Flying with Your Dog in the Airplane Cabin

I need to make an extended trip away from home and I have made arrangements for my small dog to join me. I'll be flying to my destination. What do I need to consider?

Successful airline travel with a dog begins long before the day of travel. It requires planning and preparation in order to make the experience as enjoyable as possible for both you and your dog.

Do your homework with the airlines. Confirm that your dog can travel in the airplane cabin under the seat in front of you. Determine what paperwork you must have in preparation for travel including vaccination records and a health certificate for travel. Identify with your airline the precise weight requirements and dimensions under the airline seat, as this will dictate the size of your transport carrier.

Acquire your dog’s travel carrier well in advance of your trip. Consider a soft-sided travel carrier as it is more “forgiving” for fitting under the airline seat space. Teach your dog that the carrier is a great everyday place to hang out. Always have the carrier open and available in your home in order to make it as inviting as possible. Feeding your dog in the carrier can help to create a positive association. Practice entry and exit from the carrier to make it as routine a process as possible - this will be important during security screening.

Once your dog’s flight reservation is made, schedule a visit with your veterinarian close to the date of travel. Most airlines require a valid health certificate for travel completed by your veterinarian in order for your dog to fly with you. Be sure all relevant vaccinations are up to date and be sure to have your dog’s rabies vaccination certificate handy when traveling.


Are there details I should attend to when booking my flight?

Some airlines restrict how many pets may travel in the cabin or on a particular flight, and they may have certain flights on which no pets can fly in the cabin. Book your travel early to ensure a spot for your dog. When choosing your seat, be aware that you will not be able to sit in an exit row or against a bulkhead as there must be a seat in front of you for the carrier. Try to travel non-stop if possible, as layovers and transfers only add to what will be a long day for both you and your dog.


How will I move through the security checkpoint at the airport?

Your dog’s travel carrier must go through the luggage X-ray screening device at the airport, and your dog cannot. You will have to carry him in your arms through the human screening device. He should be wearing a firm-fitting harness with a leash attached to prevent escape. You will first prepare yourself and your belongings, removing your shoes and toiletries and laptop or tablet from your bag, then place them in the bins to go through the X-ray machine. The last thing to do is to remove your dog from his carrier and send the carrier through the machine. Once you are through the screening with your dog, find the carrier and safely reposition your dog inside before gathering your belongings.

The Federal Aviation Administration requires that pets in the airplane cabin remain secured in their carriers throughout the duration of the flight.


What else will help my dog be comfortable on this trip?

On the day of travel, do not feed your dog breakfast. Traveling on an empty stomach minimizes the risk of nausea and vomiting. Line the carrier with an absorbent “puppy potty pad” in case your dog needs to urinate or defecate during travel. Carry extra pads as well as a couple of plastic zip-lock bags, some paper towels, and a few pairs of latex gloves for any necessary cleanup and containment of a mess. Carry some of your dog’s food with you, a water bottle and bowl, and do not forget to bring medications she takes.


Should I ask my veterinarian for a dog sedative for travel?

Most of the time, dogs travel quite easily and do well without the need for medication. Some dogs, on the other hand, experience tremendous stress when subjected to air travel. Consult your veterinarian to create the best travel plan for your dog if he doesn’t travel well. Strategies to reduce the stress of canine flights include:

  • A Thundershirt® which swaddles the dog much like swaddling an infant and can reduce anxiety.
  • A pheromone calming collar to help lower anxiety.
  • Trazodone (brand name Desyrel®), gabapentin (brand name Neurontin®), and alprazolam (brand names; Xanax®, Niravam®)  are examples of medications that are sometimes prescribed by veterinarians to reduce the anxiety that some dogs experience when traveling. Be sure to provide a dose at home as a “dry run” ahead of your trip in order to know how your dog will react to the medication.

With some advance planning, attention to detail, and consultation with your veterinarian, flying with your dog can be as “smooth as silk”!

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