Flying with your dog

  1. In summer always fly at night; in winter always fly during the day. Flying at night in summer is probably the single best way to make sure that your dog will be safe from the heat.
  2. Call the airline at least 4 -5 times and talk to at least that many people about EXACTLY what they require from you and what you expect from them. Get names. Write it all down. Keep calling until they're all telling you the same story and they all know your voice or pretty close to.
  3. Get to the airport in *plenty* of time with a well-exercised, pottied, comfortable dog.
  4. Have your crate marked with all kinds of fun colors that can be easily spotted from a distance, and have a BIG name tag for the dog inside taped right to the top so that when the flight attendant calls down to check on the dog and reports that ground says he's boarded, you can say, "What does the name tag say?" and make sure that 1) they're not lying to get you on the plane and really haven't checked and 2) If there is more than one animal on the flight you know they have the right one. Have a BIG sign on the crate that says, "Do NOT open this crate without permission of the owner or a licensed veterinarian!!!"
  5. Don't get on the plane until you know that your dog is loaded, either by having looked out the window and seen it yourself, or by having had the gate attendant verify that it's your dog, with them telling YOU the name, not by you asking, "Did the name tag say 'Spiff'?"
  6. Fly direct whenever possible, even if it's more expensive or if you have a longer car trip on either end because of having to use a more distant airport. If there is a plane change, go through the same stuff all again, making sure the dog is loaded, etc. If by any chance you should have a long layover, do everything in your power to go and physically check on your dog, particularly if it is hot or cold outside.
  7. Upon arrival,talk to the gate attendant AGAIN, telling her that there is a live animal on board and that you want her to call down and see that t is unloaded first (or again, if you can, look out the window and if they don't unload it first, ask the attendant to call down). As soon as you know your dog is unloaded, head to baggage claim.

(Pam Hartley)

"Sherpa bags" are widely accepted & recognized by airline personnel, so they are best *IF* your dog is small enough to fit. But since it is semi-rigid, and only about 11" high, a lot of small/medium dogs are left out. "Le Pet bag by DoggiDuds" (largest size) is a few inches bigger, but (more importantly), it is very flexible (like a nylon gym bag with ventilation & a solid bottom). So it adjusts for a tall, skinny, standing dog, or for a longer dog to sprawl a little while lying down (like scrunching around inside a sleeping bag). So your dog *can* stand up, turn around, & lie down. Almost any "mini" (under 16" shoulder) should definitely fit. A slightly larger dog might be able to fit, but it will be very snug (so much for "turn around").

TWA specifies that Sherpa and DoggiDuds are the only approved soft-sided carriers. They only allow 2 pets in the cabin per flight; make sure the pet has a reservation well in advance! Due to recent renovations to allow a few inches more passenger leg room, they also have an incredibly spacious amount of room under the seats! Wide, tall, & long (and no stupid metal bar 8" up like most other airlines' planes seem to have).

American actually allows FIVE pets in the coach cabin (and another 2 in first class). Their rules exempt "soft-sided carriers" from the underseat size requirements (specifically the 8" high), and do not mention brand names.

Other airlines: Some don't allow any pets in the cabin, some only allow Sherpa (for soft-sided). Most don't seem to know their own rules!! Try to get hardcopy printout of the airline's policies, so you can show them their own rules in writing if they have a problem with it. Make them quote their rules *verbatim* not their garbled interpretation of misremembered rules.

The carriers do not have terribly good visibility looking in, so it is hard for the airline personnel to notice how tightly packed the dog is. If you are discrete, and put the dogs inside around the corner, before approaching the gate, it will often never occur to them to ask about size. (With a larger dog, be *very* discrete while in the airport.) You might be challenged while waiting to put your dog into the carrier right at the departure gate, in front of the airline personnel. This is where it can help to have a dog that is trained to turn around on cue, so that it is relatively easy to demonstrate. While the dog can't stand up & turn around while under the seat for take-off & landing, neither can you! And once the seat belt sign goes off, it is permissible to have the carrier on the floor under/between your knees, where he would have room to stand up if he wanted. You might want to explain to seatmates that there is a live dog there, so they won't accidentally kick him. (Bring pictures, since your dog won't be readily visible. Makes it easier to explain what agility is, too!)

Keep in mind that assistance dogs (including large dogs like Labs, goldens, and GSDs) manage to fit under the seat when they fly. (Sometimes they use the bulkhead seat with more footroom, but not always. BTW, do not book the bulkhead seats -- they have no under-seat space for the carrier.) And presumably your dog is a lot less disruptive than the infant flying for *free* in its mother's lap...
(Susan Waltman)

Treats are a big help. Not for the dog, but for the flight crew! A few Godiva chocolates or homemade cookies work well. Put some on the crate for those who load and give a few to the crew in the plane for keeping a watch on your special pet. Write a letter and hand the letter and treats for the cabin crew directly to someone in the cockpit if possible. If you must hand it to an attendant, stay put until you see them hand it into the cockpit.

The top 1/3 of the page is a drawing/picture of your dog. You could scan a picture of your breed of dog. It helps to grab their attention and is a conversation starter.

Dear Captain: Please know that in the "belly" of the plane you have one or more precious, much-loved show dogs on the way to or from a dog show. We'd prefer to have our dogs riding up here with us, but the airline rules require that they be below.

We'll be very worried until we see our friend(s) again. Therefore, we'll be grateful if you could:

  • Confirm for yourself that the dog(s) is/are actually on board, and
  • If there is a particular hold where the atmosphere is better for live animals, that they are in the right hold and not sharing space with dry ice, etc., and
  • So far as possible, monitor the atmosphere where the dog(s) is/are located.

You will make us feel a lot better and we will be able to relax and enjoy the flight if we know you care.
Thanks ... from my friend(s) and me:

Seat ________

Before you get to the plane,

  1. Spray the outside of your crates so that they can be easily seen when they are loaded. Watch them being loaded, if possible.
  2. Double check all of the screw fittings to make sure they are tight.
  3. Weave a belt/bungee from the side window, through the crate door, and to the other window grating so door can't accidentally come open. I also take the dog's collar off and buckle it through the front of the door.
  4. Fill water dish 2/3 full and freeze the night before to add to crate at last minute.
  5. On top of crate tape a 8x11 sheet with a note that says dog is friendly, the flight #, any transfers, and dog's final destination.
  6. Extra food and water in a pack on back of crate. If weather is hot, use a frozen blue ice cold pack under the wire grate of the crate.
  7. Arrive early, and write down the names of everyone with whom you speak.
  8. DO check all tags that any one puts on your dog's crate. Don't assume that because your ticket is right that your dogs ticket is also right.

And go somewhere fun!
(Thomas Black)

Flying *definitely* is not for every dog or handler, and many people still drive to most events. Here are some things you can do to make *both* of you more comfortable:

  • Carefully select flights with concern about temperature and direct if at all possible.
  • Get a seat assignment at a right hand window toward the front.
  • Thoroughly acclimate your dog to the crate, including the same bedding and bowls.
  • Mark the crate with full flight info and emergency contacts. Attach spare food and leash attached. Flight crews have commented positively on the easily read info.
  • Play games with your dog in the airport, and have friendly visits with strangers. You can do a lot of dog-related education at airports, especially with children.
  • Potty your dog as close to flight time as possible and offer a limited amount of water.
  • Put cotton in the ears to diminish the noise. You can use cotton cosmetic pads rolled into a cylinder inserted deep into each ear. (Get your vet's approval.)
  • Whenever possible walk your dog to the baggage area/cart and hup her into the crate there.
  • Make sure the gate people and flight crew know you're traveling with a dog. Usually someone is a dog person.
  • Whenever possible watch your dog being loaded and unloaded.
  • Start your stop watch when the plane pushes back from the terminal. Plan to start raising a ruckus if the weather is hot and it appears likely for the plane to be held on the ground for more than 30 minutes. Air flow is minimal in the cargo hold until the plane is airborne and the heat of a long period can cause death.
  • Thank any airline personnel who handle your dog. Also write letters to the airlines.

(Sally Sheridan)

Driving gives one more control of the conditions of travel. But 12 hours on the road may be MORE stressful than a 2-3 hour direct airline flight and flying may be the most reasonable way of traveling. Here's some tips:

  1. Pick a reputable airline Fly from a major city to a major city (with possibly some driving at either end) to keep travel to a direct, non-stop flight. Also, be willing to adjust your time and schedule to give your dog the advantage of the best possible flight.
  2. Making reservations. If you have always used a travel agent, consider whether that person is well aware of your dog's importance (it's the reason you're even traveling!) to the planning. If there isn't that reassurance, make your own plans with the airlines directly. It's easy to do, and the airline reservationist can probably answer all the questions you want to ask. After you decide on the best flight you are going to take, and remember to reserve a place for your dog, you should find out: a) what type of plane you will be flying on, and the cargo size. Ask if the cargo compartment on that plane is heated or not. Remember that no matter what the ground temperature is at either end of your travel, up 30,000 feet the temperature can be 45 degrees or less. Practically all the main cargo areas are heated, and the temperature is kept at 65 degrees once up in the air. But ask, so you know what your dog is experiencing. b) ask if any other dogs will be on the flight. There is a limit to the number of dogs allowed on each flight, and it varies by the size of the plane and the sizes of the dogs traveling. c) realize that your dog can be bumped from a flight if a corpse is being transported (health reasons). d) check with airlines what records are required for travel; usually a Health Certificate is required. e) for seat assignment, ask to sit up front as close as possible, so that you can be one of the first ones down to the baggage claim area. At some airports, dogs are unloaded first, and make it to the baggage area quickly. f) if where you're going to or traveling from may have temperature concerns, schedule morning or evening flights. Also, try to travel at less busy times; mid-morning, instead of first thing when a lot of business people are traveling. Early evening (if hot, any time after 5 may be ok, but again think of prime travel time.
  3. Preparations. Use a high quality, sturdy, airline approved crate. The size should fit the size of the dog; don't buy or borrow a crate too big or too small. Too small means the dog cannot stand up in the crate (also a requirement by the FAA); too large can cause injury to your dog if there is too much room should the crate not be handled carefully and the dog is jostled within the crate. Use an appropriate size VariKennel. Also travel with a separate heavy duty set of wheels, which are loaded with the dog, and most times the dog and wheels come back out together. The set of wheels are not considered a piece of luggage, but as part of the dog's travel equipment. Have a thermal reflective sheet folded and taped on the entire top of the crate to reflect heat, in case dog is left out in the sun for any amount of time. Decorate or stripe the crate to distinguish your crate from others.
  4. Prior to traveling. If your dog has not used an airline crate before, set it up at home and let him sleep in it occasionally. If your dog is very sensitive to being "left", put an article of your clothing in it, with his blanket or pad, and when you leave the house on short errands, close the dog in the crate and let him get use to being "enclosed" by himself. If your dog is sound sensitive, realize airline engines are very loud. Sound sensitize your dog before your trip too. There are tapes, or make one of your own at an airport, of the loud noises. Also, make sure your dog's shots are up to date, and obtain a HEALTH CERTIFICATE for travel. Get the heath certificate from your vet (usually a fee of $10-25) as close to travel time as possible; it has a time limit.
  5. Watch the weather report. Know that the temperature regulations for flying a dog is 10 degrees minimum and 85 degrees maximum, at both cities, at the time of check in (one hour before the flight, usually). They won't fly your dog over or under these extremes. Have in your mind an alternate plan should this happen. Will you allow the airlines to fly your dog without you on a later flight? Be mentally prepared to take another flight if your dog has to or don't go at all.
  6. The day of flying. Get to the airport in of time; one and a half hours early is plenty. You will check in at the main ticket counter, because you have to purchase your dog's ticket then (no pre-purchasing for dog). Your dog is considered "excess baggage", and it is easier if you buy for both flights at once; saves trouble of having to do it a second time. Some people will keep a water dish attached inside the crate door. The problem with that, unless you freeze the water, is that it will usually splash out before your dog is boarded. Instead, carry a small water dish, a bottle of water, and leash in your carry on bag; ss soon as you get to your dog, open the crate, scream "hello" back, and have water in a dish ready immediately. When it's time for your dog to be loaded to be taken down to the plane, don't let them take him down too early. If they insist, ask where and how the dogs are kept before they're loaded. Sometimes there are air-conditioned (or heated) "hold" rooms. Sometimes they might be left outside; KNOW WHAT THAT AIRPORT DOES WITH THE DOGS before loading time. As soon as you leave your dog (and a kind "please take care of my dog" doesn't hurt) head for the gate you're leaving from. Find the side of the plane the luggage is loaded on, and watch for your dog to be loaded. If they start loading the plane, and you haven't seen your dog loaded yet, tell the gate person you're waiting a few minutes to make sure your dog is loaded first. If you board the plane first, tell one of the stewardesses up front you're waiting for confirmation. Keep on top of things, so that BOTH of you are on the same flight. DON'T ASSUME ANYTHING!
  7. Landing. Get to the baggage area as soon as possible. Ask where the "OVERSIZE" baggage is brought; it's different than where the luggage is. Forget your luggage for now- it will just keep going around on the conveyer belt. Stick to the "oversize" area, and if the luggage has started to show up, start asking where the dogs are. As soon as they bring the crate through the door, pull it off to the side, have your leash ready, then say "HELLO!" Overexcitement is very common- just sit there and be licked like crazy- it's normal. Have water available, once your dog settles down. After those first moments of reuniting, go outside. Then go find your luggage, and take off to the trial. Another tip; if you're renting a car, have a sheet in your carry on bag that can protect the car seats- be courteous and conscientious!
  8. If connecting flights: If the time in between flights is more than 75-90 minutes, consider pulling your dog off. Go to the "oversize" baggage area; there's usually a counter around with someone to speak to. Give them the flight # you just arrived on, and tell them you want to pull your dog off for a few minutes. Be firm and insistent, and pleasant about it. Ask when they need the dog back to load on the next flight. Follow the same procedure you did on the first flight to make sure your dog is loaded.

Never let up on knowing where your dog is at all times, and what conditions he's under. Ask lots of questions, demand good answers. Ask for someone in management if you don't get answers. The more you know and plan before your flight can make the flight actually enjoyable for both of you! GOOD LUCK!
(Darlene Woz)

  1. Tape does not stick to Vari Kennels. Get a bit of masking tape, 6 oz enamel spray paint of any color, and a little sand paper. Wipe off crate with good cleaner ( alcohol works ok), tape off area to be painted ( stripes 2" wide work well), sand lightly and wipe off again with (alcohol) spray, using 3-4 light coats. This will last for a long time, and most likely no one else will have your design so it will stick out. Use bright colors that can be seen for a distance.
  2. If you sedate it may take 2-3 days to get the dog back to normal. Instead, keep the dog busy with a kong in the crate. Fill it with spray cheese or peanut butter, and a cookie or two. The dog will spend hours trying to lick all of it out. Safe, too.
  3. Worried about dog chewing thru crate? Avoid the newer ones with holes drilled in back as they are an easy target for teeth to get thru. You can weave a leash through the front gate, side windows and around the back, keeping the majority of it on the outside, just looping thru here and there. That would make sure that the door and windows stay shut.
  4. In cold weather put warm blankets on bottom of crate. Yes, you do have to have a food/water dish in crate but leave it empty for now unless the dog is going to be in the plane for many hours. Added water tends to spill and make the crate wet and cold.

(Scot Bartley)


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