The thought of flying with your dog may send shivers down your spine; no doubt you’ve heard more than a few terrifying tales of fellow dog owners who’ve had disastrous experiences taking their pups along with them.
Whether you are moving overseas, or are fortunate enough to take your pooch along with you on vacation, the process may seem intimidating.
However, there are a number of tricks you can employ to minimize both you and your dog’s stress on the journey that awaits, and to have a fantastic trip overall.
5 First-Timer Tips for Flying with Your Small Dog
Be sure to also read my article 9 Lessons Learned After Flying with My Dog for the First Time
Note: some of the links below are affiliate links, which means that we receive a small commission on qualifying purchases if you buy something.
Make Sure Your Dog Can Actually Fly In-Cabin With You
Well before your flight, you need to read up on what your chosen airline’s policy says about traveling with pets.
Some airlines require a reservation for your pet.
“Additionally, when booking over the phone, it’s common for the call center staff member to ask the weight of your pet plus carrier combined, plus the dimensions of the carrier, to ensure it meets their guidelines. So make sure you have this handy.” – Shandos, Travelnuity Blog.
“Know the length of your dog and the airline rules. For example, my corgi, Eve, is under the weight limit for most airlines (she is 23 lbs and they tend to say 25) BUT, she is too long to fit perfectly in the under-seat carrier and might not be able to stand and turn around as is required by Southwest (but not necessarily required by other airlines). Risky to try if the rules might be against you. So know your dog’s weight but also length and ability to stand up in the carrier. And know the airline’s under seat height. I won’t risk trying to take her on Southwest, but American, which has higher under-seat area and less concern with the ability to stand and turn.” – Carleen, Some Pets Blog.
Prepare for the Flight in Advance
Secure a Spot for Your Small Dog on the Plane
While not all airlines allow reservations – some are first-come-first-served – calling your airline ahead of time can help.
Sometimes they can give you an idea of how early you should arrive and maybe how many other people-with-pets have called ahead.
Consider Checking With Your Vet
All airlines will require that your dog is up-to-date on shots (bringing a signed vaccination record from your vet is always a good precaution but not always mandatory when flying with your dog inside the cabin).
In addition, you may also be required to supply a notice from your vet indicating that your dog is fit to travel and exhibits no chronic medical conditions which may prevent it from flying.
Get the Right Carrier
Airlines require you to bring your pup in a carrier, which has to fit beneath the seat in front of you.
You can usually check online, or call ahead, to see what the dimensions of the carrier need to be for the particular plane you will be riding in.
My favorite for flying with my dog is the Sleppypod Air.
Remember that the aisle seat can have a smaller under-seat space than the middle and window seats.
If you have the funds and have ever considered trying out that business class upgrade, this might be the time, which would give you and your dog some extra space and legroom.
Have a Pee Plan
Know where the nearest potty station is at your airport. Some have designated potty stations outside and/or inside the terminal.
You’ll want to know what side of security it’s on and plan accordingly for a potty break before your board your plane.
You may want to consider lining your dog’s carrier with a pee pad or two in case they have an accident.
I also know some people who bring a pee pad to lay down on the restroom floor for their dog to go if needed (their dog is trained to go on potty pads).
Pack for Your Pooch
Consider your pets needs and ensure a separate pocket is allocated for them in your carry-on.
This is where any medication, snacks, and a non-spill water container for them should be kept.
Include familiar items, such as their favorite toys or a soft blanket. These possessions will allow your pup to feel a lot more at home and at ease during the potentially scary experience of flying.
Some things on my must-bring list include:
“Whether you’re traveling overnight, for a week, or for a month, always bring some dog food with you in your carry on. Here are a few reasons why:
*If your plane is delayed and dinnertime rolls around, you’ll be prepared (but don’t fly on a full belly!).
*If you’re planning to buy dog food at your destination, having some on hand will give you extra time to purchase it in case of any unforeseen obstacles (the store is closed, they don’t have your food in stock, etc).
*If your checked bag with food in it is lost or delayed by the airline, you’ll have back up in your carry on.” – Candy, Boogie the Pug Blog.
“Pack extra for the flight. Flights get delayed and cancelled all the time. Don’t be caught short while travelling. We always pack extra collars and leads, pee pads and food (just in case). There is nothing worse than having a lead break or collar get lost when you are in a foreign area and don’t know where the nearest pet shop is (or can’t leave the airport!). We don’t recommend changing your dogs regular food while on a trip so if you aren’t sure if you can get it while on vacay, make sure you bring it with you (and pack extra to allow for delays).” – Kimberly, City Dog Expert Blog.
Getting Through Airport Security
One of the biggest surprises when you bring your dog through the airport security line is being pulled aside to have your hands swapped for explosives. Just know it will happen and it’s no biggie.
“When you go through security with your dog, you will need to hold them in your arms as you go through the metal detector. The carrier will go through the x-ray machine with your other carry-on luggage. After you step through the metal detector, a TSA employee will swab your hands. This test is to make sure you don’t have your dog carrying explosives for you. I’ve never had a bad experience going through security. It’s always been easy, and I’ve even been escorted to the front of the line because I have a cute dog ? I also make sure to have Wynston’s vet records on hand just in case they ever ask for it. Better to be safe and prepared.” – Amanda, Dog Mom Days Blog.
“… I got swabbed again at the Kansas City airport on the way home. I did some more digging online and read that people traveling with pets usually get swabbed for explosive residue because criminals have been known to hide explosives inside pets. Disgusting, I know. Regardless, don’t be surprised if you get flagged for a hand swab when flying with your [pet]!” – Emily O.H.
Before You Board the Plane
If you have access to a dog potty area in the airport, give your dog an opportunity to use it. Not only will your dog have to wait to potty until you get off the plane again, it may have been an hour or more prior to boarding the plane that they last relieved themselves.
While my 10-lb Dachshund Gretel held it for a 6 hour flight once, not all dogs are able to do that.
It’s best to try and prepare your dog to sleep on the plane. If your dog sleeps through the entire flight, it’s less stressful on both of you.
Some good ways to help make that happen are to:
- Take your pet for a long walk before you get to the airport
- Take them to the pet potty area and walk them around the vicinity a bit
- Try and keep them entertained and awake while you are waiting to board your flight
Also before boarding, make sure you have your pet-fee receipt easy accessible in case the gate attendant asks for it.
During the Flight
Be aware that your dog in carrier counts as either your carry on bag or personal item (purse) so you can only bring one bag in addition to your dog.
Since your dog is going under the seat, you will have to place the other bag in the overhead bin. That means that all of your stuff will be up there too.
While you CAN get up mid flight and get one or two things out of your bag, it’s a hassle if not impossible.
It’s a good idea to slip a few small things into the seat pocket in front of you or in the pocket of your dog’s carrier if it has one.
During the flight, it’s important for you to stay calm. Yes, you.
When you are nervous or anxious, your dog can sense it and they are more likely to be restless and upset.
Personally, I’ve found it best to check on my dog as little as possible during the flight.
Of course, you’ll want to make sure they are safe but I often make the mistake of checking on her again and again and not giving her time to sleep or settle.
The chance is good that if she needs attention, she will make it known.
With that being said, your dog may need a little reassurance, at least the first few times on a flight.
While being mindful of not disturbing them too much, it can be helpful to talk to them quietly and calmly (even if you sound a little bit crazy to fellow travelers). It can also help to occasionally stick your hand in their crate to reassure them if they seem fussy.
You know your pup best, so try and read the situation and do what you think is necessary in the moment.
After the Flight
Your first mission once you get off the plane is to reach a potty station as soon as possible so your dog can stretch their legs and relieve themselves.
In some cases, you may have to take a detour inside or outside of the airport to the pet relief area before you head to baggage claim.
Be mindful that your dog may be restless and a bit agitated because they have been stressed or sleeping for a long period.
When you get to your final destination, thank them for being patient and handling the situation so well by taking them for a walk or playing fetch.
Overall, the whole process of flying with your beloved dog may be intimidating; however, these tips should hopefully have at least given you a little peace of mind on the topic.
Enjoy your travels, and bon voyage!