Everything You Need to Know About Flying With a Pet
Flying with your furry companion can be an exciting adventure, but it requires careful planning and consideration to ensure your dog's safety and comfort throughout the journey. We understand the importance of keeping your pet's well-being a top priority when embarking on air travel. Here, we'll provide essential tips and insights to help you prepare for a smooth and stress-free landing with your pet.
Most important, it's crucial to prioritize your dog's health, comfort, and well-being — be honest with yourself if it would be better for your pet to stay home with a sitter instead, which may be the case for very young pets who might not be well trained, as well as older, anxious or ailing pets.
Need to get your pet caught up on vaccines before traveling? Schedule a visit.
Booking Your Trip
Airlines have strict pet policies, and they vary based on brand, plane model, country, and type of flight (domestic vs. international travel). Only pets that meet certain weight, size, and species requirements may fly: Some can accompany you in the cabin while others are checked below in the cargo hold, which can be a frightening and potentially dangerous experience (especially for flat-faced breeds like French Bulldogs and Pugs).
In addition to saving on airfare, it’s important to book ahead of time to ensure a spot for your dog on both your departing and return flights. Airlines only allow a certain number of animals (with size restrictions, ie ”the pet plus carrier must weigh less than 20 pounds”) on each flight, issued on a first-come, first-served basis. Even if you’ve already bought your ticket and intend to pay fees for your dog — which can range anywhere from $95-$500 each way — your pup can be denied if the maximum number of pets has been met. (Note: Certified emotional support animals and service animals typically fly for free, if they meet specific airline requirements. This requires a different set of paperwork.)
When you’re researching flights, remember that not all airlines have the same policies and facilities for pet travel, and be aware of “code-share flights” — a flight sold through one airline website may be operated by an alliance partner that doesn’t allow pet travel. Consider direct flights whenever possible to minimize stress and exposure to unfamiliar environments for your dog. Always check with the airline first before booking your flight (and we’d recommend calling a few days ahead of your trip to reconfirm.)
Domestic flights are simple, from a paperwork perspective — you just need to cover the pet for the flight. But for international travel, many countries have strict health rules and quarantines for live animals that you’ll need to meet for entry — you’re essentially “importing” an animal. If you and your pet travel outside of the United States, you can get an overview of requirements by country here. (Yup, your pet may need a passport).
Bond Vet is pleased to offer International Health Certificates for travel to Europe and other countries — call Bond Travel to schedule an appointment with our USDA-certified veterinarian.
Pre-Flight Health Check
Once your flight is booked, you’ll want to schedule a vet visit for a thorough health check to ensure that your pet is up-to-date with vaccinations, parasite prevention, and any other necessary medical requirements. Airlines and certain destinations may require a health certificate issued within a specific time frame before travel, and Bond Travel can help ensure all the logistics are taken care of. Your vet can provide this certificate, certifying that your dog is fit for air travel and free from any contagious diseases.
If your pet isn’t microchipped, we recommend doing so at this point. If you’re traveling to Europe, your pet may require a specific microchip at this visit, as well as medication, such as a tapeworm treatment.
A Note on Sedatives
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, in most cases, you shouldn’t give your dog sedatives or tranquilizers before flying, due to potentially dangerous issues that can be exacerbated by increased air pressure and altitude changes.
If this is something you want to explore, consult a trusted vet first before providing any medication, remedy, or treat with sedative properties to your dog, even if they’re considered homeopathic or natural.
TSA has shared specific dimensions for a pet carrier to ensure it fits below the seat in front of you, and there are some great options. (Note: Your pet typically counts as your “carry-on” and then you’re allowed a personal item, like a backpack or purse, which means you’ll probably be checking a bag!)
You’ll want to familiarize your pet with their carrier long before the flight. The crate should be airline-approved, well-ventilated, and spacious enough for your dog to stand, turn around, and lie down comfortably. Introduce the crate as a positive space by placing your dog's favorite toys and treats inside. Gradually increase crate time, making it a safe and cozy den for your furry friend.
The Day of Your Flight
Avoid feeding your pet a large meal right before the flight to reduce the risk of discomfort or motion sickness or needing to poop. Instead, offer a light meal a few hours before departure. Remember to pack a sufficient supply of water and a portable water bowl to keep your pet hydrated throughout the journey. Give your dog a healthy walk before heading to the airport so they get enough exercise for the day — it’ll also help to tucker them out for the flight.
At the Airport
When you arrive at the airport, you’ll need to check-in with an agent. Allow extra time and be sure to bring any identifying papers or tags that you may need to present. As we mentioned earlier, most airlines require a vet-issued certificate to verify your pet’s health.
Throughout the airport, your pet should be kept in a carrier. When going through security, you’ll remove your pet from the carrier, remove their collar, and push the carrier through the X-ray machine, while you walk through the metal detector with your pet. TSA may do a test where they swab your pet’s paws.
Many airports now have a pet relief area within the terminal (past security, amid the boarding gates), though some are small dog parks located outside the terminal, meaning you need to get your pet to go before you go through security. Before and after your flight, find designated pet relief areas to give your dog a chance to stretch their legs and take care of their bathroom needs. Make sure to clean up after your pet and always carry waste bags with you.
On the Plane
While on the plane, you must keep your pet in their carrier, calm and quiet. Excessive barking or other whining can be stressful for you, your pet and fellow passengers. Bring a familiar blanket or toy to provide comfort, and offer water throughout the flight.
Flying with your pet can be an enjoyable experience with proper planning and preparation, and being in a new place is a fun experience for both of you. We wish you a safe and smooth journey with your furry companion, wherever your travels may take you.
SEE ALSO: How to Travel With a Cat