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How to Fly With a Dog: Airline Regulations, Preparation, Booking Your Flight, Packing For Your Dog

Sep 16, 2022

By Elaine Waldorf Gewirtz

Are you relocating, visiting family, or going on vacation and want to take your dog with you on the plane? If so, know the rules before booking a reservation and bringing your four-footed friend to the airport. 

To Fly or Not to Fly With Your Dog

Pet travel today comes with many challenges. Flights are canceled at the last minute and delays can last for hours. This presents a problem for a dog in a carrier. Unless flying with your pet is the only option, think carefully before bringing your dog along. 

Airline travel is stressful for people and dogs. The bustling airport’s odd sights, sounds, and smells frighten even the most easy-going dog. The commotion is especially jarring for overweight or senior canines with health issues. It’s best to check with your veterinarian before planning a trip. 

Talk to your veterinarian about your travel plans if you have a short-muzzled or brachycephalic breed,  such as a Pug, French Bulldog, Bulldog, or Pekingese. Many airlines will not accept these breeds as they are prone to respiratory issues when confined in a carrier and flying in the cargo section. There is no breed restriction for dogs flying in the cabin, as long as they fit the size requirements.

About Dog Airline Regulations

Taking your dog on the plane involves more than choosing the best seat.

Airlines maintain strict rules about accepting pets on board and frequently change their policies, so check airline-specific information weeks before you consider leaving. 

All airlines require a pet reservation as they only allow a maximum number of pets per flight. 

Expect to pay a fee for your dog – including emotional support animals. Psychiatric service dogs and service dogs fly free. Remember that emotional support animals (ESAs) no longer have any special access on airplanes.

Airlines have rules regarding trained service dogs, with most companies requiring these dogs to sit on the owner’s lap or remain at their feet.

Most airlines require puppies to be at least eight weeks old, with some requiring at least 10 or 12 weeks. All dogs require a current health certificate signed by a veterinarian before boarding.

If you’re thinking of basking in the sand and surf of Hawaii with your dog, contact the Hawaii Department of Agriculture for information on quarantine and vaccines.

small dog on airline

Doggie Baggage

All dogs must ride in an airline-approved pet carrier for the flight duration. The carrier must be large enough for the dog to lie down, turn around, and sit and stand without hitting its head on the carrier’s roof. 

The airline-approved carrier must have ventilation on at least two sides and contain absorbent material inside the bottom of the carrier. Dogs flying in the cabin usually weigh up to 20 pounds and must remain in the carrier. The carrier must fit beneath the passenger’s seat in front. When scheduling your reservation, check with the airline to determine the exact size requirements.

For flying in the plane’s cargo section, “Live Animal” stickers with your name, address, and phone numbers must appear on the top and sides of the carrier. 

Some airlines require a small package of dog food and a water container attached to the carrier.

Make sure your dog’s name tag with current identification information is firmly attached to their collar. 

If your dog is prone to anxiety in new situations, try giving your dog calming chews or CBD oil. Most veterinarians do not recommend giving your dog a tranquilizer before the flight as a sedative can cause respiratory and cardiovascular problems at high altitudes.

If your dog doesn’t sleep in a carrier, prepare him for the experience by letting him spend a few nights inside it. Add a favorite toy, blanket, and some treats to make the cozy den a comfortable place.

Booking Your Flight

Some airlines are more dog-friendly than others. Before making a travel arrangement, research the safest companies.

What’s the difference between cargo and excess baggage? Choose cargo as dogs fly separately on a ticket, tracked, and monitored. They are checked in at the airline’s cargo facility. 

When flying as excess baggage, dogs check in at the main terminal and ride in the cargo section, but may not receive the same dedicated attention from employees handling your dog to and from the airline as dogs flying in cargo.

Inside the plane, the cargo area is pressurized and temperature controlled. Dogs are loaded last, and unloaded first from the plane, which reduces their exposure to outdoor heat or freezing temperatures.

Select a direct flight, so there’s no chance of your dog being accidentally left on the tarmac when waiting to be taken to a connecting flight.  

If your medium or large dog is flying in cargo or excess baggage in the summer, book the first morning flight or the last evening flight. These are the coolest times of the day, as many airlines will not fly dogs to or from a hot climate in the summer. In winter, reserve your flight in the middle of the day.

On your departure day, feed your dog a light meal 4 hours before your flight. Schedule a bathroom visit for your dog before you board the plane. You can offer water until your departure, but there are no outside potty breaks. 

Pack For Your Dog

For your dog’s safety and comfort, include these items in your carry-on bag. You may need them immediately upon arrival or if your luggage is lost. 

  • Dog’s leash
  • One or two toys
  • Disposable bags for picking up any messes your dog leaves behind
  • Color photo of your dog in case your dog becomes separated from you
  • Medications

Dog food for the first one to three days of your trip. Flight delays happen, and you may be unable to get to a store to buy dog food. If your dog needs a prescription diet or a particular meal, pack enough food in your checked luggage for the duration of your trip.

Follow these guidelines, and you and your dog will enjoy a pleasurable experience.

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