Flying the (Pet) Friendly Skies – What You Need to Know About Travelling With Your Dog


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Sooner or later, whether they like it or not, most dog people are going to have to embrace the idea of air travel with, or for, their dog. If you are going on an extended vacation and don’t want to leave your best buddy in a boarding kennel, flying could be a necessary evil. Most of the time, it is actually harder on the owner than it is on the dog. With a bit of preparation, though, and a general knowledge of the ins and outs of air travel as it applies to pets, you can get through it with your sanity intact. I’ll walk you through the basics.

Where Will Your Dog Fly?

Dogs on airplanes generally fly in one of three ways. First of all, small dogs can go as checked baggage, in the cabin, with a passenger, provided that the carrier is small enough to stow under the seat. The dog will have to remain in the carrier throughout the flight, though – you cannot take him out and have him on your lap.

If your dog is too big to be in the cabin with you, he can travel as checked baggage. He will be in the cargo hold, but don’t let this worry you – the hold is pressurized, and there is enough light that your dog will be able to see his surroundings.

If you are not going to be on the flight with your dog, then he will travel as manifest cargo. This means that you will check him in at your airline’s freight facility, usually an hour before the flight in order to give the workers time to get his paperwork in order.

If you are travelling with your dog, obviously you know what time you have to get to the airport with your baggage – and in this case, your dog is baggage (I know that sounds awful!). Cargo shipments for unaccompanied dogs, though, are very different, so I am going to devote the rest of this blog to dogs that are going as cargo, although some things may also apply to cabin and checked baggage dogs.

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Don’t Be Late

If you are shipping your dog unaccompanied, it is very important that you arrive at the time specified by the airline. Trust me on this, they will not cut you any slack. If the flight leaves at eight, and the airline tells you to have your dog at the cargo facility by seven, then you have to know that if you show up at 7:01, there is a chance that they will refuse to ship your dog. They are not being rude – the thing is, if they take your dog at 7:01 (and I’m not saying they won’t, but don’t count on it), then where do they stop? At 7:02? 7:05? Then someone else shows up saying, “You gave her five extra minutes, why can’t I have six?” You get the idea.

Book Early

Airlines only allow so many animals on a flight. This is because of the limited amount of oxygen in the cargo hold. So if you must have your dog shipped on a certain day, book early. You should also be aware that airlines have a certain priority sequence. If a passenger shows up with a dog that they want to take as checked baggage, then that dog will take precedence over yours, and over other dogs booked on the flight. If a passenger dog shows up, and the maximum amount of animals are already on board, the last cargo dog booked will be the first one bumped.

Make Sure You Have the Right Carrier

Your dog has to be transported in a carrier that is approved for air travel. This is actually true whether the dog is travelling cargo or in cabin. Most pet stores can tell you if the carrier you are buying is airline approved. If you are in doubt, visit the airline’s website to learn the kennel requirements.

Right now, Amazon has an airline approved pet crate by Aspenpet, rated for dogs 50-70 pounds, for just $94.99, down from $147.95 – a huge savings. There are also many other options available.

Do Not Tranquilize

Most airlines will not accept tranquilized dogs. In any case, when it comes to stress over air travel, it is usually the dog’s owner, not the dog, who could benefit from a tranquilizer.

Know the Breed Restrictions

Okay, I know this is horribly unfair, but some airlines have what they call “Dangerous Breed Restrictions.” In other words, you could have the sweetest, most gentle Cane Corso, Dogo Argentino, Rottweiler, Presa Canario, etc., who would sooner chew off his own leg than so much as growl softly at anyone, but if he’s on the list, you won’t be able to ship him with that airline. And no one at the airline, not the person doing the booking, not a supervisor, not the cargo manager, not anyone, will ever be able to override the policy, so don’t even try.

Trust Your Cargo Booker

You don’t need to tell the booking agent that you want a non-stop flight. If one is available, that is what you will get. In fact, many airlines will not book animals if there are even three connections.

No Ship Means No Ship

Airlines usually have restrictions in place. Sometimes they are due to temperature, but not always. If your airline calls you and tells you that they cannot ship your dog on a given day, there is a reason. It could be that there aren’t enough people on staff that day to handle animals. There could have been a toxic spill in the freight facility. The air conditioning in the holding area could be working improperly. Airlines want to ship your pet, and if you are told that it can’t be done, don’t offer to sign a waiver, or demand to know why JFK is taking animals but LaGuardia isn’t. There is a reason.


Now, finally, relax. Airlines are very vigilant when it comes to taking care of the animals they are entrusted with. Go home, kick back, and have a glass of wine, or take that tranquilizer they wouldn’t let you give your dog! It’s all good… happy thoughts… deep breaths….

Related Content:

11 Steps to Help Get Ready for Holiday Travel…with a Dog! (Video)
17 Things You Need to Know Before Putting Your Dog on a Plane
9 Tips to Make Your Dog Feel Right at Home