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How To Take Your Dog on a Flight [Ultimate Guide]

Flying with a dog used to be very straightforward – buy a travel crate, limit access to food and check your dog in as checked luggage.

However, nowadays the process is a lot more complicated, with good reason – to ensure that dogs are happy and safe while travelling.

Flying with your dog can be straight forward and stress-free with a little planning:

    1. Select a dog-friendly airline.
    2. Decide whether you want to fly with your dog in the cabin or cargo.
    3. Obtain your dog’s pet passport.
    4. Ensure your dog’s carrier is appropriate.
    5. Get your dog used to it’s travel carrier.
    6. Exhaust your dog 48 hours before the trip.
    7. Limit access to food 12-24 hours before the trip.
    8. Pack all the essentials.

In this article we will go into detail on how to prepare for taking your dog on a plane. I’ve also included some travel tips, to ensure that the process is as stress-free as possible for you and your dog.

Let’s jump straight in!

Select a dog-friendly airline.

First of all, you’ll want to select a dog-friendly airline.

Over the years, there have been some heartbreaking accidents where dogs unfortunately haven’t made it through a flight.

Since these incidents, airlines have certainly focused on improving their pet policies. However, there are some airlines that outshine others when it comes to pet-care.

Comparethemarket.com kindly analysed 52 airlines and selected the top 10 pet-friendly airlines:

  • Air France
  • British Airways
  • Lufthansa
  • Tui
  • Thomas Cook

  • Turkish Airlines
  • Aegean Airlines
  • Aeroflot
  • Air Europa
  • Vueling

They also highlighted the following 5 airlines as those to avoid when flying with your dog:

  • Easyjet
  • Emirates
  • Flybe
  • Ryanair
  • Balkan Holidays

For the most enjoyable and stress-free journey for your dog, try to avoid using these airlines.

Additionally, when selecting an airline, it’s important to note that different airlines have different rules when it comes to flying with dogs.

a) Airline’s requirements for the ages, breeds and sizes of dogs.

Sadly for those of you who want to travel with young puppies, most airlines won’t allow dogs under the age of 8 to 10 weeks to travel on their flights.

For example – United Airlines states the following:

Puppies and kittens traveling within the U.S. and Puerto Rico must be at least 8 weeks of age to be accepted for travel on United. Puppies and kittens weighing less than 2 pounds must be at least 10 weeks of age.

Additionally, certain breeds are often banned by some airlines.

Pitbulls, American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Terriers, Mastiffs and Rottweilers are the most commonly banned breeds.

For example – United Airlines has banned the following dog breeds (including mixed breeds) from their flights:

  • Affenpinscher
  • American Bully
  • American Staffordshire Terrier/”Amstaff”
  • Belgian Malinois
  • Boston Terrier
  • Boxer
  • Brussels Griffon
  • Bulldog – all types
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
  • Chow Chow
  • English Toy Spaniel/Prince Charles Spaniel
  • Japanese Chin/Japanese Spaniel
  • Lhasa Apso
  • Mastiffs – all types
  • Pekingese
  • Pit Bull Terrier
  • Pug – all types
  • Shar-Pei/Chinese Shar-Pei
  • Shih-Tzu
  • Staffordshire Bull Terrier/”Staffys”
  • Tibetan Spaniel

This is because, certain breeds have physical or behavioural traits that make them more likely to be negatively affected by air travel.

Whether your dog is permitted to fly in the cabin with you, or whether he/she will need to fly in the cargo hold, is determined by his/her size.

We’ll go into this further in the next section.


b) Airline requirements for the size of pet carriers.

Airlines have particular requirements when it comes to the size of your dogs crate.

Additionally, they may also request that you purchase specific crates for the flight.

For example, United Airlines states the following:

  • Not accept crates taller than 30″, including the 700 series crates.
  • No longer sell or provide crates at airport facilities. All cats and dogs traveling with a PetSafe reservation must have a compliant crate, which may be purchased via united.com/petmate in advance for acclimation and travel.

Be sure you’ve read up on your airline’s pet requirements well in advance of your trip.

Top tip – book a nonstop flight when possible. The ASPCA states that “this will decrease the chances that your pet is left on the tarmac during extreme weather conditions or mishandled by baggage personnel during a layover”.

Top tip – if possible, try to avoid flying during busy holiday periods. The American Veterinary Medical Association suggests that you fly during morning or evening in warm weather, and at midday in cold weather.

Decide whether you want to fly with your dog in the cabin or cargo.

a) Flying with dogs in the cabin.

If you have a small dog (under 20 pounds), you will most likely be able to fly with him/her in cabin.

Usually, airlines will allow dogs to fly in the cabin if their carrier fits under the seat in front of you.

With that said, policies are different for different airlines, thus, some airlines don’t allow dogs in the cabin at all.

Flying with your dog in cabin will tend to be cheaper than flying him/her in cargo, as he/she will count as your carry-on luggage.

With this said, some airlines do charge to bring dogs in the cabin, but this is usually less than for in cargo.

Please note, as your dog will count as your carry-on, you won’t be able to buy him/her a spare seat next to you.

Additionally, you won’t be able to take your dog out of it’s carrier for the duration of the flight.

b) Flying with dogs as checked luggage or in shipping cargo.

If you are planning on flying with a large dog, he/she will have to fly as checked luggage or in the shipping cargo.

Don’t panic! Your dog flying in cargo is not as scary as it may initially seem.

Your dog will be in a pressurised, temperature-controlled compartment, usually separate from passengers checked-in luggage.

Please note that quite often you will need to wait until 14 days before departure before airlines won’t allow you to book a dog to be shipped by cargo.

So, where owners with small dogs have the option of flying in cabin or cargo, those with large dogs sadly do not.

Whether you choose cabin or cargo, just be sure to check the rules and regulations of the airline you and your dog are flying with.

Obtain your dog’s pet passport.

Once you know where you and your furry friend are heading, you will need to obtain your dog’s passport.

A pet passport is a little booklet containing records of all the vaccinations and treatments that your dog has had.

Additionally, it contains your name, your dog’s name, address, physical traits, and an optional (but adorable) pet photograph.

It shows that your dog is fit and healthy enough to be your travel buddy.


Where can you get a pet passport?

You can get a dog passport from certain veterinary practises. Not all practices are permitted to issue dog passports.

Call your local vet and check if they are able to complete the forms for you.

If they aren’t, they should be able to refer you to a nearby practise that is able to help.


What are the requirements to get a pet passport?

In order to obtain a pet passport for your flight, your dog MUST be (1) microchipped and (2) up to date on it’s rabies vaccinations.

Depending on where you are travelling to, your dog may also require additional vaccinations before entry.

a) Microchipping your dog.

Your dog can get microchipped at your local vet or a charity, such as Dog’s Trust.

Not only is it essential in the process of getting a pet passport, it is in your best interest, in case your dog was to go missing whilst abroad.

The microchip will have a number unique to your dog, so if he/she is found, you can be reunited.

Get your dog microchipped BEFORE getting his/her rabies vaccinations, otherwise they won’t be valid.

b) Rabies vaccinations.

If you want your take your dog on a flight, it is essential that he/she is vaccinated against rabies.

Most countries require that your dog is vaccinated a minimum of 21 days before travel.

However, this differs between where you are flying to and from.

For example – if you are visiting the UK from a EU country or listed country, your dog must be vaccinated against rabies within 1 year, but longer than 21 days ago. If you are visiting from a unlisted country, then your dog must also have a blood sample taken at least 30 days after the rabies vaccination.

Before visiting the vet, check the requirements for the country or territory you are planning on visiting. Therefore, you can ensure that your veterinarian is vaccinating your dog within the required time frame.

Certain countries require dogs to have a rabies blood test. After the blood test is taken, your dog must wait 3 months before being granted entry.

c) Additional Vaccinations.

Your dog may also require additional vaccinations, depending on where you are both travelling to.

For example, Turkey requires that all dogs are vaccinated against parainfluenza, leptospirosis, parvovirus, bordetella, hepatitis and distemper before being allowed into the country. 

Additionally, if visiting the UK, your dog must be treated against tapeworms, between 5 days and 21 days before entry. This must be administered by a vet.

Check the specific requirements for the country you are visiting to make sure you are fully prepared.


How long does it take to get a pet passport?

Obtaining your dog’s passport will take you between 24 hours and 1 week, depending on how busy the veterinary practice is.

The appointment should take no longer than 30 minutes. Your vet will complete a quick health check on your dog, administer the microchip and vaccines (if necessary), and complete the forms.

However, as mentioned earlier, it is important to be aware that certain countries have specific time-scale requirements when it comes to vaccinations.

When you know where you and your dog will be flying, check the country’s requirements to ensure that your dog gets their vaccinations within the required time-scale.

Ensure your dog’s carrier is appropriate for the flight.

Different airlines have different requirements when it comes to dog containers. These also differ depending on whether your dog will be flying in the cabin or in cargo.

For example, United Airlines states the following:

A pet traveling in cabin must be carried in an approved hard-sided or soft-sided kennel. The kennel must fit completely under the seat in front of the customer and remain there at all times. The maximum dimensions for hard-sided kennels are 17.5 inches long x 12 inches wide x 7.5 inches high (44 cm x 30 cm x 19 cm). The recommended maximum dimensions for soft-sided kennels are 18 inches long x 11 inches wide x 11 inches high (46 cm x 28 cm x 28 cm)

If your dog is flying in the cargo hold of the plane, he/she will need a shipping crate.

When buying a shipping crate for your pet, make sure it is IATA approved.

The ASPCA provides the following guidelines and tips:

  • the crate should be large enough for your pet to stand, sit erect and turn around in at ease
  • it should be lined with some type of bedding to absorb accidents
  • the crate door should be securely closed, but not locked
  • it must be marked with large bold ‘LIVE ANIMAL’ warning, with a photo of your dog
  • tape a small amount of food to the outside of the carrier so employees of the airline can feed your dog
  • freeze a tray of water the night before – it should stay frozen while loading but will melt by the time your dog is thirsty
Before purchasing a carrier for your dog, check the requirements of your chosen airline.

Get your dog used to it’s travel carrier.

You want to ensure that the journey is as stress-free as possible for your dog.

Let him/her get used to their carrier or crate, so that they feel a little at home in there.

Lure your dog into the carrier/crate with plenty of treats. Let him/her play and sleep in there as much as possible.

If you have a small dog, you could even do some practice runs in the carrier – take him/her for a walk with you, or out for breakfast.

Additionally, for extra comfort and security, pop some of their favourite toys in their travel home.


Exhaust your dog 48 hours before your flight.

Try to exhaust your dog a little. Increase the level of activity 48 hours before your trip by taking longer walks or runs.

If your dog is sleepy for the flight, he/she will be less prone to getting stressed out.

Limit access to food 12-24 hours before taking your dog on a plane.

Give your dog less access to food, for the obvious reason – it’ll be less likely that your dog will need a poop on the flight.

Familiarise yourself with the airport that you are departing from and arriving to.

Most airports will have an area for animals and pets to rest.

For example – U.S. airports are required by law to have pet-relief areas available for working animals and pets to rest. 

Take photos of the airport maps, so you know where the resting places are for your dog.

Pack all the essentials.

  • A small amount of dry food
  • A collapsible bowl
  • Medications and first aid items
  • Pet passport
  • Your dog’s favourite soft toy, blanket, or pillow
  • Treats and chews
  • Your vet’s contact information

Conclusion

Okay, so as you have now learnt, flying with your dog does require a certain amount of planning and preparation. However, it is worth it to ensure your flight is as stress-free as possible for you and your dog.

Be sure to select a dog-friendly airline, and familiarise yourself with their pet-policies and requirements.

Ensure your dog is fit and healthy for travel, and give yourself around at least 1 month to 6 months to obtain your dog’s passport – just to be safe.

If you are concerned about anything, or if your dog has had some problems travelling before – please seek advice from your veterinary.

Hope you have found this helpful.

Happy travels!

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