Tips for Flying With Fido

More and more people are embracing the idea of globetrotting with their dogs.

If you’ve never flown with your pooch, but want to, here are some helpful tips to guide you through the process.

> General Tips For Flying With Fido:

  • Don’t try to fly with your dog if your pet: barks incessantly, has a history of biting, is prone to anxiety, or is pregnant, in poor physical condition, or is very old or very young (puppies must be at least eight weeks old to fly).
  • Expect to pay between $75 and $125 to bring your pet in the cabin with you and between $175 and $200 to check your pet as baggage. Cargo rates are generally higher and based on total weight.
  • Book your pet’s passage early. All airlines have restrictions on the number of in-cabin pets—generally between five and seven in coach and business class and two in first class.
  • Most airlines will not accept brachycephalic or snub-nosed dog breeds, such as Pekingese, Shih Tzu Pugs, and Boxers, or their mixed breeds, as checked baggage.
  • Some airlines will not accept pets as checked baggage during the holiday season, when passengers tend to check more luggage, or during extreme hot or cold weather.
  • Health certificates generally are not required for in-cabin pets on domestic flights in the U.S., but some airlines require them for pets checked as baggage and all do for pets transported as cargo. Certificates usually must be issued no more than ten days in advance. Some destination states in the U.S. may require health certificates.
  • If you’re traveling with your dog in-cabin, choose your seat with him or her in mind. Use a website like, which will warn you if there is reduced legroom due to entertainment equipment, for example. Note: Pets are not allowed in the bulkhead or exit rows. 
  • Although you pay a pet fee for in-cabin pets, your carrier still counts as either your carry-on or personal item, depending on the airline’s policy.

> The Lowdown on Dog Carriers:

Outside of choosing your pal, selecting a travel carrier might be the toughest decision to make. Size and safety should be your first priorities, but you should also take into account the mode of transportation. If your pet is small enough to travel with you on the airplane, you need to be able to place the carrier completely under the seat in front of you.

Aircrafts vary in size, and what works for American Airlines may not suffice for United. To add to the confusion, there is no uniform weight limit either. While some airlines consider the combined weight of the animal and carrier, others simply mandate that your pooch needs to be able to stand up, turn around, and lie down in the carrier, which must be ventilated and leak-proof.

Your pup must be transported in a carrier that meets relevant government standards (in the U.S., these are defined by the Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service). Many airlines require kennels with steel nuts and bolts instead of plastic fasteners and will supply releasable cable ties that should be attached to all four corners.

Disregard the claims of a manufacturer that its carrier is approved by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), a trade association that comprises 84 percent of the global air traffic. IATA does not certify, approve, endorse, or sell any particular manufacturer, brand, make, or model of pet container.

Lastly, regardless of how your pet will be traveling—in-cabin, as checked baggage, or in the cargo hold—make sure it is acclimated to its kennel or carrier well in advance of your trip. Put the container out in the open, leave the door open, and make it an enjoyable place by placing treats and toys in it. Use it when you go on fun outings such as to the dog park, so your pooch will associate the kennel with pleasure, not just a trip to the vet.

> Checking Your Dog:

If your pet is of a certain size or you’re flying on an airline that doesn’t allow in-cabin pets to a particular destination, such as Hawaii, you will have to check your pet either as baggage or, in cases when the pet is traveling unaccompanied or is too large to qualify as baggage, as cargo.

If your pet must travel as cargo, make sure you allow ample time to drop off your dog at the cargo facility, which is frequently in a different location than regular baggage. Pets traveling as checked baggage generally don’t require a reservation and are usually accepted on a first-come, first-served basis.

Regardless of whether your dog is to be checked as baggage or cargo, be sure to do your research. Find out the airline’s procedures for transporting live animals. Request that your pet be loaded last and unloaded first. Another way to minimize trauma for your dog: Book nonstop flights and avoid connecting flights to minimize the amount of time your pet spends on the tarmac and in the loading area. Make sure, too, to place a note with your dog’s name along with your name, contact information, and flight itinerary on the outside of the kennel.

Don’t feed your pooch less than four hours before departure, but do give it water. Place a bowl of frozen water in the kennel before you leave home. Make sure your dog is wearing a collar (and not a choke collar) with ID tags. Put a T-shirt you’ve slept in inside the carrier to comfort your pooch to ease separation anxiety.

It’s important to note that though airlines safely transport thousands of animals annually in the climate-controlled hold, there is always the risk of injury, escape, even death. Please note that the Humane Society of the United States does not recommend transporting animals in this manner unless absolutely necessary. If your pet is traveling in the hold, let the flight attendants and pilots know and ask them to confirm when your pooch has been loaded. Some airlines will do this automatically.

This article was adapted from the National Geographic book The Dog Lover’s Guide to Travel, by Kelly E. Carter, a New York Times best-selling author, proud “pet parent,” and founder of The Jet Set Pets

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