How To Fly With Your Dog For The Ultimate Out-Of-State Vacation
Tips for a safe and comfy trip.
You’re probably super excited to fly with your dog — and maybe even a little bit nervous, since you obviously want the experience to go as smoothly as possible.
Flying with a dog can seem complicated at first, but if you’re fully prepared, you’ll realize going on a plane with your dog isn’t as bad as you think.
To prepare you for a flight with your pup, The Dodo reached out to Irith Bloom, a certified professional dog trainer and owner of The Sophisticated Dog in Los Angeles, to get expert tips on how to make your dog’s flight a smooth one.
How much does it cost to fly a dog?
The cost of flying with your dog depends on several factors, including the airline you choose and whether your dog is flying in cargo or in the cabin with you.
If your dog is flying in the cabin, you can typically expect to pay a pet fee of $95 to $125 on top of your own ticket price, or more.
If your dog is too large to fly in the cabin with you, he might be required to fly in cargo, which can easily cost a couple hundred dollars.
Airlines that allow dogs
Here are some popular airlines that allow dogs to fly with you:
However, there may be some restrictions when traveling back to the U.S. from countries that are considered to be high-risk for rabies, according to the CDC. Check the CDC’s page on traveling with pets for more information on how to travel to these areas with your dog.
Choosing a dog-friendly airline
Before committing to buying a ticket, you should call the airline you’re considering traveling with to ensure they’ll provide the safest and most comfortable flying experience for your pet.
“Do your research,” Bloom told The Dodo. “First, speak to someone at each of the airlines you are considering. I know it can be hard to get real people on the phone, but it’s worth it!”
Here are some checklist items to ask an airline representative over the phone to make sure their policies are dog-friendly:
- What are the fees for travelling with a pet?
- Is a health certificate required? “It almost always is,” Bloom said.
- How recent does the health certificate need to be? “If the certificate is too old, they won’t let your dog on the plane,” Bloom said.
- How do you keep pets safe from excessive heat or cold on the way to and from the plane?
- Is the cargo hold pressurized and temperature controlled? “There is no unified standard for how airlines deal with pets in cargo, so it’s really important to find out these details before you book your flight,” Bloom said.
- Where do I pick up my pet after the flight, and how long can I expect to wait?
- What’s the phone number for a person or department I can call if there are issues during the trip? “Be sure to get a specific point of contact, not a general number!” Bloom said.
- How does the airline expect me and my dog to behave in-flight and at the gate? “Most airlines require pets to remain in their carriers throughout the trip, for both their safety and the comfort and safety of other passengers,” Bloom said.
Once you’ve picked an airline, look for flights that are nonstop. “The fewer times your dog has to board and deplane, not to mention go through the stress of take-off and landing, the better!” Bloom said.
How to prepare your dog for a flight
There are plenty of things you can do well before your flight to prepare your dog for flying, like training your pup to be comfortable in his crate or carrier. There are also some steps you should take right before stepping foot inside the airport.
Train your dog to be comfortable in his crate or carrier
If your dog hasn’t been in a crate or carrier before, you should start teaching him to become more comfortable weeks before your trip. “Train your dog to be comfortable in the crate or carrier you will be using for travel,” Bloom said.
This means leaving lots of high-value treats inside for him to explore, and even feeding your dog inside his crate or carrier regularly. You can also leave new toys inside so he knows good things will happen when he goes into the crate or carrier.
Train your dog to be comfortable in crowds
If your dog gets stressed in busy environments, you might want to skip flying with your dog if at all possible, or try getting him professional training weeks or months before your scheduled flight.
“Make sure your dog is used to being in crowded spaces with lots of people (and dogs), and that they are not stressed by a noisy environment,” Bloom said. “Consult a certified behavior consultant for help if your dog is anxious around crowds, other dogs or lots of noise and activity!”
In most cases, it’s not recommended to sedate a dog during air travel (oversedation is the most common cause of dog deaths in flight), though some dogs can really benefit from it. It’s best to contact your veterinarian for their recommendation.
Get your dog microchipped
While all dogs should be microchipped and have a collar with ID tags, it’s especially important before going on your trip. This is crucial in case your dog gets lost at the airport or on your trip, which can be way more scary than losing your dog in a place you’re familiar with.
Get the right supplies
You’ll need an airline-approved dog crate or carrier for the flight with your dog. If you have a small dog, he’ll most likely be flying in the cabin with you, and if you have a large dog, he might fly in cargo due to in-cabin weight restrictions. Be sure to check with your airline to find out what sizes and types of carriers are permitted.
Other supplies you might need for the flight include the following:
- Lots of potty pads
- Lots of poop bags (preferably scented)
- Extra collar
- Extra harness
- Extra leash (just in case)
- Food and water bowls with lids (plastic or silicone bowls are more lightweight than metal ones and won’t clank around as much)
- Treats to reward your pet for calm behavior
Arrive early and take him to potty before checking in
Once you park your car at the airport, give your dog a short walk to make sure he uses the restroom before going inside the airport. “Potty your dog right before checking in,” Bloom said.
Make sure to get there early so your dog has plenty of time to do his business.
“Arrive early; checking in with a dog usually takes longer, and you will also need extra time to find the designated dog potty area in your terminal,” Bloom said.
The best dog carriers for planes
Dog carriers are best for smaller dogs. The best dog carriers for planes are airline approved, which ensures they are compliant with standard airline sizes and can fit under cabin seats.
“If you have a smaller dog, check the airline’s policies in terms of the size of carriers allowed in the cabin,” Bloom said. “If your dog is small enough to fit in a carrier that is allowed in the passenger cabin, make sure your carrier is no larger than that!”
The carrier should be large enough for your dog to stand up and turn around in, though.
You’ll also want to make sure there is plenty of ventilation for your dog to breathe, and a view so he can see what’s going on around him.
The best dog crates for flying
If your pet is larger and you’re checking him in as cargo, you’ll need an appropriate kennel for your dog that’s both comfortable and safe.
When shopping for a kennel for your dog to fly in cargo, make sure it has the following attributes:
- Meets the IATA Live Animals Regulations
- Your dog can sit, stand and move around comfortably without touching the sides
- Made from rigid plastic, metal or wood with a metal grate door
- Leak- and escape-proof
- Is secured with metal nuts, bolts or screws
- Has adequate ventilation on all four sides
“Make sure the crate is marked ‘Live Animal’ and has paperwork taped both to the inside and outside of the crate with your name, destination and contact information,” Bloom said.
Arriving at the airport with your dog
Arrive extra early at the airport and check in with an agent immediately after pottying outside.
“Whether the dog is traveling in the passenger cabin with you or being loaded into the cargo area, you will need to go to the gate and speak to an agent to get your dog checked in,” Bloom said. “You cannot do self check-in with a pet!”
The gate agent will explain the airline’s procedures and tell you what to do next.
Flying with a dog in the cabin
If you’re flying with your dog in the cabin, he’ll need to be in an airline-approved pet carrier that you place under the cabin seat in front of you.
“If your dog is with you in the cabin, have the dog in their carrier under the seat in front of you (dog carriers should NEVER go in the overhead compartment),” Bloom said.
You should also be prepared to keep a close eye on your dog during the flight — and have the phone number of veterinarians in both your destination and departure cities ready.
“Keep an eye on your dog throughout the flight to make sure they seem comfortable and healthy,” Bloom said. “As soon as possible after landing, take your dog out of the crate or carrier and check on your dog. If you see anything concerning, contact a veterinarian right away (the airline may be able to give you names of local practitioners).”
Should I fly with my dog?
Flying can be stressful for dogs, so you should only travel with your dog on a plane if it’s necessary and if your dog can reasonably tolerate being around others.
“Ask yourself: Is it really crucial for my dog to be on this flight? If not, leave your pet at home,” Bloom said. “Flying is stressful for most dogs, and can also be dangerous (imagine a veterinary emergency at 40,000 feet!). You shouldn’t put a dog through that experience unless there is no other option.”
You should definitely try to avoid flying with your dog if he's especially anxious. If you have to do it, work with a trainer or dog behaviorist so your dog can be more comfortable with traveling.
“If your dog doesn’t like other people (or other dogs), there is also a risk that your dog will be anxious enough to bite someone, which could have very negative consequences,” Bloom said.
Service dogs can also have a tough time flying, despite their training. Even if you have a service dog, you shouldn’t assume he’ll be totally OK at the airport or during the flight.
“Even specially trained service dogs who have been learning about things like airplanes from young puppyhood can have a tough time on flights,” Bloom said. “You may be a frequent flyer who finds the whole experience of air travel boring, but the odds are your dog will see it a very different way, so only fly with your dog if it is absolutely necessary.”
If you do decide to fly with your dog, follow the guide above so you know what to expect, and so you can be prepared for a smooth and stress-free trip that both you and your dog will enjoy and remember forever.
We independently pick all the products we recommend because we love them and think you will too. If you buy a product from a link on our site, we may earn a commission.