Having had dogs for as long as we can remember, our family vacations always have included our dogs. Today, the number of families that include their canine members in their travel plans has grown immensely.
Air travel can seem like the most complicated form of travel for you and your dog, but it doesn’t have to be. We have put together some tips in order to help you plan your trip, and know what to expect from the airlines. A successful flight for you and your dog is all a matter of preparation.
First of all, it is important to know that dogs travel by air in one of 3 ways:
As carry-on “luggage.” The dog must fit into a carrier that is small enough to fit under your seat. You must make a reservation for this since only 1-2 pets are allowed in the cabin. Since 9/11, passengers are limited to one carry-on bag, so if you are taking your dog, he is it!
As checked baggage. Dogs will travel in a crate on the same flight as you but in a pressurized baggage compartment of the plane. Most airlines do not accept reservations for dogs as checked baggage, operating instead on a first come/first serve basis.
As cargo. This is a low priority way of flying pets as “freight” on a cargo flight. Not the ideal way of going! Fees for travel range from $50-$150 one way. Airlines differ in their fees and travel requirements, so check with your individual airline when making your own reservations.
When considering traveling by air with your dog, first, ask yourself if the stress of flying will be more traumatic to him than being left behind at home or in a kennel. As carry-on luggage, your dog will be in the cabin with you but must remain in his carrier under your seat. As check-in baggage, he will travel alone in his crate, in a strange, and sometimes loud, scary environment. Not all dogs are mentally able to tolerate this. So be honest with yourself and consider your dog’s well-being.
Before taking a flight with your dog, have your veterinarian examine your dog to ensure that he/she is healthy enough to make the trip. Certain breeds may not fly well because they can have difficulty breathing even under normal circumstances (“pug”-nosed or bracheocephalic dogs, such as bulldogs, boxers, pekingese, etc.). Most airlines require proof of vaccinations and a current health certificate. In most cases, these health certificates must be issued by a licensed veterinarian who examined the dog within 10 days of transport. Check with your airline to get the exact amount of time they require.
The decision to use a tranquilizer should be made by your veterinarian. Use of tranquilizers may not be advisable since the effect on dogs at higher altitudes can be unpredictable.
PLAN AHEAD! Many owners are unaware of the quarantine laws for international travel as well as regulations for travel within the U.S. Hawaii, U.S. territories, and certain foreign governments have quarantine and health requirements for arriving pets. Check these out first, before you make your plans to see if it is feasible to bring your dog with you. And make sure to ask about the quarantine rules regarding re-entering the U.S. from foreign countries. For U.S. territories and foreign countries, contact the appropriate embassy, government agency or consulate, as well as the individual airline, for specific requirements at least 4 weeks in advance of your trip to give yourself time to receive and complete necessary forms. International flights may also require additional crate ventilation, labeling and shipper’s certification.
Long flights, especially international ones, can be as hard on your dog as they are on you. Although nothing has been proven, dogs can very well suffer from jet lag. Whenever possible, book a direct nonstop flight to avoid accidental transfers or delays. Avoid long layover flights, as well as holiday or weekend travel. Try to avoid travel during excessively hot or cold periods. Airlines are restricted from flying pets in adverse heat or cold weather conditions, so be prepared for the possibility of not being able to take off with your dog on any given day! Morning or evening flights are preferable during the summer to avoid temperature extremes that may affect your dog.
Airlines have specific requirements designed to ensure your dog’s safety. Dogs are protected by the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) when traveling on airplanes. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) enforces these regulations.
Make sure that the kennel in which your dog will travel is approved for air travel. If it’s not, the dog cannot get on the plane. The kennel must meet minimum standards for size, strength, sanitation and ventilation, grips (for lifting by cargo personnel) and identification markings (labels). They are pretty specific on these standards so my suggestion is that you contact your local USDA – APHIS office for details. For further info call 1-800-545-USDA, check out their informative web site at www.aphis.usda.gov and click on petravel, or contact your airline.
A few more tips for air travel:
As far in advance as possible, let your dog get acclimated to the flight kennel. Leave it open in the house, let him go in and out of it, feed him in it, let him sleep in it, and finally leave him alone in it.
Reconfirm with the airline 24 hours before departure that you will be bringing your dog. Advance arrangements are not a guarantee that your dog will travel on a specific flight. Airlines reserve the right to refuse to handle animals for such reasons as illness, disposition (behavior) or inadequate kenneling. Airlines will also refuse to transport pets during extreme weather conditions.
Get to the airport in plenty of time. There may be forms to fill out before your dog can be loaded. Check with your airline for actual check-in time. Have ID on your dog (collar) as well as on the crate. Tags should have both your permanent and vacation addresses and telephone numbers.
Give your dog plenty of exercise at home before leaving and a chance to relieve himself at home and again before you put him in the kennel at the airport.
Do not take your dog out of his crate while in the terminal building, as airport regulations prohibit this. Have a leash readily available so that you can walk your dog before check-in and after arrival.
Carry a current photograph of your dog just in case he is accidentally lost. This will make the search easier.
Despite all your precautions, it is possible for your dog to get lost while you are traveling with him. If you are traveling by air, immediately speak to airline personnel. Most airlines have computer tracking to help trace pets incorrectly transferred to different flights.
Contact local businesses, animal control agencies, humane societies and veterinarians in the local and surrounding areas. Provide descriptions and photos. Check with them daily. Leave telephone numbers and addresses with all these people and businesses should you have to return home.
You can expect to have a pleasant and rewarding vacation with your dog if before you take-off you chart your course. Bon Voyage!