Preparing to fly a dog, especially overseas, is not easy – but neither is leaving a faithful friend behind. There are various reasons for why someone might decide to take a furry family member on an airplane; perhaps a cross-continent move, relocation due to work, rehoming or a family emergency, but one thing is true for every scenario – it requires preparation. The more prepared you are, and the better you have prepared your dog before the flight, the more likely it is for the experience to become a positive one.
The information you need to obtain before you can safely fly a dog from one place to another is often scattered across different websites, but this complete guide gives you a good understanding of what you need to know, and where you can turn for additional info.
Embarking on an Airborne Adventure
Back in the days, it was a lot simpler to travel by air with your dog. You would buy yourself an adequately sized crate, hop in a taxi to the airport, give the dog a mild veterinary prescribed sedative and put him or her in the dog crate. That was it, but it doesn’t work like that anymore.
The rules for transporting dogs and other pets have changed, and while it may seem complicated at first glance – the changes have been for the better. It has become safer for dogs to fly, and while accidents still happen (unfortunately) – they are easier to prevent with the modern regulations.
Before, nobody worried much about air-quality in the hold where larger dogs would travel, and nobody bothered to double-check the quality of the crate holding the dog. It was perhaps ignorance and lack of knowledge that once made pet air travel easier, but we should all appreciate the trickier procedures we have now as safety should always come before simplicity.
Not complying with the airline’s safety regulations could put your dog’s life in danger, and the best thing you can do for your dog is to learn what is needed for a safe plane trip already before it is time to travel.
In-Cabin Air Travel
When traveling by air with pets, in-cabin traveling is by far the easiest and least risky way to transport a dog. Your furry baby will go inside the plane with you and won’t leave your side at any time during the flight. It is the ideal way to travel with your pup, and an option that should be chosen whenever made available.
Note, however, that not all dogs are eligible to travel inside the cabin, and it depends on the size, weight and possibly also the breed of your dog, and for in-cabin travel, your dog will need to be small enough to fit under the seat in front of you.
This is currently how all airlines seem to work; if your dog and its airline approved pet carrier can fit under the seat in front of its owner – he or she can travel inside the plane. Many airlines have very specific measurements and weight limits in place, to make it easy for you to determine ahead of time if your dog is adequately sized for in-cabin travel.
If you would like to take your small dog inside the cabin with you the next time you fly, make sure you check all the requirements on the airline’s website, as these might be different depending on what airline you choose to fly with. Most have limited spaces for onboard pets, so call ahead of time to let them know you are bringing your small four-legged friend and make a reservation if needed.
Keep in mind that your pet does not count as the carry-on included in your ticket price and be prepared to pay somewhere between $150 to $400 for bringing your pet on the plane and inside the cabin, depending on the airline and your destination.
Dogs Traveling in the Cargo Hold
There is a common misconception that dogs flying cargo are put together with the rest of the luggage, which creates fear and a negative hype among those who have never actually flown a dog. This may have been true at some point in time, but live animals are now kept separately from luggage and bags, and in a part of the cargo hold where air pressure and temperature are supposedly the same as inside the airplane cabin.
This means you won’t have to worry about someone’s suitcase slamming into your dog’s crate during the flight, but there might be other animals flown on the same plane together with your dog.
Arrangements will need to be made ahead of time, and you should contact the airline after you buy your own ticket, to make sure they know you will be bringing a dog. Don’t just show up the day of the flight, as most airlines have limited space, and want to be made aware of any traveling animals before the date of your trip. Check the airline website for information to see if you can let them know through the website, and otherwise pick up the phone and give them a call.
When you fly a dog in cargo, you will go to the airport, check your pet in and you will usually be asked to remove it from the crate so that the airport staff can have the crate x-rayed and examined.
Be prepared for this by not putting any zip ties or anything on the crate until it has been properly cleared for flight. The crate will then be brought back to you, you put the dog inside and say goodbye. The airport staff will take it from there and you can head back to do your own check-in.
There is a fee for flying your dog in cargo, and it is usually paid directly at the airport when you arrive to document your dog; some airlines, however, might also offer the option to pre-pay online, but this will be up to you to investigate ahead of your trip.
To fly a dog in cargo is almost always more expensive than to fly a small dog in-cabin, and it can end up costing you anything from $200 to $800 (or more) depending on the destination of your flight. Note that some airlines won’t accept cash in these circumstances and that you should try to arrive with a bank card (or a prepaid card if you do not have a credit- or debit card from a bank).
Shipping a Dog vs. Traveling with a Dog
The rules and costs may differ depending on whether you intend to fly with your dog on the same plane, or if you will be shipping the dog without being on the plane yourself. Dogs can be shipped by having a handler drop them off at the airport and another person picking them up at their destination, and it does not make much difference for the dog since they wouldn’t have been with you during the flight anyway.
Not all airlines allow dogs to travel unaccompanied, so if you intend to send your dog alone from one place to another – do your research to make sure you find an airline that allows it.
Shipping dogs are mostly used by breeders selling puppies to buyers living far away, for rescue dogs being shipped to their new families, dogs that couldn’t come along for the initial move but that will be joining the family once the new house is in order, etc. etc. but any reason for needing to ship a dog might be equally valid.
If possible, it is always better to be on the same plane as your dog to have as much control as possible, but if that is not an option for you – many airlines will ship dogs to their designated destination.
Vaccinations & Health Certificates
Before you consider flying with your dog, you will want to make sure your pup has all the required vaccinations. For national flights, this means the basic vaccinations including a rabies shot, and often also deworming and proper documentation showing your dog has everything required.
The best way to make sure you have everything in order is by visiting a veterinary clinic at least 30-45 days before the date of your trip, as many vaccinations need to be administered a month ahead of a flight. You will also need a health certificate issued by a licensed veterinarian less than 10 days prior to traveling, where it is stated that your dog has all required vaccinations and that he or she is physically fit to travel.
International travel is a lot more complicated and the requirements are often stricter and harder to comply with. This does not have to do with the airlines, but more with the requirements of the country, you will be arriving too.
A veterinarian can help investigate what your dog needs before the trip, and it could include a fixed set of vaccinations (with a Rabies shot), deworming and possibly also an electronic microchip if the receiving country requires it. Many countries in Europe (such as the Scandinavian countries) require all dogs that enter to be microchipped, so you need to find a veterinarian experienced with international travel.
Service Dogs on Planes
Other rules apply for licensed service dogs and emotional support animals, as these may be able to travel inside the cabin even if larger than what is normally permitted. Talk to your airline for more information well ahead of your flight.
Crates & How to Prepare Your Dog
When buying a crate, whether the crate will be used for in-cabin travel or to ship your dog in cargo, you need to make sure the crate is large enough for your dog to sit, stand and to turn around. This means you can’t cramp you’re your dog into a carrier small enough to fit under the seat unless the dog itself is small enough to comfortably fit in the crate.
Rules for in-cabin travel are slightly more relaxed when it comes to the crate, and you can use a hard-sided or soft-sided crate depending on your preferences.
Now, for a dog to fly cargo, there are a lot more guidelines and rules to comply with when you shop for a crate. The same is true here; your dog needs to be able to stand, sit and turn around, but it also needs to be approved by the IATA – the International Air Transport Association. Make sure your crate has the IATA stamp of approval, as it means the crate complies with set safety regulations.
It cannot be a collapsible crate, as this could put your pet in danger during the flight. Make sure your dog is comfortable by adding a crate liner and perhaps a used t-shirt or item that smells like you, and if the flight is long – tape a sealed bag of dog food onto the crate with instructions for when the dog needs to be fed and watered.
You should also add personal information such as your name, address (the address your dog is ultimately going to), phone number and email and tape this onto the top of the crate, in case something would go wrong or if your dog would get lost. The dog should be wearing a collar with a nametag with the same information.
To avoid the crate accidentally opening during the flight, consider closing it with zip ties. Do this after the crate has gone through the safety checkpoint, and avoid using padlocks as the airport staff might need to open the crate in the case of an emergency.
If you are flying internationally, you have some research to do. Every country has their own rules, and you need to investigate to see what is true for your destination, and what they require in order to let your dog across the border. Talk to your veterinarian, but be aware that veterinarians don’t know everything, and that you should have your own idea of how things will go down. If you are unsure, contact a reputable pet shipping company for possible assistance.
The health certificate might need to be endorsed by the USDA; which in most cases means sending the health certificate to them for endorsement along with an envelope with pre-paid shipping, and all this needs to be done within 10 days of the planned travel date. Whether the health certificate needs to be endorsed depends on the country you are traveling to and their rules and requirements.
Should You Medicate the Dog?
Be wary of the recommendation to medicate your dog before traveling, as some still believe it to be a good idea to administer some form of tranquilizer before putting the dog on a plane. The idea makes sense because if the dog sleeps peacefully, it won’t suffer, right? Right, but a tranquilizer could also slow down their heart rate to a point where the pressure changes in the air could make it dangerous. Instead of helping, you could be setting your dog up for a heart attack or acute heart failure.
If you feel your dog needs to be sedated to make the trip, the first thing you need to do is to decide if it is truly necessary for the dog to fly. Are there other options? Driving? If you determine that the dog needs to be flown, talk to your veterinarian to see what your options are. Many airlines won’t allow a sedated dog to fly, so double check with them first, and see if there are any natural options that will calm your dog down without sedating it.
Risks with Flying a Dog
Plane travel is – unfortunately – not 100% safe for your pet, and there is always a risk of something happening that you did not anticipate. This is true for taking your dog in the car, on the bus or on the train too, but flying larger dogs that don’t fit in the cabin also entails handing your dog over to someone else without knowing for sure how they will treat him.
Will they be careful with the crate? What if your dog gets too stressed? What if he gets out? Much of this can be prevented with proper preparation well ahead of time, but there are no guarantees.
Unfortunately, multiple dogs have died during their transport by air in recent years – almost always due to pre-existing medical conditions and stress, but in a few rare cases also as a result of neglect. There are also reports of dogs having gotten loose and lost inside the airport, and dogs that have been mistakenly shipped to the wrong destination. Sounds terrifying? It is.
You must remember, though, that as horrible as these stories are and as heartbreaking as it is – it is only a very small percentage of the thousands of dogs that are injured, lost or that die when flying. Not much of a comfort, but it puts it into perspective.
Even if everything goes well during transport, there is always a risk of your dog suffering from stress due to being locked up in a confined space, and it could affect their cardiac function, and they might even end up harming themselves trying to get out of the cage.
There is a lot of noise down in the cargo hold; lights going on and off, the sound from the plane engine, etc. etc. and there is also the stress of being separated from their human family members and loaded on and off a plane. Dogs can suffer from stress also when flown in-cabin, as it is a completely new environment to most.
No, flying a dog is not free from potentially devastating risks, but the safety for pet onboard airplanes has improved greatly in recent years. How well your pet does will depend on how much time you have spent on preparing him or her for the trip, the dog’s personality and the way they are handled by airport workers. After all, millions of dogs are flown every year, and the incidents are relatively few.
Breed Restrictions When Flying
This may come as an unwelcome surprise to many of those who own snub-nosed dogs (and cats), as many flat-faced breeds are prohibited from flying in the airplane cargo, and sometimes also from flying in-cabin. The reason is that these breeds might be extra sensitive to heat, cabin pressure and the stress that often comes with traveling, and it is in the airlines’ best interest to protect themselves as well as your dogs, hence the ban.
Let’s use United Airlines as an example, who recently reviewed their pet policy and who currently has 4 cat breeds and 21 dog breeds on their no-flight list. They have also chosen to include some dog breeds considered as “strong-jawed” dog breeds.
The cat breeds that cannot be taken onboard a United Airlines flight are Persians, Himalayans, Burmese cats, and the Exotic Shorthair, and the list of dog breeds is significantly longer. Below is a list of the dog breeds that are no longer allowed to fly with United Airlines; and while this is a specific example, many more airlines follow the same rules. Breeds prohibited to fly (United Airlines), in alphabetical order, are:
+ American Bully
+ American Pit Bull Terrier
+ American Staffordshire Terrier
+ Belgian Malinois
+ Boston Terrier
+ Brussels Griffon
+ Bulldog (All types)
+ Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
+ Chow Chow
+ English Toy Spaniel
+ Japanese Chin
+ Lhasa Apso
+ Mastiffs (All types)
+ Staffordshire Bull Terrier
+ Tibetan Spaniel
If your dog’s breed is found on this list – no need to freak out, yet! This specific list is the no-fly list of one airline, and there could still be other airlines that have not (yet?) chosen to stop your breed from taking to the sky. Check with other airlines until you find one that will fly both you and your dog. Do consider the risks, however, if you own one of the breeds on the list above. The risks for your dog to fly might potentially be higher, and that is something you need to be aware of before you make the decision to buy a ticket.
Heat Restrictions in Summer
The area where dogs are transported in cargo is usually regulated to hold the same temperature and the same air quality cabin where the passengers sit (verify this before booking your ticket), but it can get awfully hot and/or cold in there before the plane takes off, depending on the outdoor climate.
The dog crate will also often be left temporarily on the tarmac while the plane is loaded with luggage, and imagine the heat on an airport tarmac on a day when it is 100 degrees (f) outside?
Due to these inconveniences, many airlines choose to shut down their pet programs during the summer months, and in areas, with very cold winters the same might apply for the winter months. This is not to annoy you or to ruin your travel plans, but to protect your dog from potentially dangerous or even fatal conditions caused by extreme temperatures.
If one airline has heat restrictions on your intended travel date – don’t go look for another airline that does not. Instead, stop and think about the risks you will be exposing your dogs too, and consider traveling at a later date if you must bring your dog. Airlines want to make money, so if they are saying no to several hundred dollars per flown dog – there is probably a good reason for it.
Do All Airlines Fly Dogs?
To say that all airlines fly dogs would be foolish and potentially untrue, as these rules are constantly changing, and some airlines will only fly dogs during certain times of the year. Always go directly to the airline’s website, click your way to ‘Pet Policy’, and if you can’t find one – contact the airline directly by phone or email. You don’t want to be taking any chances when it comes to flying with your dog, so be thorough and investigate already before you purchase your ticket.
If possible, book a direct flight without layovers – especially if your dog is flying in the cargo hold of the plane. This will prevent your dog from having to be loaded on- and off the plane more than what is necessary, and it also saves them several extra hours waiting at your layover airport. The shorter the flight, the better for your dog, and fewer layovers will mean an overall safer and more comfortable flight experience.
Do your research well ahead of time, as it isn’t just about the rules each airline has for flying pets, but also about the rules regarding the import of a pet in the land you are flying to. Make sure you have all the paperwork in order to avoid delays; because unless you have done things right – the country you land in could deny entry for your dog or require it to be put in quarantine.
International travel with a dog is a serious matter and not something to be taken lightly, so read up on the place you are traveling to and their rules, as well as the airline regulations for getting you there.
Every airline has their own set of rules, and these rules may change without previous notice. It is your responsibility to contact the airline you intend to fly with ahead of time, and to make sure they fly pets to the destination you have in mind (many airlines will not fly pets in the cargo hold during certain months of the year). It is also up to you to stay up to date with the airline’s pet policy and/or any changes that are made between the moment you purchase your ticket and your time of departure.
This article is meant to serve as a guide with general information, but everything should be double checked and verified before you take your dog to the airport.