Traveling with a Small Dog: Expert Tips
Tips for Flying with a Small Dog
By Jason R. Rich
Yes, flying with your dog can be expensive.
However, it’s a small sacrifice if your dog is considered a family member and bringing him along is important to you.
Whether for business or pleasure, many people dislike leaving their small dogs behind when they travel by airplane. Instead of putting your dog in a kennel or one of those upscale doggie hotels popping up around the country, consider taking your small dog (weighing 15 pounds or less) with you the next time you travel by air.
On many major airlines, passengers can pay a fee and have their small dog accompany them on the airplane within the passenger cabin, as long as the pet stays within an FAA approved pet carrier, and that carrier remains under the seat in front of the passenger (like a traditional carry-on bag).
Of course, airlines also charge a fee for the privilege of traveling with a pet, and a variety of restrictions and regulations apply. Keep in mind, these rules are drastically different from those that apply large-size dogs that will be checked in an airplane’s cargo hold.
First, Choose The Perfect Pet Carrier
Prior to traveling with a small dog, be sure to purchase a well-made, FAA approved carrier that’s the appropriate size for your dog, and that also meets airline size regulations (typically no larger than 17” x 12.5” x 8”). The following are a few things to look for when shopping for the perfect pet carrier:
- Proper ventilation from multiple sides of the carrier
- A leak-proof bottom
- Well-made zippers on the carrier’s door(s). The doors should be escape proof, plus easy to open and close by the pet owner
- A crush-proof shell (even for soft-sided carriers)
- A well-balanced design that’s easy for the pet owner to carry, and that won’t wobble or topple if the dog repositions itself in the bag while it’s being transported
- The carrier should have a separate compartment to store a leash and other small accessories
It’s essential that your dog fit comfortably in the carrier and can easily reposition itself while it’s enclosed within the case. On a long flight, your dog will be spending multiple hours at a time enclosed within the carrier, and should always be able to remain comfortable and breath properly.
A well-made pet carrier will cost anywhere from $50.00 to $200.00. Available from pet stores nationwide, Sherpa Pet Trading Company (800–743–7723 / www.sherpapet.com) is one of the few companies that manufacture a line of stylish pet carriers that are FAA approved and that meet all of the criteria listed earlier.
Choose Function over Fashion
The outward appearance or style of the bag from a fashion standpoint should have much less importance to you than the carrier’s functionality and the comfort it offers for your pet. In other words, don’t choose a carrier simply because it matches your luggage or travel outfit. Remember, a pet carrier is designed to serve a purpose – to safely and comfortably transport your dog.
Once you’ve purchased what you believe is the perfect pet carrier, allow your dog to become comfortable spending time in it for short periods of time over a few weeks. If your dog feels comfortable and safe in his carrier, he’ll be must less anxious when traveling through busy airports and when he’s forced to spend long amounts of time within the carrier during actual flights. Remember, only one pet can travel within a carrier at a time on an airplane.
Making Your Airline Reservations
There are a few extra steps when it comes to making airline reservations when your small dog will be accompanying you on a flight. The first step involves booking your own ticket.
For this step, you can contact an airline directly, access an airline’s website, or use a popular online-based travel service (such as Travelocity.com, Hotwire.com, Orbitz.com, or Kayak.com) to find and book a discounted airline ticket for yourself and the other humans you’ll be traveling with.
After booking your own airline ticket, obtain the reservation or confirmation number, and then call the airline’s toll-free phone number immediately to explain you’ll be traveling with a small dog in the cabin. Depending on the type of aircraft, a limited number of pets are allowed on any given flight (this includes service dogs), so it’s important to make your dog’s reservation as far in advance as possible, especially during peak travel times.
All airlines now charge a fee to travel with a small dog. The fee is charged per flight (on a one-way basis), and varies between airlines. This fee is waved for service or therapy dogs with proper documentation.
The following chart explains how to contact some of the major airlines and what their fees are for traveling domestically with a small pet that will accompany you within the main cabin. Rules and fees for international travel are different. Contact the airline directly for details.
Preparing For The Flight
As you’re packing for yourself, you’ll need to bring along some additional items for your pet, both within your main luggage and in your carry-on. In order for your pet to fly with a major airline, you’ll need to present a dated health certificate from your veterinarian and/or vaccination documentation (including proof of up-to-date rabies vaccinations.)
If your dog is a nervous traveler, consult with your veterinarian about using a prescribed sedative. Many veterinaries are against this, because sedation can make it difficult for a dog to adjust their ears to cabin pressure changes.
Avoid feeding your dog or allowing him to consume too much water for several hours prior to a flight, and make sure he’s able to properly relieve himself before checking in at the airport. Leave ample time in your travel schedule for a last-minute walk.
Even if the scheduled flight is a short one, plan on delays, which means your dog will need to remain in his carrier for an extended period, so pack and plan accordingly.
Along with the carrier, the following packing list for your dog will help ensure you’re prepared for travel:
- Ample supply of dog food
- Treats, bones, and snacks
- Food and water bowls
- Leash, collar and/or harness
- Dog tags, license, and dated vaccination documentation
- Portable dog bed
- Medication (if applicable)
- Wee pads (if applicable)
- Disposable dog waste bags
- A small water bowl or container you can fill on the airplane to give your dog a drink during a long flight or in the airport terminal, if necessary. The flight attendant will supply bottled water for your dog upon request. Do not serve your dog tap water from the airplane’s lavatory.
On the day of your flight, show up to the airport two hours early for a domestic flight. You’ll probably need extra time at the ticket counter and to get through security with your small dog.
Instead of using the automated kiosks most airlines now have at their respective airport ticket counters, when traveling with your dog, you must check-in in-person, pay your pet’s airfare, and show the required paperwork related to your pet’s health.
Before entering the airport terminal, walk your dog. Once you pass through airport security, you’re technically not allowed to remove your dog from his carrier within in the airport, or at any time aboard the aircraft.
What you do, however, within the airplane’s lavatory is your own business. During long flights, it’s a good idea to allow your dog to stretch out and take a small drink of water to avoid dehydration, which can be done in the privacy of the airplane’s lavatory. You might consider bringing along a disposable wee pad for your dog to use on extremely long flights.
After checking in at the airline’s ticket counter, proceed to security. Remove any metal from the dog’s collar, and remove your dog from his carrier. The dog’s empty carrier should be put through the X-Ray machine.
The airline should provide you with a separate boarding pass or receipt for your dog that the TSA representative and/or the flight attendant aboard your aircraft may ask to see.
Carry your dog in your arms as you pass through the metal detector. If your dog barks or snaps at strangers, keep him away from TSA security officers as they check your boarding pass and ID. Once you’re through airport security, your dog will need to return to his carrier.
Once aboard the airplane, tell the people in the seats in front of you and next to you that you’re traveling with a small dog. Otherwise, if the dog barks, it could scare the passengers. Plus, it gives the other passengers the option to be relocated if they’re allergic or afraid of dogs.
Keep Away from Babies
Try to be seated away from babies, since the sound of crying infants can scare your dog or make him more anxious than necessary. For the first few times your dog flies, chances are he’ll be pretty nervous, so pay attention to his needs, and try to comfort him as much as possible, before and during the flight.
On airplanes that have TV monitors built into the seats, like on JetBlue, do not place your pet under the middle seat in front of you. This is where the equipment for TV’s is located, and it gets very warm during the flight. This extra heat could pose a health risk to your dog. Placing the carrier under either the aisle or window seat in front of you in this situation is okay.
Keep in mind, the airlines consider your pet (and his carrier) to be your carry-on item. Thus, you’re only allowed one additional personal item (such as a purse or computer bag) to accompany you on the flight. All other luggage will need to be checked.
When you land, before gathering your luggage from baggage claim, take your dog outside of the terminal for a walk. Some airports have a small grassy area allocated to dog walking.
Yes, traveling with your small dog can be expensive. Plus, the airlines make you jump through a few extra hoops to bring your dog onto the airplane. However, it’s a small sacrifice if your dog is considered a family member and you want to bring him along. The next step is reserving pet-friendly hotel or resort accommodations for once you arrive at your travel destination.
Jason R. Rich is a travel writer for the New York Daily News newspaper’s “Your Money” section, and a bestselling author. He has his own travel blog, and often travels with his four-year-old Yorkshire Terrier, named Rusty.