The first time we flew with our dog Tron we were an emotional wreck. Where do dogs go in the plane? Who looks after them? Will they be ok? We had read all the good, the bad and the ugly and had not experienced all the preparation that goes into flying with your pet. The journey from Asia to Europe was smooth sailing and Tron jumped out of his crate on the other end like nothing had happened. We understand that the idea of bringing your pet on a plane can be daunting, so we are here to lend you a hand!
Every once in a while, you hear a story of a pet getting injured or dying while traveling on a plane. These incidents are very regrettable and sad, however, compared to the number of pets flying each year, they are far and few between. Does this mean flying with your pet is without risk? No, but with the right preparations you can significantly reduce these risks (to not be more than if you would travel with your pet in a car).
Ways to fly
For smaller pets, traveling with you in the cabin might be an option depending on the airline. General regulations regarding size of the pet carrier accepted in the cabin (varies with airlines) are around 46cm length, 28cm width and 24cm in height. Weight restrictions usually vary between 8 to 10 kg of the dog and carrier combined. There is a set fee for pets traveling in the cabin depending on the airline and the length of the flight. If you are not able to bring your pet in the cabin with you, you can book your pet as excess baggage with most airlines. This means that your pet will travel in the temperature and pressure controlled part of the hold of the plane. You will have to drop off your pet at the airport of departure, pick up your pet at the airport of destination and organize all necessary paperwork yourself. Fees are calculated based on the size and weight of the pet including crate. If you are not able to book your pet as excess baggage due to airline regulations or length of the flight, you can book the transport of your pet through a cargo company specialized in pet travel. This is the most expensive option; however, you will have a specialized team looking after your dog before, during layovers and at the airport of destination. For specific airline regulations, you can have a look at our section about Airline Policies.
A lot of airlines have restrictions on the type of pets and certain breeds of pets they will transport. For dogs for example, most airlines have special regulations for snub nosed dogs and some airlines will not accept them at all, unfortunately. Snub nose dogs are susceptible to increased risk of heat stroke (when exposed to stress or temperatures above 21C), breathing difficulties or increased travel stress. There are also temperature regulations in place. During summer if temperatures exceed 29.5°C (85°F) and in wintertime if the temperature gets below 0 °C (32 °F), animals will not be allowed to travel on planes (as sometimes they will have to wait outside before they are loaded on the plane).
For all journeys by plane you will need to get an International Air Transportation Association (IATA) approved travel crate for your pet if it is not able to travel in the cabin. Your pet needs to be able to stand erect (ears not touching the roof of the crate), sit, turn around and lie down in a natural and comfortable position.
Most airlines only accept crates made out of sturdy plastic with a wired door. Air ventilations holes need to be present on all sides of the top half of the crate (most crates exist of two halves you can attach together with bolts and nuts) and a locking mechanism needs to be able to lock the wired door from the outside. To be able to give your dog water and food when it is in the crate, you will have to attach little containers on the inside of the wired door. You can check the website of the IATA if you need more information.
Although rare, there can be slight deviations between airlines regarding travel crate regulations. Therefore, it is important to double check with the airline if the travel crate you will use, meets their requirements. So there won’t be any surprises during check-in.
Service and Emotional Support animals
Service dogs are allowed to travel with the owner in the cabin. For most airlines you will have to inform them at least 48 hours before the flight so the necessary preparations can be made.
The acceptance of Emotional Support Animals depends on the airline and route of the flight. It is advised to check with the airline you are planning to fly with before you book a flight. Recently, there has been an increase in fraudulent ‘registered’ ESA’s just to be able to fly in the cabin with the pet. We advise not doing this as this has serious consequences for those who really need an ESA to accompany them. You might be denying accommodation for real assistance animals (space in the cabin is limited).
Tips and Tricks
To minimize stress on the pet, it is important to book a flight with the least hours and least number of layovers. It might cost a bit more, but if there is a possibility to fly straight to your destination, it is advised to book this flight.
There are a lot of ways to make your pet more comfortable with flying. The first thing is crate training. Pets will have to spend at least a couple of hours in the travel crate per flight. Anything you can do to make this a pleasant experience is a must. Associate the crate with nice things, like special treats and toys. Maybe put the crate in the living room for a while and praise your pet every time it decides to go in. When your pet has gotten used to the travel crate, you can start with little trips in the car in the crate. This way your pet will get used to being in motion in the crate. If your pet has anxiety in the crate, it is not advised to give sedatives during a flight. Sedatives can cause respiratory and heart problems and as you do not have access to your pet during the flight this can turn into a disaster. Alternatively, you can look into natural calming treats, but even better, thoroughly exercise your pet before a flight. Being tired will make your pet calmer and more relaxed during transit in the crate (or cabin).
Having arrived at your accommodation, just like you, your pet might need a little time to acclimatize. Believe it or not, pets can get jet lags too after flying. They might suffer from being sluggish and disorientated. Apart from jet lag, another component to the trip that could leave your pet feeling unwell after a plane ride is the altitude during the flight. Malaise, sore muscles, dehydration, headache and fatigue are all potential symptoms you might observe in your pet’s behaviour. A big walk exploring the new destination definitely helps with shaking it off faster.
The most important thing is to look and listen to your pet! Always make a plan B to be able to fall back on when your initial plans fall through. Traveling with your pet can be an amazing way of strengthening the bond between you two as you have to trust and rely on each other.