They say dogs are man’s best friend. For some of us, that quote is very literal and very true. Therefore, when the time comes for us to leave town for a while on vacation, a business trip, relocation or for some other reason, leaving our ‘best friend’ behind can be harder than expected.
We recommend that except you necessarily have to, your best friend – which is of course your dog – should not be put through the ordeals of traveling by air. This advice should be given a keen thought if arranging alternative care for your dog is possible during your absence. Regardless, you are probably reading this because you do want to transport your dog by air, or at least giving it a serious thought. Honestly, I am not sure anybody would fault you too much.
So, if you have made up your mind to travel by air with your dog, it is imperative that you know what and what not to do to keep your dogs safe while in transit. Remember, dogs are not human, and not all kinds of dogs are allowed to fly. Most airlines will refuse to fly snub-faced dogs due to brachycephalic airway obstructive syndrome. A severe cardiovascular and respiratory health issue some species of dogs are prone to at high attitudes.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) oversees the transportation of pets by air within the United States, and their laws bind airlines within the U.S. However, most airlines may impose guidelines of their own. I will discuss these guidelines later on in this article in more detail.
Generally, if you own a small dog, you are likely going to be allowed to carry it into the aircraft cabin, where you would presumably prefer a best friend to be – with you! However, if your dog weighs more than 15 pounds or is 11 inches tall, your dog will likely be carried in the cargo hold. Relax, I know this isn’t what you would prefer, but it’s not as bad as you think. Daily, millions of pets are flown safely to and from their destination in an airplane’s cargo hold without any issues.
To ensure that your dog remains safe in the cargo hold of an airplane during transit, ensure you do the following:
1. Book a Date with Your Vet
Regardless of whether your dog is ill or not, book a date with your vet just before you fly. This is necessary to ascertain that your dog is indeed healthy to travel by air. Remember, dogs are better off at home. But, if you are going to be flying with them anyway, get a clean bill of health from your vet.
2. Pick the Best Route
Picking a direct non-stop flight is the best thing you can gift a dog flying with you. Most airlines do not interline pets. This means you would need to pick up your dog, go through customs and security checks with it, before boarding the next flight. Of course, this isn’t impossible to do. But remember, whichever hassle you can save your dog is a win-win for both you and your dog.
Choosing a direct flight where possible, is one of such troubles you can save yourself and your dog. Also, endeavor to confirm that you and your dog are on the same flight.
3. Pick the Best Weather
You should fly during Spring and Fall – when the weather is at its loveliest! Traveling during extreme temperatures can be harmful to your dog – especially during takeoff and landing. Generally, avoid flying with your dog between May and September. If you must fly during these periods, ensure that the airline will take the necessary precaution to ensure that your dog remains safe. Another useful tip, if possible, do not fly during peak or festival periods – a Wednesday in an uneventful week sounds perfect.
4. Select A Good Travel Carrier
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) highlights guidelines for approved dogs travel carriers. Generally, the carrier should be waterproof, provide adequate ventilation, have no handles or wheels (except for tiny crates) and a door lock. A rule of thumb is to ensure that your dog can stand erect in the box and turn around comfortably.
The comfort of your dog is paramount during a cargo hold transit. Check that the carriers are sturdy and big enough for the journey – your dog should have enough space to stretch and lay comfortably inside the carrier.
The carrier should be visibly marked with ‘live animal’ both at the top and sides. The carrier should also contain at least two separate dishes for food and water. Also, your dog should be given water and food within four hours of your flight. To ensure that your dog remains hydrated, you can add ice cubes to their water dish. Ice cubes are a preferred choice to regular liquid since they will not spill during take-off or landing and are less likely to cause a mess in the carrier.
5. Do Not Tranquilize Your Dog
Unless your vet says otherwise, most airlines will not agree to fly a tranquilized animal. If your vet insists on tranquilizing your dog, confirm that they are aware that you are going to be flying with your dog. Tranquilized animals can experience both cardiovascular and respiratory problems at high altitudes. This applies regardless of whether your dog will be flying in the cargo hold or flying with you in the cabin.
Choose A Good Collar for Your Dog. A good collar is one that has the least chance of being trapped in your dog’s carrier doors. The dog collar should contain important details about your dog and the owner’s contact details (name, contact address, email, etc.)
6. Say Something Once You Board
Immediately notify the captain, a co-pilot or a flight attendant that your dog is in the cargo hold. They should generally be aware, but it is worth mentioning again to be sure. Once informed, the flight crew can take special precautions to ensure that your dog remains safe.
Take the Initiative. Ultimately the safety of your dog is your responsibility. This includes looking out for your dog as soon as you are at the airport, passing through security points and in the waiting area. Ensure you ask questions where in doubt and take a photograph of your dog as soon as you reach the airport. A recent picture can help with easy identification of your dog if it, unfortunately, gets missing in transit.
7. Check Airline Restrictions and Guidelines for Dog Air Travel
As stated earlier, different airlines have special restrictions or policies about how they transport dogs. We recommended that you peruse the pet policies of individual airlines before you book a ticket. Some airlines have more relaxed policies and offer more care to your dog while in transit (cargo hold) while other airlines often leave the bulk of the worry to you.
Below, we will have a brief look at some popular U.S airlines and some key highlights of their guidelines and policies regarding dog air travel.
United Airlines have recently introduced a revised PetSafe program to improve pet air transportation and safety. Furthermore, this policy highlights several new policies and customer requirements regarding traveling with a pet on board.
United Airlines have also indicated that their new Pet Policy, which will take effect from the 18th of June 2018, and will enforce the following prohibitions on pet travel.
• Flight reservations for brachycephalic or snub-nosed dogs will no longer be accepted due to health concerns and risk of flying for these kinds of dogs; American Pit Bulls, Bulldogs, English/American Mastiff, Belgian Malinois and a host of other dog breeds.
• Reservations will not be accepted from the 1st of May till 30th of Sept to and from the following destinations; Palm Springs, Phoenix, Tucson, and Las Vegas, due to extreme temperatures restrictions.
• Reservations must be made within 30 and 5 days of travel.
• Reservations to Australia and India are not currently available.
• Crates taller than 30” will not be accepted and the pet owner is solely responsible for the provision of an approved crate size.
We recommend that you check out the comprehensive United Airlines guide for pet air travel.
• Due to temperature restrictions, American Airlines also prohibits pet air travel to and from the following locations; Phoenix, Las Vegas, Palm Springs and Tucson, from May 1 – September 30.
• American airlines also prohibit the transportation of brachycephalic or snub-nosed dogs.
• You can fly with your pets to several destinations in the U.S, Canada, Alaska, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Central America.
• You can travel with a maximum of 2 pets in the cargo hold, and your pet’s health certificate is only valid within 10 days of your travel and 60 days of return with the same ticket.
• Pet travel is prohibited to any destination in the country where the temperature is at or forecasted above 85 degrees Fahrenheit (heat restriction) and 45-degree Fahrenheit (Cold restriction).
Visit the American Airlines pet air travel page for a detailed and comprehensive guide about air pet travel on the airline.
• Delta Airlines operates a unique shipping service for pets that cannot fit inside a carrier in the cabin. A separate flight plan is required, and additional charges may also apply. Delta Airlines does not guarantee that pets and owners will be shipped on the same flight. So please keep this in mind when you book.
• Apart from service animals, pets are not allowed to travel in the cabin to the following destinations; Australia, Dakar, Dubai, Barbados, Hawaii, South Africa, United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates, Barbados, Jamaica and Republic of Ireland.
• Pets flying with you in the cabin must be able to fit in a kennel that can go underneath your seat.
• Pets younger than ten weeks old are prohibited from flying domestically.
• Pets are counted as part of your carry-on baggage.
• Pets are strictly prohibited from flying at temperatures above 80 degrees Fahrenheit and below 20 degrees Fahrenheit, to and from any destination.
Check the Delta Airlines website for detailed information.
So, if you are looking to fly with your ‘best friend’ ensure you take all the necessary precautions and steps to keep them safe. Nothing beats being proactive and vigilant. Ask questions where in doubt and ensure that the airline is aware of all your concerns and worries before the plane lifts off.
I wholeheartedly agree with Rudyard Kipling, the author of Jungle Book, when he said: “Once you have had a wonderful dog, a life without one, is a life diminished.”