Flying with Pets: Your on-the-Go Checklist for Air Travel

For human travelers, the logistics of traveling from A to B can make for a stressful situation. This is even more true when the trip includes pets, who are less thrilled than you to be leaving the safety and comfort of home.

Now it seems it’s becoming even more complicated to fly with our furry friends. Recent reports of pets being lost, mishandled, or even killed has surely done little to inspire confidence among pet owners. United’s latest series of incidents came only weeks after Delta tightened restrictions on therapy and service animals.

As airlines rethink current pet policies, it’s more important than ever to be thorough when preparing your pet for travel. Refer to our downloadable Pet Travel Checklist as you plan for your trip, and familiarize yourself with what is required by the airlines.

For In-Cabin and Therapy Pets

The number of pets allowed to fly in-cabin is limited and will vary by flight. If your travel plans allow it, make arrangements with your carrier as early as possible to reserve a spot for you and your pet.

Make sure your pet’s kennel meets the requirements of your airline. Animals must have enough room to stand up and turn around inside.

For pets traveling in the cabin, the maximum size for hard-sided kennels is 17.5 inches long x 12 inches wide x 7.5 inches high, or 18 inches long x 11 inches wide x 11 inches high for a soft-sided kennel.

Emotional support and service animals will require a letter from your physician and must usually be received by the airline no later than 48 hours before takeoff. In these letters, the doctor typically states the mental or emotional disability, the need for traveling with the pet, and proof of medical license. Animals are required to sit at the feet or on the lap of the passenger but are not permitted to sit in the aisle or on exit rows.

Pets Traveling Cargo

For larger pets traveling in cargo, attach bowls for water and food to the inside of the crate door where airline crew can easily refill both. Additional dry food can be placed in a freezer bag and duct taped to the crate exterior.

While heavy crates can be difficult to lug around, especially for larger dogs, never opt for one with wheels. The last thing you want is for your dog to accidentally roll off an inclined conveyor belt in transit.

It’s important that your pet has adequate time to acclimate to its kennel prior to traveling. In the weeks leading up to your departure, leave the kennel open for your pet to explore. You may even want to slip a few treats inside, along with a blanket, towel, or old t-shirt with your familiar scent.

Health and Safety Concerns

Have vaccination records ready to submit to the airline. Not all airlines will require a health certificate from a veterinarian, though some will. As carriers rethink the rules on pet transport after recent events, it’s better to have these types of health documents at the ready just in case.

Entrance requirements for pets will vary by destination, with some being more strict than others. In the U.S., Hawaii quarantines pets for five days or less, and that’s in addition to providing proof of vaccinations, rabies blood test, and microchip implant. You’ll find similar restrictions for international travel, particularly in rabies-free countries. If you’re unsure of what’s required for your destination, the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service can provide specifics for both international and domestic travel.

Allow enough time for vaccinations and follow up testing, which can sometimes take several weeks. The sooner you can coordinate with your vet, the better off you’ll be.

If your pet suffers from anxiety or nervous behavior, your vet may suggest a mild sedative. This may be fine if your pet is traveling in the cabin, but could be risky for cargo pets where there is no one to monitor their reaction to the medication. DAP collars are a much safer alternative to calming your stressed out pets.

It’s worth the extra expense to splurge on a nonstop flight if one is available. If there’s no avoiding a connection, keep connection times to a minimum. Choose your route wisely and consider the weather. You don’t want your dog stuck outside Atlanta Hartsfield in a heatwave, or in Detroit during the next polar vortex. And if a smaller, less hectic airport is available to you—such as Burbank instead of LAX—always go with the smaller.

If you don’t already have your pet chipped, include your contact info on your pet’s collar. The odds of your pet escaping its crate are slim, but it has been known to happen.

As an added precaution, tape a photo of your pet to its crate along with the name and breed in Sharpie below. These types of details may already be included on the label printed by the airline, but it adds a secondary way for staff to quickly identify your pet.

No matter if your pet is traveling in the cabin or as cargo, make time for a long walk before the flight. You don’t want your dog to suddenly relieve itself at 30,000 feet, which happened not too long ago when a service dog caused an emergency landing after pooping in the aisle.

If at any point during the trip a gate agent or crew member demands that you do something that you feel endangers the safety of your pet, ask to speak to a supervisor or even the captain. If the situation isn’t resolved, ask to be put on another flight if possible.

Prepare and Pack

Download our Pet Travel Checklist as you plan and pack for your trip. 

Research animal hospitals in your arrival city and find one that’s well-reviewed nearby to your hotel or rental property.

Check online for dog parks within walking distance of where you’ll be staying.

Ask your concierge or host for local dog-friendly restaurants or cafes with suitable outdoor spaces.

Pack a bag small enough to easily store in your carry on, and include everything your pet needs for the trip. Create a check-list. Do you have the following:

  • All medications your pet currently takes or may need on the trip, clearly labeled
  • A small container of dry food, a bottle for water, and small dishes for both
  • Pet treats, toys, catnip
  • A small towel to cover rental car seats or rental furniture to prevent pet hair from sticking to upholstery
  • Lint and pet hair rollers
  • Dog waste bags
  • Wee-Wee pads
  • A portable litter tray for cats with a small sealed bag of litter
  • Leash, harness, and collar
  • Grooming supplies
  • Vaccination records and health documentation
  • Pet beds

Above image via Shutterstock

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