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How to Make Flying Easy for You and Your Dog

How to Make Flying Easy for You and Your Dog

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Getaway Staff
Updated: Nov 7, 2022

Every dog is unique; some dogs are destined to take to the skies.

Flying can be a scary and dangerous experience, especially for dogs, and should only be on the table if you're taking a trip longer than two weeks or moving to a faraway city.

In 2019, 404,556 animals flew from one destination to the other; between 2010 and 2020, 250 animal passengers died on U.S. airlines. So, while the risk is small, it's not insignificant. Here's how to make the process as smooth as possible.

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01What are the criteria for dogs?

Oh, how adorable ! He is disturbing my packing (or unpacking !?). He won't let me finish packing. It is like he is disturbing me by all means so that I can't finish what I have to do. Or simply he wants to fly with me ? I wish I could take him with me. redonion1515 / Getty Images

Size, breed, age, and vaccination status are important factors when flying. Breeds like pit bulls may not be allowed on the plane, and brachycephalic breeds like bulldogs aren't permitted in the cargo hold because of breathing difficulties compounded by travel stress. Puppies under two months old and elderly dogs may not be allowed on the plane either.

For a canine to accompany you on the top of the plane, they must be small enough to fit in a ventilated carrier below the seat in front of you. You cannot let your pup out of the crate, even if it's an emotional support animal, but you can put the carrier on your lap. Service dogs don't have to be in a carrier and have different rules to follow.

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02What are the general rules and regulations?

Cute dachshund dog looking through an airplane window while traveling Capuski / Getty Images

The rules differ depending on the airline and destination, so familiarise yourself with the conditions for travel, or you could face a Johnny Depp and Amber Heard in Australia situation, and we all know how that ended.

Dog-friendly flights are less than eight hours long. A pet carrier may be considered a piece of hand luggage, impacting what you can bring to the cabin. In addition, most airlines don't allow unaccompanied minors to travel with a dog.

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03Avoid last-minute bookings

Dog looking off into the distance with a jet flying overhead. Joel Hawkins / Getty Images

There are a limited number of pets allowed on a flight, so book your ticket early. Be prepared to give up a seat in business class if that's how you usually travel, and prepare a backup plan in case the weather throws a spanner in the works.

On scorching days, the airline may not allow your dog in the cargo hold due to the potential for overheating, and without proof of cold weather acclimation, winter flights can pose problems too.

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04Opt for non-stop flights

little dog in the airline cargo pet carrier, at the airport after a long journey humonia / Getty Images

Layovers can be hectic, especially for first-time flyers, so book direct flights and avoid peak travel times to reduce the odds of something going wrong on the service provider's end.

Some airlines may permit the purchase of a dedicated seat for a dog, but the carry-on fee still applies. The cargo hold fee depends on weight, and airline websites can help you calculate the cost.

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05Visit your vet

Female veterinarian holding a little schnauzer in her arms while standing in her office NickyLloyd / Getty Images

Your dog's doctor can give you the green light if your dog is fit enough to manage air travel. You might be unable to board the plane to a foreign country if your dog's health records and shots aren't in order, so book an early appointment to get the mandatory paperwork in time.

Health certificates expire and must be valid for both legs of your journey—budget for a vet visit at your destination if necessary. If your dog isn't already microchipped, you should arrange that ASAP.

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06Flying in the cargo-hold

Two dogs in cages next to other luggage on a trailer at an airport Tobias Titz / Getty Images

Cargo holds are climate-controlled, and you can transport larger breeds on the same flight as you, but it can often be a traumatizing experience for dogs already prone to anxiety.

Between booming sounds, jostling turbulence, changing air pressure, and loads of strangers, it's better to have a large and angsty dog driven to your destination if possible.

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07Help your fur baby feel comfortable

Woman waiting at airport with dog and bags Jenny Elia Pfeiffer / Getty Images

You'll have to get lil' buddy used to being in a carrier or crate in the weeks before you're due to leave. Without this prep, your dog will be miserable and noisy and disturb you and your neighbors if it's in the cabin. Your dog has to be able to stand up and turn in its carrier, so measure and ensure you get a crate with dimensions that meet the airline's requirements.

You'll have to lay your dog's blankie with its comforting scent on the bottom of the leak-proof carrier and place a favorite toy in a corner. It's handy if the container can expand for a more spacious terminal experience.

Airports have doggy bathroom areas so your pooch can pee or poop, and stretch its legs. Know where they are at all relevant airports so you can head straight.

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08Carrier training

Passenger traveling with their pet dog. Pet carrier is stowed under the seat. gchutka / Getty Images

During the month or two before traveling, use positive reinforcement and treats to get your buddy to interact with the travel carrier before coaxing them to sit inside for five to ten minutes and progressing in 15-minute intervals until they're willing to go for an hour-long drive.

Use the same command to limit confusion. Training and taking your dog to the park in the carrier shows them that confinement is temporary and that positive experiences are around the corner.

With time and incentives, a scary, unknown object can transform into a sanctuary.

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09Simplifying the onboard experience

traveler woman and her dog at the airport. information screens background. travel and transportation with technology concept. Eva Blanco / Getty Images

Exercise your dog before you go to the airport to tire them out. The fatigue will help Mr. Sniffles fall asleep on the plane and hopefully stay knocked out for a while.

Limit their water from two hours before the trip to lessen the need to pee in the carrier and skip the meal just before the flight. You can carry a small amount of wet food for longer flights.

If your fluffy bestie seems restless, talk to them soothingly to convey a lack of danger.

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10Sedatives

small dog pomaranian spitz in a travel bag on board of plane nadisja / Getty Images

Sedatives come with risks, so they work best on dogs with a clean bill of health.

If your vet approves and provides documentation, you can give your dog something to calm them down through the flight. Use prescribed sedatives, but know they don't always work as they're supposed to.

Some medications can have the opposite effect, which makes for a nightmarish situation, so test the sedative at home before you use it on the big day.

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