7 Tips for Traveling with a Dog on a Plane

Traveling with your dog can bring so much joy but getting to your destination can be a bit stressful.  When we added a Bichon-Poodle mix to our family in late 2019, we knew instantly that he was something special.  His size allows for him to be a cabin animal, and since we fly frequently to New Jersey to visit my dog loving family I knew we would want fly with him.  That meant taking a dog on a 6-hour long plane ride.  After research and experience I have come up with tips to travel with a dog on a plane. 

Small white dog with red Emotional Support Animal harness
Such joy to have in house, worth the effort to bring him along

1. Research the Airline Policy

Before ever booking a flight, make sure to research the policies for traveling with animals for the airlines you are considering.  Every airline is different, and the policies are changing all the time, so it’s important to look beforehand so you understand what is expected.  However, there are some general themes in the policies.  In general:

  • In cabin animals must be under a certain weight limit and fit in a specific sized carrier that goes under the seat in front of you.
  • Vaccinations must be up to date.
  • The dog must be alert and can not be sedated. 
  • There are usually only a certain number of dogs allowed in the cabin on a flight.
  • There is usually a fee associated with bringing an animal on the flight and must be arranged ahead of time. 

If you are traveling with a service dog, there are forms that will need to be completed to prove the validity of the service the dog provides.  This includes health forms from the vet, health forms from medical professionals, and proof of specialized training.  Make sure you have everything lined up and submitted in time to the airline.  (Note: at the end of 2020, the Department of Transportation ruled that emotional support animals no longer needed to be considered service animals. Several airlines have released updated policies removing emotional support animals as service animals. Be sure to check the most recent policies with your airline.)

2. Consider timing of the flight.

Like flying with a baby or toddler, you may want to consider timing when you are flying.  Flying during the day when your dog is used to being up and playing may make it hard for your dog to stay still in the carrier for the flight.  Flying at night might help make the flight easier.  Flying during the summer in a hot climate can be an issue for dogs that must go in cargo.  You know the personality of your dog best, so think about when they are most at rest, and that’s usually a good time to fly. 

Young girl and small white dog sleeping together
I always plan flights around sleep schedules, and thankfully my puppy sleeps as much if not more than my kids

3. Get Your Dog Used to the Carrier

Airplanes can be noisy, scary places.  You want to make sure that the carrier that your dog is flying in is considered a safe place. For larger dogs that go in cargo, make sure to get an airline approved crate, and make that their crate at home.  It should be a comfortable place they feel safe entering and exiting and filled with familiar blankets and scents.  For cabin animals, make sure the carrier is something your dog is used to.  For our dog, we had it out for a few weeks, and gave our treat-oriented dog treats anytime they went in.  We made sure it had a familiar blanket in it.  Once they are comfortable, practice having them in for a while and carrying it around.  Make sure the carrier is a comfortable place for your dog.  That will make the flight more comfortable. 

Dog in carrier under airline seat
Make sure your dog is comfortable with his carrier

4. Make Sure Vaccinations are Up-to-Date

This goes back to checking the policies of the airline.  But in general, a dog’s vaccinations will need to be updated, AND the rabies shot needs to be given 30 days before the day of the flight. Most airlines have a health form that must be completed by a veterinarian prior to the flight.  Check with your vet to make sure that your dog is healthy to fly, and that they can fill out the forms needed for the airline.  Then make sure to bring all the requested documentation with you.

5. Research the airports

Some airports will have indoor pet relief areas, and some have outdoor pet relief areas.  For some it is beyond security and for some it is before security.  Remember that you will be in the airport for at least two hours before your flight, and who knows how long on the plane.  Knowing where the pet relief and other services are, allows you to plan and make sure your dog gets their potty break at the very last minute.  But be aware, due to an increase in pets flying these days, there are unfortunately a lot of attractive smells in spots that are not designated pet relief areas.  Bring some Clorox wipes to clean up any unexpected accidents if your dog decided he can’t hold it anymore.  

Woman holding dog on a leash in the airport
Make sure you know where is the last possible place is for your puppy to go is

6. Pack a few Essentials in Your Carry-On Bag

There are a few essentials I make sure to keep in my bag when flying with my dog. 

  • Clorox Wipes – To clean up any unexpected messes.
  • Pee Pads – I line the carrier with one in case there is an accident.  When my dog qualified as an emotional support animal, I also would put it under my seat for when he was on my lap.  He thankfully never had an accident, but I wanted to be prepared just in case. 
  • TreatsI gave my dog a treat for pretty much anything on the flight.  Get in carrier, a treat.  Stay still, a treat.  Whine for being in the carrier, a treat to be quiet.  In addition, I made sure to have extra ones of his favorite treats available. 
  • Travel Water BowlWhile I tried to hold access to too much water, usually around ½ way through the flight I start allowing water.  Having a water bowl makes it easier to provide water to the dog during the flight. 
  • Required Documentation – Make sure you have everything with you when you fly, the proof of vaccination, the medical forms, a receipt for payment of the cabin or cargo animal.  They can ask for this at any time.   

7. Make Sure You Prep on the Travel Day

The day of the flight, I make sure my dog is nice and tired.  We go for extra long walks, play fetch, and get as much energy out as possible.  About one to two hours before we are going to the airport, I take away access to water.  This is more of a preventative to make sure that we don’t have accidents at the airport or on the plane.  We also have plenty of time at the airport.  With a pet, you can not check-in online, you need to check in in-person at the airport.  This takes additional time.  You will need at a minimum of two hours at the airport, so make sure to come early. I usually walk my dog to the gate to get that last bit of energy and excitement out of him before we get in the carrier to board the plane.  I provide lots of love and treats as we board, and during the flight if he’s awake.  When we land, I keep my dog in the carrier until we are out of the airport.  My husband will get the bags while I head right outside to let the dog relieve himself.  He’s usually ready at that point, and I like to keep him in the bag to prevent him from finding a spot in the airport (unless there is an indoor pet relief area near-by, then we will stop there first).  For cargo animals, take them outside as soon as they are picked up to allow them to relieve themselves. 

Woman carrying small white dog in the airport
Maybe the dog is so tired out, they refuse to walk in the airport…*

You’ve done it, you’ve traveled from home to your destination on a plane with your dog.  Congratulations!  It’s stressful and daunting when preparing for the trip but having your best canine friend with you can make it all worth it in the end.  For us, having our dog with us while we dealt with Coronavirus away from home helped everyone mentally.  He would curl up next to us knowing the stress we felt.  And having him with us meant that we didn’t have to worry about who was caring for him at home, and if they could for an extended period of time.  We don’t always travel with him, but when we do, we always find it worth the hassle.  And our dog loves being anywhere that is next to us.      

* Starred Photos taken by Atma Photography

*Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links that allows me to earn a small commission at no cost to you. I only link to products I would or have used myself and all opinions expressed here are my own. You can read the full disclaimer here.

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