Airplane Travel With Your Dog

Disclaimer: I do not claim to be an expert, but based on my experience actually flying with a dog and extensive research, I can give some general advice. This is based on my experience with Delta airlines. Please refer to your airline for specific pet and travel policies. Delta’s policies are here.

Because my husband is a professor and I work remotely, we are able to go to California and spend time with my family over the summer. It gives us a break from the school environment and refreshes our minds for Fall.

All we need to do buy the tickets, hop on a plane and go.

But, wait, what about the dog?! What do we do with him?

We gotta take him, obviously! So, what do we do?

First, we thought about taking a road trip. We could do it on our timetable and more hotels are becoming pet-friendly. Then we priced it out. Nope, cross that off the list.

So, I explored flight travel. I really didn’t know much about it, and it seemed like a difficult process. I asked friends for advice, but they had only traveled with cats. I got a lot of “Uh, good luck with that…”

I did a little research online but couldn’t find much. And airline policies seem to be hidden, unless you spend a few minutes clicking through a bunch of links to find what you’re looking for.  And once you find them, they make it sound like unless your dog is a tiny chihuahua who weighs less than 15 pounds, they have to go in cargo.  And there’s NO way I was doing that. Plus, effective February 26th, Delta does not allow pets to go in cargo.

I called Delta directly and asked about their pet policy. They told me I had to get a pet carrier that fit under the seat, and you must have a window or aisle seat, because the entertainment controls are under the middle seat. They also mentioned the carrier and dog had to weigh exactly 20 pounds, or he wouldn’t be able to go on the plane. Additionally, I needed an updated health certificate that proved my dog was healthy enough to fly.

Right after that call, I went on, found the lightest carrier I could buy and called my vet for an appointment.

On the actual day of travel, I was extremely nervous. I was imagining them putting the carrier on the scale, saying it weighs 20.5 pounds, and telling me he wouldn’t be allowed on the plane.

I remember standing at the check-in counter, sweat dripping down my face as I answer their questions about the dog. 5 minutes later they said “You’re all set”, and from security to boarding, nobody asked any questions.

I realized that it is not as difficult as I thought. As long as I have the following requirements, which I will share with you, he flies without a problem. In May will be my third time traveling with him.

Weight –  While they say the combined weight of the carrier and dog should weigh no more than 20 pounds, our carrier plus the dog weighs about 22 pounds, which hasn’t been an issue. If you get the carrier I recommended below, you should be okay. If your dog weighs anymore than 25 pounds without the carrier, you may not be admitted on the plane.

Cost of Airfare – We use Delta Airlines, which costs $125 each way. Check your airline for specific price information. You will not be able to print out your tickets until you arrive at the airport on the day of departure.

Once you book your flight online, you need to call your airline and let them know you’re traveling with a dog. They will ask for your pet’s weight, carrier weight, dimensions of carrier, and breed. They will also check the type of aircraft and seat section you are in (first class, economy, delta comfort, etc.) to make sure the carrier will fit under the seat.

  • Pet Carrier – This is what you’ll use to transport your dog. You can use a hard or soft-shelled case, but we use this one from Petco. The company who makes it, The Original Sherpa, guarantees that it is approved by all major airlines. I like this one because it’s soft shelled and has a nice soft mat for the dog to lay on. We got the large one, which is about 11.5 X 19 inches.  Note: I would recommend getting a pet carrier at least a month in advance, so you can get your dog more comfortable with being in the carrier. Put treats in the carrier, and put him in the carrier in small time intervals, increasing the time each more. For example, put your dog in there for 5 mins, then 10 mins and so forth.
    Important: Your pet carrier counts as ONE carry on (you get one purse and one small suitcase), so you either have to check your small suitcase or stuff your wallet in the carrier.
  • Proof of Health Certificate – This shows the airline that your dog is healthy enough to travel. I recommend calling your vet at least two weeks in advance for an appointment to do a health-check. Delta Airlines no longer requires a health certificate, but they said you may need one depending on which airports you are flying into. Since we are leaving from Connecticut, they do not require one.
  • Poop Bags and A Few Sheets Of Paper Towels – Since you’re probably not going to be able to take your dog outside for a bathroom break, your dog will probably have to go to the bathroom in the terminal. If they pee, use a few sheets of paper towels to clean it up.  If you have a layover flight, you may have a few hours to kill, and then you can take them out. Be warned though: once you leave the terminal, you will have to go through security again. However, you may be lucky enough to be in one these pet-friendly airports that have built in relief areas, including drinking fountains and a place to let them stretch their legs.
  • Treats and Food – Travel is stressful for anyone, especially on a dog. Because of this, they probably won’t eat too much, but it’s always good to have some treats and food on hand. Try to feed them a minimal amount to decrease their chance of having an accident, but they need something to eat.
  • Leash – While some airports require you to have your dog in the carrier at all times, I tend to bend this rule. If you’re in the airport food court or just sitting at the terminal, letting your dog stretch it legs a little bit can go a long way. Just don’t let them off leash, and make sure you’re aware of your surroundings.
  • Toys – I always put one or two toys in his carrier, so he has something to focus on.

The Day of Travel

This is our experience traveling. It may be different for others, but this is a general idea.

Prepare Your Dog
If you have a late afternoon or evening flight, get them out for a good walk or playtime, because this will be the last chance they can exercise before flying. Also, feed them in the morning but nothing after that to avoid accidents.

If you have an early morning flight, make sure they relieve themselves before getting on the plane. I would not recommend feeding them.

Arrival at Airport

Step 1: Go to Ticket Agent. Make sure you have the health certificate in hand. Like I said before, they may not look at it, but it’s always good to have just in case. The agent will print out your ticket(s).

Step 2: Security. Leave your dog in the carrier while you’re waiting in line. Before screening, they will ask you to take your dog out and carry it as you go through the X-Ray machine. You will not be going through the high-tech scanner.

Step 3: Waiting at the gate. I’ve seen some people leave their dogs out of the carrier but on leash, some in their carriers. I leave him in there with the top flap of the carrier completely open.

Step 4: Board the plane. I like to leave part of the flap to the carrier open, so he can peak his head out a little. Also check on your dog every 30 minutes or so, just to make sure he is ok. Unfortunately they MUST stay under the seat; they cannot sit in the empty seat beside you or on your lap.

Step 5: Arrive! Before I even get my bags at baggage claim, I head right outside so he can do his business. Then I bring him back inside, with a leash, and wait for my bags. This is usually not a problem with the airport. However, be as quick as possible, because dogs tend to get nervous around a lot of people (my dog does), and starts barking. If there are two of you, one of you should wait outside with the dog while the other handles the luggage.

That’s it! I hope you and your dog have an easy, stress-free flight. Remember, this is incredibly hard on them, so the less anxious you are, the better, as they feed off your emotions.

Tip: If you are flying Delta, I’d highly recommend booking a Delta Comfort seat, as there is very little price difference from Economy. You get Sky Priority Boarding (one of the first groups to board), more legroom, and guaranteed overhead space.

Do you have any other advice for travelers? Sound off in the comments below!

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