How to Fly With a Dog

By Robert Cabral, dog trainer and member of the Wag! Advisory Board  

Pets are family members and taking them on vacation is far from unusual — but on a plane? Well, more people are doing it. The number of pets carried by U.S. airlines increased 11 percent last year to 784,000, according to Airlines for America, the industry’s lobbying organization.

While having our pets along can be fun, air travel can be tough on many dogs. You want to make sure they’re as prepared as possible for every step along the way.

Start by checking with the airline(s) you're flying to understand their pet-travel rules and regulations. Every airline can be slightly different. Before bringing your dog along, make sure you’re following proper protocol. 

Here are some things to keep in mind.

Flying with the big dogs  

  • Medium to larger pets are typically not allowed in the cabin of most airlines unless they're legitimate “service animals.”  And I never recommend faking credentials to claim your dog is an assistance animal because:
    - Service animals are specifically trained to perform tasks and are conditioned to different environments. Your pet isn’t ready for that. I’ve seen dogs experience severe trauma in airplane cabins. It’s a very stressful environment, and you have no place to go if your dog starts to panic.
    - It’s a federal offense to lie about a service animal.
    - It’s not fair to put your dog, a legitimate service dog, or your fellow passengers into a compromising situation just because you want to travel with your dog by your side.

  • Contrary to what many people tell you, flying a dog in “cargo” is not dangerous. The area where the dogs are kept is pressurized and climate controlled. It’s often much safer for a dog to fly there than in the main cabin.

  • If you decide to “check your dog,” be sure to book in advance and have a suitably sized crate for him to travel comfortably.

  • Do not give your dog any sedatives before travel without your veterinarian’s recommendation.

  • To ensure pets are properly hydrated throughout their journey, use a water bowl that attaches to the front of the crate. I use the Lixit Bowl and freeze the water first. That way, as the water melts, there’s always fresh water for your dog the entire flight — and less likelihood for spills.

Welcome aboard, little one

  • Smaller dogs can travel in the plane’s cabin provided they fit in an FAA-approved carrier that fits under the seat.  The size restriction for this varies by airline, so you'll want to check with your specific carrier for guidance. Travel & Leisure has some information on this topic.

  • Your pet is required to stay in the carrier during the entire flight, so get your best friend used to a crate before you travel. This is one of the best things you can do for your dog.

    • While it may be tempting to take your dog out of the crate once aboard, don't. This is in the best interest of your dog and any other pets on board. Your pet can be hurt in an airline cabin, especially if the flight encounters turbulence or any other disturbance.

    • Fun fact: Your crate can also be used in your hotel if you need to leave the room and can’t bring your dog. You wouldn’t want your dog to escape the room when an unwitting housekeeper stops by to turn down your bed.

Large or small canine companion — do this

  • When traveling — domestically or internationally — be sure to have all of your dog's medical records and vaccines up to date and carry a copy of the records with you. Some countries require proof of a rabies vaccination and other treatment.  Be sure to check before you travel to make sure you have all the necessary paperwork. You’ll find great information about traveling with your pet internationally — and returning to the U.S. — at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s website.

  • Always bring your dog's own food with you — or order a bag to be delivered to your final destination. This can help your dog avoid an upset stomach while traveling.

A flying vacation with your dog can be fun and rewarding as long as you prepare for the journey in advance. If you aren’t able to take your four-legged friend along, you can always use Wag! to find trusted and vetted sitting and boarding for your best buddy while you're away.

In my next post, I’ll share information about traveling with your pet by car.