some dry kibble with you. Moist food is often okay as well, but check ahead of time with your airline about what you can bring along. It might well be easier to get food for your pet when you arrive where you’re visiting, but again research to see what is available where you are traveling. Changing your pet’s food suddenly can cause an upset stomach. The last thing you want when stay in a hotel is a pet that’s having gastrointestinal issues. It also might be a good idea depending on where you are going to buy bottled water for your pet to drink as native unfiltered water could upset their stomach.


Gayle talks about flying with dogs on the when pets fly podcast.


Flying with an emotional support animal (ESAs)

What about flying with dogs that are emotional support animals?

Most airlines are no longer required to allow emotional support animals to fly free in their cabins due to rollbacks by the Department of Transportation. Why did this happen? In large part because unfortunately a lot of people abused the privilege by getting what were essentially falsified documents to travel with a non-emotional support animal for free. This is awful for those people who really do require a pet who can for instance, keep them calm while in flight.

Service dogs are still protected, including psychiatric services dogs, but obviously there is a much higher standard for getting the documentation and paperwork for these wonderful animals. Most airlines today say when flying with dogs you must pay for the privilege if they are not service animals and the rules about how the dog must be contained in a carrier vary from airline to airline.

flying with dogsSome airlines still do allow ESA animals especially smaller dogs. Inquire of your airline what their policies are and have an official ESA letter from a licensed mental health professional to help you explain your situation to the airline staff. But do this all ahead of time and get a written confirmation from the airline if possible. As of the writing of this post LATAM, JSX, Lufthansa, and Volaris still allow ESAs with prior confirmation. This could change however at any point.

Now if you are thinking of flying with a dog and your pooch is under 20 pounds and can fit in a carrier (like the iconic Sherpa brand) many airlines will allow you to fly for a more or less modest fee if the carrier fits under the seat in front of you even though they don’t recognize your pet for being an ESA and being able to fly for free like a service dog would.  Again as of the writing of this post, Alaska Airlines, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Airlines, and Hawaiian Airlines have policies which allow these smaller dogs secured in a carrier to fly for a reasonable fee even though they don’t allow free flights for ESAs.

Can you make an ESA dog into an official Service Dog?

Other than the obvious qualification for sight impaired individuals service dogs can be certified for conditions such as Depression, Anxiety, Phobias, Personality Disorders, Bi-Polar, ADHD, Schizophrenia, PTSD and various medical condition like dogs who can smell variants in their human when they are about to have a seizure. Psychiatric service dogs are fired to as PSDs. It’s likely that your pet will need additional training and for certain will need to be officially certified. We recommend asking your vet about programs in your area and avoiding any companies online who claim to the able to do this certification remotely. Not all ESAs make good candidates for becomes PSDs. PSDs for instance must be belt stay calm and quiet around strangers whereas an ESA annual likely does not have this training even if they are regularly a well behaved pooch.

Read an informative article about current ESA rules here.


Flying with dogs internationally

Taking your dog (or cat) on a flight abroad? Be sure you have your pet’s documentation when traveling internationally and returning home to the United States. Plan well ahead of your  trip to take care of your furbaby’s required medical care and paperwork.

Go your vet well before your trip and talk to them about your plans. Depending on your destination you may need blood tests, addition vaccinations, microchips for identification, special permits, and health certificates. Also be aware senior dogs might not be able to take a rabies vaccine if they are not already current as the risk to dog is considered too great when elderly. Sometimes exceptions can be made for senior dogs, other times not.

You’ll need to understand not only the rules from your destination country but also the rules from your airlines so inquire throughly of anyone and everyone who might have the information you need in both instances. Consider if your pet will be comfortable enough while traveling. How do they do when confined to a carrier for extended periods of time? Get your pet used to the carrier well ahead of your trip and don’t use it to go the vet if that is a scary experience for you pet as they will associate the carrier with something they don’t like (not an issue of your pooch loves going to vet as many do). When flying with dogs many airlines have rules against removing the pooch from the carrier inflight, though you can most likely hold the carrier in your lap for some of the time while in flight and pet your fur baby whilst inside the carrier. Be aware certain airiness may not allow you to reveal with your animal during the hottest months of the year (between May and September).

Some people drug their dog when flying to make it sleep. We advise stingy against this. Sedation carries various risks and is not recommended for pets during air travel. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), sedating cats or dogs during air travel may increase the risk of heart and respiratory problems.

For more inflation visit this site at the CDC.


Happy dog ready to fly in the iconic Sherpa Brand Dog Carrier.

Happy dog ready to fly in the iconic Sherpa Brand Dog Carrier.