How to Travel by Plane with Your Pets
Updated: May 24
If you’re anything like my husband and me, you consider your pets part of your family. We’ve become increasingly attached to our German shepherd Chloe during quarantine, and we’re eager to alleviate both of our separation anxiety by easing back into travel with her in tow. While travel with pets might seem complicated, I’m happy to report that it simply requires a bit of research and planning. So keep reading for my top tips on seamless travel with your furry friends.
If you’re considering traveling with your pet, you’ll first want to check the rules for bringing pets to your specific destination. Guidelines for pets are fairly uniform domestically, but they vary widely internationally. Understanding restrictions and processes can help you weigh the pros and cons of traveling with your four-legged friends. Once you’ve committed to bringing your pet along with you, you’ll want to visit your veterinarian for a health checkup. The vet can ensure that your pet is properly vaccinated for your destination and can provide a notarized health certificate for smooth international travel. I recommend taking photos of your pet’s medical history documents to save to your phone, in case you need to access them while away. While at the vet, you might also consider microchipping your pet, if you haven’t already. Microchipping is a quick procedure that connects your pet to your contact information. Some international destinations require it, but regardless of guidelines, it’ll give you peace of mind, on top of your pet’s identification tag that lists your address and phone number. Think about an additional temporary tag with the location and phone number of your destination accommodations as well. Finally, pack strategically for your pet. Be sure to have extra food on hand in case you experience unexpected travel delays or changes in your travel plans. Pack extra treats as well, and be generous with them when it comes to good behavior or when your pet needs extra comfort. If you have the space, pack as much of your pet’s favorite and regular items as you can, including toys, blankets (or a tee shirt with your scent for reassurance!), bowls, and bedding.
Traveling by Plane
All airlines have different restrictions for traveling with pets, so it’s important to check out their pet policies before booking your ticket. Generally, pets under twenty pounds that can fit in a carrier that slides under the seat will be permitted in cabin for roughly $125 each way, while larger pets must be shipped as cargo with the cost depending on the weight of the dog and the crate and how far they’ll be flying. However, only a small number of pets are permitted per flight, so you’ll want to call the airline directly to make your reservation and confirm that your pet can travel on the flight. I recommend that you reconfirm your reservation by phone one or two days before travel as well. Your pet must be offered food and water within four hours before you check in for your flight. Experts recommend feeding your pet right at the four-hour mark so that your pet isn’t uncomfortable during travel. You may continue to give your pet water right up to the time of travel. In most cases, veterinarians recommend that pets should not be given sedatives or tranquilizers because of increased altitude pressures that could affect their heart and lungs. Don’t forget to exercise your pet before leaving for the airport and to carry a leash so that you can walk your pet before check in and after landing. Whether your pet is travelling in cabin or as cargo, you’ll want to teach your pet to tolerate and sleep in their carrier or crate for several hours. You might consider bringing them to an outdoor restaurant and letting them nap in their carrier while you dine. Work up to spending a few hours at a time inside, and try mimicking the sounds of air travel with a sound machine or loud fan.
In-Cabin Air Travel: When your traveling with your pet in cabin, pack appropriately! Bring water, non-squeaking toys, and plenty of treats. You can unzip the underseat carrier as needed to offer your pet physical comfort and snacks. Offering your pet water or an ice cube during takeoff can help encourage them to swallow and unpop their ears during takeoff. Never under any circumstances should you put your pet in an overhead bin! I recommend checking in as late as possible, but no later than two hours before your flight, to give your pet as much time out of their carrier as possible and to avoid accidents. Place an absorbent material like a pet pad or pine shavings in the bottom of the carrier just in case. It will also help your pet regulate their body temperature at increased elevations. Though you should try to book direct flights whenever possible, if you have a layover, be aware of the location of the pet relief station at your layover airport.
Cargo Air Travel: If you’re checking your dog as cargo, you’ll need to purchase a hard plastic carrier with holes for ventilation and rims to prevent ventilation blockage. Make sure it has handles or grips for easy movement as well. The carrier must be large enough for your pet to stand, turn around, and lie down. It should have a solid, leakproof floor, which you can cover with a towel or litter for additional protection. Mark the carrier with your pet’s name and attach identification tags with your name, address, and phone number. I also recommend marking the carrier with the words “Live Animal” in English and the local language of your destination and with directional arrows indicating the proper position of the carrier. Leave dishes in the carrier, including a frozen water bowl and a small bag of food, so that airline workers can provide food and water in the event of delays.
Most importantly, avoid extreme hot and cold temperatures at your departure and arrival locations. In the summer, book early morning or late evening flights, and in the winter, book midday flights. Avoid weekend and holiday travel, when delays are more likely. Familiarize yourself with the location of cargo drop off and pickup locations, and be sure to check in at the ticket counter at least two hours before departure.
Wherever your travels with your pets take you, I’m here to help navigate the logistics! Please reach out to me to help you plan your next hassle-free, pet-friendly trip. In the meantime, I’m wishing you the bliss of a pet with its head out the car window, catching the breeze!
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