10 Tips For Taking Your Dog on a Plane

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When I adopted Lana, my Jack Russell puppy, I knew she’d be a world traveler just like me. I even went as far as to have her trained and certified as a service dog to help ease my flight anxiety. When I decided to bring her from Europe to the U.S., I thought it’d be as simple as ticking off a box when I bought my ticket. Little did I know how extensive the process would be to bring a dog on an airplane and how much paperwork would be involved.

TLDR — get yourself a sturdy folder, because traveling with a dog by air involves a lot of paperwork.

The rules for flying with a dog are pretty standard, whether your pet is in a carrier under your seat, in the cargo hold under the plane, or assisting you as a service dog. One thing is for sure, however: The last thing you want is to be turned away at the airport for not being fully prepared. Here are some things I learned that help Lana and me have a smooth, pleasant flying experience every time.

1Research Your Airline’s Pet Policy

Not all pet policies are created equal, and the more you learn ahead of time, the better. There are often size and weight limits for pet carriers, and limits on how many dogs can ride in the cabin. Some airlines don’t allow dogs at all. 

Many airlines also charge a fee for pets to be transported, even if they are in the cabin with you. Other airlines may count your pet carrier as your carry-on bag, meaning you can only bring a personal item, like a purse, if you’re riding in the cabin with your dog.

If your dog is over the cabin limit and needs to be transported as cargo under the plane, reach out to the airline to learn about the conditions. Most pet areas are okay, but if something feels uncomfortable to you, you may want to reconsider the airline or flying with your dog altogether.

2Contact Your Vet

It’s important to ensure your dog is healthy enough to take the journey. Most international countries require extensive health checks and paperwork stating your dog’s vaccination status. Some U.S. states require this as well, even if you’re traveling nationally. Having this clean bill of health on hand will make your check-in process much easier.

3Get Your Paperwork in Order

I wasn’t kidding about the paperwork. Outside of the vaccination record and the health statement from your vet, you may also be required to fill out statements for the Department of Transportation (DoT). It’s required by the DoT to have records of your pet’s information, and in some cases, you’ll need to fill out a sanitary attestation stating you’re responsible if your dog has an accident on the plane.  

Even if you’ve submitted this information online, keep easily accessible physical copies. You might have to resubmit them at the airport.

4Get Everything in Writing

Just because you have a ticket doesn’t mean your dog can come too. Many airlines require pre-approval of pets, which means you should keep any correspondence you’ve had with your airline, especially any approval letters or emails stating your dog is allowed to come on board. 

Don’t rely on phone calls only; people leave airline customer service jobs, and from my personal experience, many aren’t as familiar with their own pet policies as you might think. Having something in writing will at least provide a paper trail if complications arise at check-in.

5Pack a Doggy Bag

Now that your paperwork is all filed away nice and neat, it’s time to pack your dog’s bag. I recommend getting a bag with lots of pockets, so you can store items like travel bowls, homeopathic anti-anxiety aids, waste bags, wee wee pads, and a few treats. 

6Limit Food Intake Prior to Your Flight

This is to keep your dog from having an accident on the plane. The amount of time to allow your dog to fast depends on how long you’ll be airborne; my vet recommended Lana fast for 24 hours before our 10-hour flight, but holding off on food four to six hours before takeoff is generally advised from the pet experts at Chewy.

Water is okay to provide your dog, but don’t worry if they don’t drink a lot if they are anxious. Once you land, feel free to feed your pup, but I still recommend waiting until your final destination if possible, since some dogs go to the bathroom 30 minutes after they eat or drink.

7Ask for Assistance at the Airport

Your ticket will usually have a special code denoting that you’re traveling with a pet. But if it doesn’t, it’s okay to ask for special assistance — especially if you’re unsure of the process. Gate agents really appreciate it if you have all of the paperwork ready to go, so keep that folder handy along with your boarding documents. If you’re traveling with a service dog, ask if there is an accessibility desk, or if someone can help you check in where it’s less crowded. 

8Identify Pet Relief Areas

Locate the nearest pet relief area in your terminal ahead of time, so you can give your dog the chance for one last whizz before you board. Some airports offer really nice pet relief areas — the rooftop area at JFK’s Terminal 5, for example, has an entire outdoor area for dogs to run around in, which helped Lana get her energy out before we took off.  

9Ask if You Can Board Early

I like making sure our seat will be able to accommodate us, so I try to be one of the first to board. This way, if something isn’t quite right, I can have a flight attendant assist me before the other guests come on the plane. Even if your pet is in a carrier bag, it never hurts to ask if you can board in the first group. Sometimes it helps to have the extra time to adjust the bag under the seat, or help your dog acclimate to their temporary surroundings.

10Be Respectful of Other Flyers

If you’re traveling next to strangers, don’t assume they will be comfortable if you take your dog out of its carrier. I don’t necessarily ask permission from my seatmates to have Lana on my lap or at my feet, but I do make sure there is enough space between her and the armrest, and I also make sure to put her into her carrier when the meals are served, as well as during takeoff and landing.  

The Bottom Line

Traveling by air with your pup is an amazing experience, but it doesn’t come without its challenges. If you stay on top of the airline regulations and paperwork, you’ll feel more comfortable knowing you’re as prepared as you can be. After that, you can sit back and enjoy the flight with your furry best friend. 

Tags: Pets, Travel

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Written By

Katka Lapelosová

Katka is a writer from New York City, currently living in Belgrade, Serbia. See Full Bio

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