the tldr guide for dog on a plane
It's been a while since I posted. Today's post is about dogs on planes.
Because we're anticipating some extended travel in 2024, we didn't want to leave our trusty companion (Speck) behind. In order to successfully have him with us, he has to get on a plane. I've had to suffer through deciphering airline pet policies and strangers' anecdotes to figure out how to not get turned away at the gate. I'm going to share this shit to cut down the headache for other pet owners.
The wrong way to bring your pet abroad - 1 day shipping.
Train your pet like you train them for a crate. Making the carrier a safe space reduces anxiety. Speck is especially anxious, so in addition to training, we will half-dose him with some anti-anxiety meds prior to a flight. Please talk to your nearest qualified veterinarian. This is not medical advice (for your pet).
Train in increments. Speck didn't just "get in" immediately. First, he was rewarded for sitting near the carrier, then his head in the carrier, then most of his body, then all of his body, then getting in and turning around, then in, around, and with it zipped up, then zipped up and moving, etc. Simple positive reinforcement training with an ass-load of treats (see previous post).
Train your pet to get inside the carrier and turn around to face forward. This way, if an airline person asks for them to "turn around comfortably", you can ask your dog to come out out of the carrier and enter back in to show them that they can comfortably turn around. Even with Speck's length, he donuts 🍩 quite well into a little ball.
Visit your nearest veterinarian to ensure you have the right health certificates and updated vaccines for travel. Some airlines also want you to fill out a couple of forms saying that your pet won’t urinate or defecate on the plane (as if they could control it 🙄).
Rules on where you can take your pet depend on the country you’re going to. Europe is pretty relaxed. Asian countries and Australia have really strict requirements and sometimes might not let your pet in at all.
For somewhere in Europe, you’ll need:
- updated rabies vaccination
- latest health certificate
- airline forms
The three friendliest airlines for dogs above 8 kgs (17 lbs) are Delta, Southwest, and United. Of the three, Delta and Southwest are more friendly towards dogs based on the online stories I've head. United seems to run more tests with the dog inside the carrier (turn around comfortably, stand up with space, and carrier dimensions). All three airlines allow dogs to fly in cabin without a weight limit, with the carrier size as the primary constraint.
Of the three airlines, United seems to have screwed people over the most (the dog fails the turn-around test). Delta has a lower incidence of this occurring (or they might not test at all), and Southwest did not test when I flew with them. An airline associate from the desk simply walked up and asked if he was able to turn around comfortably and I looked her in the eye and said "yes". 😂
If your pet is under 8 kgs (17 lbs), then many more airlines open up, and in general, it's easy to find carriers that are guaranteed to fit under your seat. If your pet is anything like Speck (awkwardly long, 18-22 lbs), then rejections become more common, unless it's with these three airlines.
Get a soft sided carrier because they can compress somewhat to fit under your seat. I purchased the large Sherpa Original Deluxe Carrier with dimensions of 19" L x 11.8" W x 11.5" H. When asked what my carrier dimensions were, I just gave the max dimensions listed on the carrier's website (usually 18”L x 11”W x 11”H), and trusted that the soft carrier can compress and expand as needed.
There are other more expensive options. The next tier up is JSX, a semi-chartered plane flight. They are currently U.S domestic only and have limited flight paths between major cities, but the real kicker is that they allow up to 70 lbs of animal (that's alotta dog) to ride in cabin without a carrier (awesome).
So really, that leaves two top options. Southwest or Delta when going domestic, Delta if you're going international, and United as the backup worst case scenario option.
For us, purchasing refundable flights has been the right call. The chances of things going wrong with a dog are much higher. The extra cost of buying a refundable ticket brings more peace of mind. I already had to cancel once, which brings me to the next important point.
Airlines "operated by" some carrier abide by the operation carrier's rules. So, if you book a Delta flight, but it's "operated by" Air France, then the pet policy is Air France. So, make sure you're booking Delta operated by Delta if you want the benefits of Delta. I had to cancel a Delta flight operated by Air France because it abided by Air France pet policies, which disallowed Speck to be in cabin due to the weight limit.
We also chose a flight that broke up the international trip into two legs. We're stopping in New York so Speck can stretch his legs and use the bathroom. You may choose to do one leg, but we found that even a 3-4 hour leg with him was a little long for his bladder.
What you’ll do is you’ll book your flight first, then make a separate call to the airline to add your pet to your ticket. You should do this ASAP because there is a pet limit on each plane (6-7 pets or something), once that limit has been reached, you can’t bring your pet.
If you do seat selection, you can’t sit in any seats that don’t have under-the-feet storage (no front seats), and you can’t sit in the emergency exit rows, so choose wisely. You can use one of those seat websites to figure out a good place to sit.
Get to the airport early. Southwest makes you pay a pet fare each way, so you have to stand in line and see a help desk associate. This is similar with other airlines as well. You're not checking bags, but you're also not just cruisin' through security without visiting an airline desk first.
Don’t be an idiot and feed and water your dog like an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet before getting on the flight or you’ll have pee-poo issues.
If you see other peoples' dogs out and about without an issue, it's probably ok to take em' out. The rule is "your dog has to be in the carrier at all times including in the airport." But honestly, after we got past security, it was frickin' dog-show-galore. Everyone was walking their pets and just hanging onto their carriers. So, take em' out when you can (let em' use the potty) and maybe feel just a tad mischievous when you're passing by airport security (nothing happened, they smiled at him).
"Made it (past security)!" Speck is a homebody, so here he is, thrilled as can be at the airport 😆.
Where's my comfort parent?
I'll most likely post an update when we take safely take Speck abroad internationally. I'm sure there'll be hiccups and pro-tips to share. I think there's more training we can do to help ease the anxiety of travel.