Dabl at Home
What To Expect If You Will Be Flying With Your Dog Over The Holidays
Proper preparation will ensure your holiday travel with your canine companion goes smoothly!
Airports are often at their busiest during the holidays, but it’s worth dealing with the hassle because for many of us it’s the only time of the year where we get to reunite with our loved ones. Of course, the holidays wouldn’t feel quite right without all the members of the family present. For this reason, many people opt to bring their pets along for their holiday trips. While learning how to navigate the airport with a furry friend by your side may seem overwhelmingly complicated, it’s also worth demystifying because you’ll save hundreds to thousands of dollars by not boarding your pet or paying a pet sitter while you’re away. Plus, it may be the only way you and all of your loved ones can be together to celebrate the holidays, which just feels right!
As mentioned above, learning to navigate the airport with a dog in tow can be confusing. You’ll likely find lots of conflicting information online about airline requirements and pet policies can sometimes change with little notice. Therefore, your best source of information to find out what you need to do to travel with your dog this holiday season is to contact the airline directly. But to help you prepare for your trip and know what questions to ask of your airline, we outlined what you can expect through each step of flying with your dog.
Airline Requirements & Making Your Reservation:
We cannot reiterate enough that each airline will have their own requirements for allowing you to fly with your dog. Before making a reservation, make sure you understand the airline’s pet policies and requirements. While most airlines include their pet policy online, you may need to call the airline for clarity.
Key requirements to look out for include weight and size limits for your pet. Many airlines will allow pets to fly in the main cabin with you, but they have to fit in a carrier under the seat in front of you. As each plane is a little bit different, you’ll need to check with your airline to determine what size carrier is allowed and ensure your pet can fit comfortably. While the rules aren’t always enforced, they do state that pets are required to stay in their carrier for the duration of the flight. Therefore, you need to ensure they will be comfortable. If a dog is above the specified weight limit and doesn’t fit in a carrier, they may only be allowed to fly in the airplane’s cargo area. If this will be your dog’s first time in a carrier, make sure to introduce him to it in a positive way and allow him time to get used to being in it before you get to the airport. Expert Dog Trainer Brandon McMillan gives a perfect example of how to properly introduce your pet to his airline carrier in the below clip!
Of course, every airline is different and there may be some exceptions to the standard pet policy depending on your situation. Most notably, trained service dogs are allowed to fly in the main cabin without a carrier for free. These working animals are usually allowed to sit on their handlers’ lap or on the floor in front of them. However, note that this rule only applies to trained service animals and emotional support animals. Emotional support animals used to be allowed to fly for free like service animals, but emotional support animals are typically not as well trained and this led to outbursts of bad behavior and aggression in airports. As of January of this year, the Department of Transportation released new regulations that stated airlines do not need to treat emotional support animals as service animals. All the major airlines quickly adopted these new rules and emotional support animals are typically subject to the normal pet policy.
Whether you are flying with a pet or a service animal, we recommend booking a seat with extra leg room when you make your reservation. While it may be a bit more expensive, you and your dog will be grateful for the added comfort. When you make your reservation, you will also want to add your pet to your flight. Some airlines will allow you to do this online, but others will require you to call to tell them you’re flying with a pet or service animal. Make sure to call right away, as many airlines will limit how many animals can be on a particular flight for safety reasons and will give those spots away on a first come, first serve basis. Any hesitation could mean your pet doesn’t get a spot on your flight.
The paperwork you are required to present for your dog to fly will vary depending on which airline you are flying and your destination. You may also have to turn in some documents in advance and the rest of the paperwork when you check in for your flight at the airport. Even if you do turn in documents in advance, we recommend bringing hard copies to the airport so they are easily accessible if an airline employee asks to see them. The key is to find out what your specific airline and destination requires early so you can prepare your necessary paperwork without any stress or unpleasant surprise.
While airlines may vary on what specific documentation they require, most airlines will want to see proof that your pet is in good health and has a current rabies vaccine. You may be required to submit your dog’s rabies certificate and a certificate of health or veterinary inspection that shows your dog is healthy enough to travel. The certificate of health will be given to you by your veterinarian after examining your pet. Plan accordingly as this exam will need to take place within the 10 days before your flight. In addition, airlines may also request a photo of your pet to keep on file and you may need to sign a document where you promise your pet will adhere to the airline’s behavior requirements.
If you are traveling with a service animal, you may need to submit health documentation for your pet as well as yourself. In the past, airlines have required a doctor’s note or other proof that you are in need of a service dog. More recently, service dog handlers have been able to submit the U.S. DOT Service Animal Air Travel Form where you attest that your dog is a trained service dog without giving away private information about your health or disability. It is a federal crime to lie on this form, so people who falsify information to try to travel with their pet for free could be prosecuted. This process is meant to protect the privacy of service dog users, while also giving airlines legal recourse if pet owners try to pretend their untrained dog is a service dog. Ideally, airlines ask that this form is turned in at least 48 hours prior to departure. For last minute flights, it can still be accepted at the gate.
If you will be flying with your service dog on a flight that is longer than 8 hours, you may also need to submit the DOT Relief Attestation Form. This form asks you to promise that your service dog won’t relieve himself on the aircraft during the flight or that he can do so in a sanitary way. You also agree to be liable to pay for any damage caused if your service dog has an accident during the long flight.
Last but not least, note that different states and countries may have specific requirements for paperwork or protocol that your pet must meet in order for your pet to join you at your destination. For some locations, they may only require proof of vaccinations in addition to rabies or you might have more forms to fill out. Others, like Hawaii, will not allow your dog to join you on the island until they undergo a 14 day quarantine. Other states will require nothing extra at all. Regardless, it’s important to check and be prepared for whatever you might be getting into so you and your pet don’t get turned away upon arrival.
Before You Get To The Airport:
The key to ensuring your pet has a successful flight is proper preparation. Your pet will likely be encountering lots of new sights and sounds while also needing to act on his best behavior. If your pet tends to be anxious, you may want to ask your vet for an anxiety pill to help take the edge off while you fly. This can be administered before you arrive at the airport or in the terminal. However, make sure to see how the pill affects your dog at home before the day of your flight in case he has any adverse reactions that need to be addressed.
It’s often said that a tired dog is a happy dog. Prior to leaving for the airport, make sure to do some fun activities with your dog that allow him to burn off his energy. This could be spending a day at daycare, visiting the dog park, playing a game of fetch, or going for a long walk or run. By the time your dog is on the plane, he’ll be ready to sleep peacefully for the duration of the flight!
Another common fear for the first time your pet flies is if he will have an accident or develop motion sickness. One way to prevent this is to withhold food and water for at least a few hours prior to flying. Skipping a meal shouldn’t hurt your dog, and he may be more comfortable and successful traveling on an empty stomach anyway.
Checking In for Your Flight:
Make sure to allow extra time for navigating the airport with your pet, especially if it’s your first time. A big reason for this is you won’t be able to check in for your flight online or at a kiosk if you will be traveling with your dog. You will have to check in with your pet at the counter with an airline staff member. This allows the airline to confirm your pet will be on the flight, handle any outstanding paperwork, and go over any last minute rules or questions with you. The agent may also check to see that your dog does fit in the carrier you brought. This is also when most airlines will ask you to pay a pet fee for your dog to travel. Although the fee is for one-way, it will typically only be $150 or less. It’s still much less than paying for a pet sitter or boarding.
Don’t worry if you are checking in with a service dog, as most airlines are extremely accommodating and helpful. However, do know your rights in the event an employee gives you any grief. While airline employees are allowed to observe your service dog’s general behavior, they are not allowed to ask probing questions about your disability or for demonstrations of the tasks your dog performs to help you. Also note that the American With Disabilities Act (ADA) forbids employees from asking you for proof that your animal is certified as a service dog or has a service dog license. In fact, no standard certification process exists for service dogs and most certificates or service dog I.D. cards you can order online are scams by people trying to profit off your ignorance. You most likely won’t have an issue, but arm yourself with knowledge on the off chance you need to protect your privacy and your service dog.
Going Through Security:
People tend to worry the most about going through security, but you may be surprised to see that the process is almost the same as going through alone and not a big deal. If your pet will be flying in the main cabin with you, they’ll also be able to go through security with you. Pets can go through the normal security line or the TSA PreCheck line if you are eligible. The security staff might even be excited to have a cute pup to greet!
Similarly to how you take off your shoes and belts, you will likely be asked to put your dog’s leash, collar, and carrier through the X-Ray machine. You can then carry your dog through the metal detector or call him through after you. If you do need to lead your dog through using a leash or harness, he may be patted down afterwards by security personnel. It may be helpful to keep some of your dog’s favorite treats on hand to reward him for good behavior, call him to you through the metal detector, and keep him focused on you. The pet owner’s hands will also be quickly swabbed for traces of explosive residue.
In The Terminal & On The Plane:
Once you’re in the terminal, you’ve reached the easy part! This is a good time to give your dog a last chance to stretch his legs and relieve himself before boarding the plane. Most airlines have pet relief stations that you can find using signage or by asking an airport employee. Give your pet a chance to stretch his legs before the flight. Before you know it, you’ll be boarding the plane and settling in for a great flight! That said, bringing some of the following products may help enhance the experience.