Maybe you’ve booked a holiday of a lifetime, but you can’t bear to be apart from your fluffy friend for three weeks. Or maybe you’re relocating and getting a flight is the only option. Taking a dog on the plane is more complicated than travelling solo, but it is doable – you just need to know the ins and outs of it first. Thinking about travelling with your canine pal? Take a look at our handy guide on how to travel on a plane with a dog.
How to travel on a plane with a dog
Are they allowed to travel on a plane?
Not all dogs are fit for airline travel. Before you make plans, it’s worth getting in touch with your local authority to check the rules. For example, if you’re travelling from the UK you can contact the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), for guidance on travel restrictions. We’ve listed a few common restrictions below.
You’ll need to check that you can legally travel with your dog with your airline provider. Most airline carriers either ban or discourage transporting short-nosed breeds. For example, Japan Airlines does not allow specific breeds of bulldogs to travel on board because of their inability to regulate body temperature. The AVMA states that dogs at risk include pugs, mastiffs, Pekingese, Lhasa Apos, Shihtzus, bulldogs and Boston terriers.
Different airlines have specific rules and procedures in place for handling and delivering dogs. Some airlines will only transport dogs as official cargo, on a separate cargo plane. Others restrict travel according to the destination, length of flight and codeshares.
Will they go in cargo or carry-on?
Dogs can travel on a plane two ways – in cargo or a carry-on. Generally speaking, dogs can only fly in the cabin in a carry-on if they are small enough to fit in a carrier under the seat in front of you. That’s a pretty small dog. If they’re any larger, they will need to go in the cargo hold, with the luggage and freight. Most flights only allow a limited number of pets on board, so you’ll need to register early to ensure you get a spot.
Whether your dog is travelling in cargo or with you, you’ll need to ensure you have a pet carrier or crate that meets flight requirements, so make sure it’s TSA approved. The International Air Transport Association offers a handy resource on current pet carrier requirements. All carriers must have leak-proof bottoms, plenty of ventilation, strong handles and a durable shell. It should also be clearly marked with a sign saying “Live Animal”, with arrows that show which way up they need to travel.
How much will it cost?
Whether your dog is travelling in hold or with you, you’ll need to pay a fee to bring your pet on board. These fees range from $95 to $150 per journey. This fee does not apply to emotional support animals or service animals.
How to prepare your dog for the flight
Flying can be a stressful experience for anyone, so imagine how it feels for a dog. In the lead up to your flight, you’ll want to make sure you’ve done everything you can to ensure they have a comfy flight.
Make sure you take your dog for a checkup with your vet, as you might need a certificate of veterinary inspection signed within 10 days of travel.
If your dog is travelling in a crate, get him acclimatised to it early on to reduce their stress. Put a comfy bed in it with lots of treats well ahead of the journey and he’ll associate it with happier times.
What to do on the day of travel
If your pet is flying cargo, you’ll need to arrive at least three hours before departure time for domestic flights and at least five hours before international flights (depending on the airline).
You should exercise your dog on the day of travel, as close to flying as possible. If that means multiple loops around the parking lot, do it – it will be worth it.
Make sure you feed your dog lightly on the day of travel too, though make sure it’s at least two hours before the flight to avoid any toilet incidents. Dogs can happily go from six to ten hours without food, but it’s a legal requirement in the United States to give your dog a light meal two hours before the flight. Make sure you attach a water pack with a container to the crate though. Your dog will need access to fresh water throughout the flight.
In the old days, people used to advise sedating dogs before a flight, but this is no longer recommended. It can result in breathing issues, and if the crate moves around your dog won’t have a chance to react. Some airlines require you to sign a waiver declaring that the dog is sedative-free too.
Before the flight, put a luggage tag on your dog’s collar detailing the temporary residence information for your destination. Make sure all the tags are attached to your pet’s container too.
You might also want to attach a feeding schedule for 24-hours to the travel carrier, in case your pet doesn’t make it to the final destination at the same time as you.