Flying With Dogs Isn't Easy, But 5 Key Items Makes Life Easier

When planning for vacation, your first question is probably, "What do I do with my dog?"

In a survey conducted by Rover, 37 percent of dog owners reported that they skipped a vacation or avoided traveling altogether because of their dogs. While finding boarding or pet sitting options feels like a good solution, not every owner is so comfortable, especially with the spectrum of behaviors dogs have. The alternative, of course, is bringing them along for the trip! Traveling your dog sounds stressful, yet it can be one of the most exciting and rewarding adventures you will experience. In this article, we will discover everything you need to know about flying with your dog, including how to choose an airline, things you need, how to keep your dog comfortable, and common problems that are often overlooked.

Choosing The Right Airline

Trainer Denise Ivie sits with her golden retriever puppy-in-training Harlow down the aisle of the plane during an event hosted by Guide Dogs for the Blind and Alaska Airlines

Genna Martin/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

When choosing an airline, easily the most important guideline to assess is their policies around pets flying in-cabin. Most passenger airlines only allow small dogs in-cabin, and some don't transport larger dogs at all. Policies vary based on airline, so your first step should be to contact their customer service to learn more about pet policies and how they can accommodate you and your dog.

If you have a large dog that won't be able to fly in-cabin with you, the next-best option would be stowing them in the cargo hold. This can be incredibly stressful for your pet considering they are, quite uncomfortably, isolated in the cargo hold with other luggage. Although baggage handlers at major airlines are trained to handle pets, this is a new place with strange people, and some pets react negatively. Another option is to find a more regulated cargo airline, which transport larger items like mail, packages, and, of course, animals. When researching cargo airlines, make sure they transport live animals (particularly dogs) frequently — When I had to choose a cargo airline for my large dog, I knew which ones I could trust because of how frequently they transport dogs.

There are a few things you need to keep your dog safe and comfortable while flying, and each of them is incredibly important.

What Do You Need to Fly With a Dog?

1. Crate or Carrier

Young woman in a protective mask at the airport with her dog and her carry-on bag heading towards their flight

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The most important thing is a pet carrier or crate. If your dog is small enough to fly in-cabin, you are going to need a soft-sided carry-on bag. Check with your chosen airline to learn what size carriers they allow on board. When buying a carrier, make sure that your dog has enough room to stand, lay down, sit, and turn around comfortably — Even better if it's leak proof! If you have a large dog that will fly in cargo, you will need a hard-sided kennel that includes vents on three sides and a tightly-securing metal door; this will allow maximum airflow and security.

Most cargo airlines require that you secure the door to the kennel with zip-ties or tie-straps. This simply provides extra security and ensures your dog won't get out of the kennel during the flight.

You can also put a blanket or shirt with your scent on it or their favorite toy to help make them comfortable, as long as they will not chew it up and make an unwanted mess.

2. Bowls

Make sure you pack a collapsible bowl to give your dog food and water while traveling. If your dog is flying in cargo, get a bowl designed specifically for a dog crate that secures to the kennel door. Airlines like United provide specific requirements to help feed or water pets in the event of a flight delay, so make sure your gear fits their requests.

The first and perhaps most important thing we can do to keep our dogs comfortable is not allow them to eat or drink immediately before the flight. The last thing anyone wants is a crate or carrier full of dog waste!

3. Live Animal Labels

Live animal labels are only required if your dog is flying in cargo. Some airlines require that you print these out yourself and others will provide them for you, but always check with your chosen airline to be sure.

This goes double if you have a therapy or service animal. Air travel is stressful enough, so help make both you, the flight crew, and fellow passengers are aware if your pet is actively working with the proper identification in-cabin.

4. Health Certificate

Most airlines, both passenger and cargo, require a recent health certificate before allowing live animals on their airplanes — A health certificate is issued by a veterinarian and states your dog is healthy enough to fly. Keep in mind that most health certificates are only valid for ten days, which means you will need to get a health certificate within ten days before you travel.

5. Rabies Certificate

Depending on where you are flying to and from, your dog might need a valid rabies vaccination certificate. Research the laws regarding pet travel in the state and/or country you are traveling to so you can gather all the necessary documents and tags to have handy at check-in.

Planning a flight comes with a ton of responsibility, so you may not remember or even think about everything right when booking your flights. Here are some tips to help you succeed when flying with your dog.

Avoid Overhead Compartments

There have been past instances of dogs suffocating while in the overhead compartment of a flight. If your dog is flying in-cabin, the proper and safest place for them to be is right at your feet or underneath the seat in front of you.

Be Mindful of International Travel

If you are planning international flights, research the laws regarding pet travel in the country you are visiting. Some countries don't allow certain breeds to cross their borders, and different countries require certain certificates stating that your dog has been vaccinated against various diseases. This can be taxing to research, so it's always better to be over-prepared with a copy of your dog's most up-to-date medical history.

Align Your Flights

Something very difficult for me when traveling with my large dog was making sure our flights aligned. Since she is big, my dog had to fly with a cargo airline. When booking our flights, I had to make sure I could drop her off before my flight and arrive at our destination before her so I could pick her up.

If you can't align your flights, there are companies that offer pet transportation services; they will pick your dog up and drop them off at the airport. Then, if you cannot pick your dog up at your destination, they will pick them up for you and deliver them to your home or hotel.

Any tips for flying with your dogs? Share them with our Instagram @wopets!

READ MORE: Our Road Trip Survival Guide for Traveling With Any Dog