Everything You Need To Know About Flying With Your Pup

traveling with pets on airplanes


Few things are more heartbreaking for pet owners than leaving their furry best friends in tiny kennels at the vet while they jet off for vacations or head to their home states for the holidays. And since a bunch of coveted destinations are considered pet-friendly these days, why should you feel obligated to leave your dog behind mourning your absence? Flying with Fido is definitely an option worth thinking about — there are just a few things you need to know before booking those flights.

1. Make sure your dog’s vaccinations are up to date.

The last thing you want is for your pup to have an expired rabies vaccination and fear-bite a TSA agent (or fellow traveler) as you move through the security checkpoint. Hello, lawsuit. Before you even think about stepping into an airport, take your dog to your local vet and make sure that he has a clean bill of health and all relevant, updated shots.

2. Check pet restrictions on your airline of choice, as well as in the location to which you are traveling.

While you won’t have an issue fitting a small, soft-sided carrier underneath the seat of a larger commercial airliner, the smaller connector planes used by the majority of big-name airlines to make shorter trips definitely can’t fit your pup at your feet. In fact, many of these flights don’t allow pet transportation at all. But that information obviously isn’t listed in your Google Flights search when you’re hunting for the best deals, so be sure to cross-check the type of plane with pet compatibility before you purchase your ticket.

Most domestic flights in the United States will allow pets to and from any airport (as long as the plane itself is big enough to fit them in the cabin). But if you’re flying internationally, you definitely want to read up on your destination’s rules for bringing in foreign animals. Some countries require extra shots and documentation, while others say no pets whatsoever. So do your homework and avoid some potentially devastating surprises on travel day.

traveling with pets on airplanes

Unsplash/Gerrie van der Walt

3. After booking your flight, call the airline to reserve space for your pet specifically.

Most airplanes have a maximum number of pets they will allow to fly in the cabin at a single time, and it’s usually not that high. So when you plan on flying with your doggy friend, especially around a holiday, you need to avoid waiting until the last minute to book your ticket and, as soon as it’s purchased, hop on the phone with a customer service representative to notify them that your reservation needs to include a pet as well. (There’s no place to enter that information online during your purchase so yes, a phone call is necessary.) They’ll give you a separate reservation number for Fido that you need to write down and present to the ticketing agent on the day of your trip.

4. Keep all of your dog’s documents on hand alongside your own travel information.

Just like how you travel with your preferred form of identification, flight confirmation information and boarding pass, you need to bring your pup’s most recent checkup documents from the veterinary office as proof that he’s up to snuff and ready to fly. Most agents won’t ask for this information at the ticketing counter these days, but if they do and you don’t have it, they have the right to turn you away, officially ruining your vacation.

5. Always arrive two hours before your flight takes off.

You know how you’re told to arrive at least two hours before domestic flights and you pretty much never listen? Well, when you’re bringing your dog along for the ride, this is not an option. First, you can’t check into your flight online when you’re traveling with your pet. You have to wait at the ticket counter to fill out a form for them, pay the pet carrying fee and likely pay to check your bag as well since your dog is officially taking the place of your typical carry-on suitcase. This line is usually long, and it usually moves slowly. Trust us — you’ll want that two hours for a healthy time cushion before takeoff.

6. Be ready to pay a pretty penny.

Speaking of the pet carrying fee, it’s not a small price to pay to have your fluffy BFF as your travel companion. While the specific number can vary by airline, most charge between $110 and $125 per pet per one-way flight. And then, if you’re checking your suitcase, go ahead and add $25 to that amount. Then double it because you’re going to have to come home eventually. We’re talking an additional $300 tacked on to your travel costs here, so ask yourself if the trip duration and purpose is worth the financial investment of traveling with your dog before handing over your credit card.

traveling with pets on airplanes


7. And don’t be one of those people trying to get out of it.

Plenty of people these days shortcut this system by getting a certificate that states their dog is an “emotional support dog” because folks who medically need their pets by their sides don’t have to pay these pet carrying fees. You can download the certificates off the internet, and you can probably convince a somewhat-slack medical professional to supply you with a doctor’s note that relays the same sentiment. But don’t do it. Don’t be that person. That rule is in place to protect people who really need it, and the more people who take advantage of the system, the more it can harm people who have actual disabilities or medical ailments. If you want to travel with your dog that badly, pony up and call it a day.

8. Map out the pet relief areas in your departing and arrival airports.

Navigating an airport is likely a stressful experience for your pup. There are countless strangers and new sights and smells and TSA agents making the security line hella intimidating. So once you get through all of the madness and you’re ready to walk to your gate, make sure you know where the nearest pet relief area is and make a pit stop for your doggo. He’ll feel better after doing his business and taking a moment to himself, and you’ll feel better knowing that you won’t be responsible for mopping up a puddle off the floor with food court napkins anytime soon. (We recommend doing the same thing after deplaning so your car ride to your final destination remains accident-free as well.)

9. Use that carrier when you’re told to — no exceptions.

Finally, once you’ve boarded your plane and you and your pup are settled comfortably (well, as comfortably as possible) in your row, follow the pet seating rules. If your pup is small enough to fit into a soft-sided carrier, he needs to remain inside of it at your feet for the duration of the flight. If you have a bigger dog who just sits at your feet on his leash, keep him at your feet. Dogs are not allowed to cuddle up on your lap or sit in the (lucky) vacant seat next to you. Unless you want a stern talking to from the flight attendant, follow the rules and just ride it out until you land. If your dog is getting to go on vacation with you in the first place, he can wait a couple of hours for his next showering of love.

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