Air Travel


This won’t win us any friends in the airline industry but we’re saying it: unless you have a small (under 20-pound) dog who can fit under the seat in front of you, please consider only auto trips with your dog. We know this isn’t always possible, as in the case of overseas relocation, but the cargo hold of an airplane isn’t a place for man’s best friend except when there’s no other option.

Rules vary by airline so, before buying your airline tickets, you’ll need to call the airline and find out its current rules and regulations regarding pet travel accommodations. As for general rules regarding pet travel, federal regulations state that your dog should be no less than eight weeks old and have been weaned for no less than five days before the day of the flight.

Flying With Your Dog In Cabin

You may fly with no more than one pet per passenger and the number of pets per flight is limited as well so check with your airline (another reasons for booking early!) Realize, too, that your dog carrier counts as your carry-on bag so you’ll be limited to just a small purse/camera bag additional bag with you on the flight.

Just as if you were carrying a child through airport security, you’ll need to take your dog through TSA screening. He’ll need to be removed from the carrier and that carrier will be x-rayed but NOT your dog. You will take the dog through the screening area with you. You’ll need for your dog to be on leash for this time. A collar along with his harness/leash should have no metal to speed the process. Here’s what TSA says about the screening process with dogs:

You will need to present the animal to the Security Officers at the checkpoint. You may walk your animal through the metal detector with you. If this is not possible, your animal will have to undergo a secondary screening, including a visual and physical inspection by our Security Officers.

Your animal will NEVER be placed through an X-ray machine. However, you may be asked to remove your animal from its carrier so that the carrier can be placed on the X-Ray machine.

Each airline will have strict rules regarding the size of carrier that can be carried onboard so check with your specific airline. In general, bags 19″ long x 13″ wide x 9″ high will fit and, if you select a soft-sided bag, you can get away with slightly different dimensions since the bags will adjust to fit the space. When you board the flight, your dog’s carrier will need to go completely under the seat ahead of you.

During the flight, you are not allowed to remove your dog from the carrier.

Checking Your Dog as Baggage or Cargo

Airlines accept dogs in the cargo hold of the airplane in two ways: as checked baggage or as cargo. In both instances, dogs are loaded into the cargo hold. (Remember what we said: only opt for this choice if there are no other choices for transporting your dog.)

Airlines won’t transport animals in cargo in extremes of temperature, so if it’s very hot or very cold, you may need backup arrangements in place. This is especially important for flat-faced (brachycephalic) dogs like bulldogs; their short snout means they can overheat very easily. Many airlines will not fly¬†brachycephalic dogs during the summer months.

Airlines won’t transport pets in cargo when the temperature is above 85 degrees F. They also won’t transport pets when the temperature may dip below 45 degrees F unless you have low temperature acclimation form signed within the past 10 days by your veterinarian stating that your dog can withstand lower temperatures.

You will need to confine your dog in an aircraft approved carrier, with your name and a contact phone number firmly attached to the carrier. It’s a good idea to put a familiar smelling blanket or a favorite toy in the carrier with your dog, as this may relax him during the journey. Talk with your vet before booking a flight to make sure your dog is healthy enough for the trip.

If you want to give your dog water in the carrier, many people suggest using ice cubes which will melt and hopefully avoid spillage, but your dog’s bedding may still become damp if the ice cubes fall out of the container.

Below is a list of additional precautions you should apply when traveling by air with your dog:

  1. When traveling with your dog, always book a direct, non-stop flight. Avoid plane transfers when possible. If you do have to book connections, we’d recommend a morning flight. By afternoon, short delays can pile up.
  2. On the day before you leave, confirm your flight schedule to make sure that there have been no changes. Leave your cell number with the airline so that you’ll be notified of any changes.
  3. On the day of your flight, give your dog a walk before leaving for the airport.
  4. Talk to your vet about feeding instructions. The vet will likely recommend that, for your dog’s comfort, he should be on an empty stomach during the flight. The vet will also give you instructions on proper feeding during the flight. This will vary depending on your dog’s age, size, his regular diet, and the length of the flight.
  5. To prevent dehydration, make sure that he gets enough water and that it is accessible to him during the flight.
  6. Get to the airport early.
  7. Make sure that he gets his potty time right before he goes inside the crate. To make your dog feel more secure, you should put him in his crate, and not have the airline staff do it for you.
  8. Stay with your dog as long as possible before the flight and personally take him to the gate.
  9. Upon boarding the plane, inform the flight attendant that your dog is inside the cargo. Confirm with the flight attendant that your dog has been loaded into cargo. If possible, watch your dog being put on your plane.
  10. When you get to your destination, go immediately to the baggage area right away and pick up your dog.

As with carry-on, checked dogs will need to go through security checks as well. Here are TSA’s recommendations for making the process go smoother:

De-clutter your kennel: Officers must ensure that animal carriers do not contain prohibited items. In order to do so, they will conduct a visual inspection, unless they are unable to clearly see the interior of the carrier. In these circumstances, a physical inspection will be required and the animal will need to be removed from the carrier.

Bring a leash: If an Officer needs to conduct a physical inspection of a carrier, you will be asked to remove for pet for the screening to be completed. Consider bringing a leash to ensure you can maintain control of the pet.