Flying with a Dog? Here’s How to Ensure a Smooth Flight for Your Pet

From choosing the right airline to keeping your pet safe, flying with a dog takes planning and preparation.
Dog in travel carrier (Photo: Envato)
Flying with a dog (Photo: Envato)

Air travel is stressful enough when you’re flying with kids, but traveling with pets can take that stress to a whole new level. When flying with a dog, your first priority as a pet owner is to ensure your pet is safe and comfortable, whether they’re flying in the cabin with you or traveling in the cargo area.

Because taking care of your four-legged family member while traveling requires you to think beyond simply finding a cheap flight, there are a number of factors to consider before and during your trip. From choosing a dog-friendly airline with a reasonable pet fee to preparing your pooch for the journey ahead of time, here are the most important tips for flying with a dog.

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Important Tips for Flying with a Dog

1) Choose an airline that accommodates your type and size of dog.

American Airlines' Boeing 777-300 on the runway (Photo: American)
Each U.S. airline has its own policy and fees for flying with a dog (Photo: American)

The websites for domestic carriers like SouthwestJetBlueAmericanAlaskaUnited, and Delta each spell out the kinds of dogs that are and are not allowed to fly in the main cabin, including restrictions on age, size, and breed; requirements for a carrier that can fit under the seat; and whether larger dogs are permitted onboard as cargo travel. The pet fee for flying with a dog can range from about $95 to $200, depending on the airline.

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“Each airline has information about their specific pet policies, and they do vary,” says Dr. Shannon Gregoire, an associate veterinarian at Woodstock Veterinary Clinic in Connecticut and the editor of Pet Candy Magazine. “It is always best to check the airline’s rules on their website before purchasing tickets.”

Some airlines allow you to indicate that you’re flying with a dog when booking your ticket online; other airlines require a phone call to claim your spot. You’ll want to do this quickly to ensure there aren’t any issues with bringing your pet. “Most airlines limit the number of pets that can travel on any given flight,” says Dr. Amanda Takiguchi, a veterinarian and founder of the website Trending Breeds. “I skip a step by calling the airline to book my flight and tell them about the dog at the same time. This also saves me the trouble and cost of having to cancel if the flight is already at pet capacity.”

2) Choose a pet carrier that meets the requirements of your chosen airline and then start getting your dog used to it before your trip.

“Carrier training is the most important step in flying with your dog,” says Gigi Chow, who runs the dog travel website Wet Nose Escapades and has flown with her rescue Yorkshire terrier on more than 50 flights. “This step takes patience, time, and lots of treats.”

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Chow suggests starting at least two months in advance of your dog’s first flight. Begin with a few minutes a day and work your way up. “Depending on the duration of the flight, you’ll want to train your dog to feel comfortable inside for at least one to three hours before the actual flight. The more relaxed your dog can feel inside the carrier, the better he or she will fare on the flight.”

3) Gather all the health-related information you might need for your dog during your travels.

Talk with your vet about any particular concerns based on your travel itinerary, and start the process early to ensure it’s completed in time. “Prepare a health certificate and proof of vaccination; this will ensure smooth-sailing at the airport,” says Jen Jones, a professional dog trainer and behavior specialist and the founder of the blog Your Dog Advisor.

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4) Give your dog a chance to stretch their legs before heading to the airport, and be prepared for potty breaks by mapping out the pet relief areas at the airports you’ll be utilizing.

Don't let your dog off leash at a campground (Photo: @jordvdz via Twenty20)
Walk your dog before arriving at the airport (Photo: @jordvdz via Twenty20)

“I like to walk them before the airport so they’re a little tired,” says Emmeline Peterson, who documents her adventures with her service dog Finnian on her Instagram account, @finnianthegoldie, and also travels with her other dogs, Lacey and Keegan. “Do a lot of dog enrichment activities before to get their mental energy out too.”

For bathroom breaks, you can check the terminal maps for individual airports or find information on sites like PetFriendlyTravel.com.

5) Arrive early and allow for extra time should any hiccups arise. 

“My main tip for flying with your dog is to make it as easy on yourself as possible,” says Erika Barnes, founder and CEO of the website PetSmitten. “For me, it means arriving at the airport in plenty of time… If something should go wrong with my documents or the dog’s documents, I can be safe in the knowledge that there is plenty of time to fix it.”

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6) Be ready for the security screening process.

“Your dog will go through security (just like everyone else),” says Sadie Cornelius, who handles creative and content marketing for Canine Journal and flies often with her Cavalier King Charles spaniel. “Prepare to remove their harness, collar, and leash, and guide (or carry) them through the metal detector.”

7) Prepare for changing air pressure.

Some dogs can be sensitive to pressure changes while in flight. “I’ve given bully sticks or low odor chews; the chewing can help with ear sensitivities,” says Peterson. “You can also buy dog earmuffs for takeoffs and landings.”

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8) Expect little accidents.

Be ready for accidents, too. “Besides putting a pee pad inside the carrier, you should have dog wipes and human antibacterial wipes handy for easy cleaning,” advises Chow.

9) Reassure your dog that everything is okay.

Show your dog there’s no need to be scared. “Relax and fly!” says Dr. Takiguchi. “Your dog can sense if you are nervous, so staying calm is important to keep them comfortable… Takeoff and landing are the loudest and scariest moments, so check on them after each.”

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10) Make an informed decision about cargo travel for large dogs.

Dogs traveling by airplane as cargo (Photo: Envato)
Flying a dog as cargo is generally safe, but it’s not entirely without risk (Photo: Envato)

The decision to have a large dog fly in the cargo compartment (when that option is available) is a personal one. “While most animals flown in the cargo area of airplanes are fine, you should be aware that some animals are killed, injured, or lost on commercial flights each year. Excessively hot or cold temperatures, poor ventilation, and rough handling are often to blame,” says The Humane Society of the United States on its website. Talk with your veterinarian for advice specific to your pooch.

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Beth Luberecki
Beth Luberecki is a Florida-based freelance writer who writes about travel, business, and lifestyle topics for a variety of publications and websites. She enjoys exploring destinations close to home and farther afield with her husband and teenage daughter. Visit her website at bethluberecki.com or find her on Instagram at @bethluberecki and @findingfloridafun.

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