How To Safely Fly With Your Dog

Filed Under: Advice, Travel

Over the weekend both View From the Wing and Live and Let’s Fly shared the heartbreaking story of a dog who died after being shipped on a United Airlines flight. The owner’s mom checked the dog in to United in Detroit for what should have been a relatively simple itinerary to Portland, Oregon via Chicago.

For whatever reason, when the dog arrived in Chicago they were told he “didn’t fit,” which resulted in the dog being sent to an airport kennel overnight, and put on a flight the following day. When the dog arrived in Portland (20 hours late), he was lethargic, and non-responsive, and died shortly after reaching the vet’s office.

To be clear, this is horrible, and I can’t imagine how devastated the owner is. United is (of course) assuming no responsibility, which I’m sure is maddening, but is consistent with United’s terms for pet travel.

But there are also some things the owner could have done to better insure against this awful eventuality — she certainly didn’t do anything wrong, but she might have made different choices if she’d had better information. I have some experience with pet travel, so figured I’d share some tips, and some of my thoughts on what might have gone wrong here.

I’m not saying anyone should or shouldn’t fly their dog on an airplane, but if you decide that you must, there are some things that might be helpful to know.

My dog is a (fairly) frequent flyer too

We are lucky enough to have an adorable labrador-mix, who has despite all odds ended up being the best dog ever (those of you who have had rescue puppies can likely relate), and we love her to distraction.


We made the decision (with our vet) early on that properly-managed and prepared-for air travel was going to be less stressful and traumatic for her than 20+ hour car-rides.

We try not to make flying with her a routine thing, of course, but the reality is that our lives are complicated — we’ve moved back and forth across the country a few times now, have had to take contracts in other states for various jobs, or needed her to stay with my cousin or in-laws when we had to go overseas for a lengthy period of time.

With all of that combined, she has probably averaged two trips a year with us over the past 10 years. Those flights happened more frequently when she was younger, but we pretty much have it down to a science. I would never falsely claim she was an emotional support dog, so when she flies, it’s in the hold.

The “dog didn’t fit” claim is a half-truth

Dog kennels are standardized, and given a series number depending on their size. My dog is ~65 pounds, but she’s short for a lab, so fits in a #400 size kennel. Her crate will “fit” on nearly any aircraft. The next size up, a #500 kennel will still fit on a Q400, but won’t fit through the cargo door of an E-175 without tipping it to the side, so many airlines don’t allow that size.


United notes that the largest kennel size they’ll accept for United Express flights is a #400, with a #500 being the largest accepted for a mainline 737 flight. In this case:

  • Detroit > Chicago is operated by an assortment of aircraft, from A320s to regional United Express jets
  • Chicago > Portland is generally operated by a 737, but seems to occasionally be operated by an A320, or even an A319

Without knowing which flight the dog was booked on from Detroit to Chicago we can’t perfectly extrapolate the size of the kennel. It seems plausible that the dog would have at least a #500 series, as I’m sure an 80lb male is taller than my dog. If the kennel was the even larger #700 series that further complicates things, as it wouldn’t fit on a 737.

Regardless, when you make reservations to ship (or check) your pet, you have to give the series of the kennel, and space in the hold is then blocked out on all flights. Live cargo can only be in certain parts of the aircraft, so there is a procedure here, and there’s no way a dog should have been accepted for hold travel if proper space wasn’t available.

Given that, there are three possibilities I can see:

  • The owner misrepresented the size of the kennel when making the booking (or her mom purchased the wrong one, etc. — basically anything that would lead the airline to think the kennel was smaller than it was)
  • The United agent blocking space for the dog only did so for the first segment, not the second
  • United had an equipment change, swapping a scheduled Airbus A319 or A320 flight for a Boeing 737 flight

If the kennel were the wrong size, or space hadn’t been blocked, that should have been caught at check-in. Unless the equipment change happened at the very last minute (and without knowing the exact flights involved we really can’t tell), the dog shouldn’t have been accepted as cargo if they wouldn’t fit on the connection.

Basically, if the dog didn’t fit, there was an operational reason for it, and United should own that.

So for future:

  • A #400 crate will fit on nearly everything
  • A #500 crate will fit on a Q400, but not an E-175, and American won’t even accept a #500 on a 737, so check with your carrier for specifics
  • A #700 crate will not fit on a 737, which really limits your options domestically

Obviously you still have to buy the right crate for your pet, but knowing these restrictions makes it easier to anticipate potential problems.

Know the difference between cargo and baggage

Some airlines allow you to “check” your pet as excess baggage. Others require them to be shipped as cargo.

United is one of the latter, and requires you to use their “PetSafe” program. This is a nice name for cargo, and theoretically provides more checks and balances, but in reality means you’re fully abdicating control to the airline, and have limited recourse when things don’t go to plan.

We shipped our dog as cargo once with Northwest Airlines, and it was one of the most stressful days of my life (and probably hers).

When your dog is being shipped as cargo you have to take them to the cargo center, which is away from the passenger terminal, and generally isn’t frequented by normal people. The check-in area at Dulles was cramped, noisy, and adjacent to a warehouse full of parcels that didn’t instill much confidence that my “kid” was going to be treated more carefully than someone’s seafood shipment.

We were given a tracking number, but the information wasn’t terribly nuanced, and updated infrequently. I admit this might be better in 2017. We had no way to tell if she made it on to her flight until about an hour after departure, didn’t know what was going on during her connection, and had no idea as to her condition until we were able to pick her up ~2 hours after her flight’s posted arrival time.

It was a miserable day.

Have someone accompany your dog

What we’ve done since, and the only thing I would really recommend, is to travel with your dog as checked baggage. It’s less expensive (you pay a ~$100 pet fee versus the exorbitant cargo rates), so it can even make sense to have someone courier your dog if you can’t be there yourself.

Based on our guesstimates surrounding kennel size, it would have cost $428 or $529 to ship the dog as United cargo in this case. Round-trip tickets between Detroit and Portland are typically ~$350 or less, so even with the pet fee it’s potentially less expensive.

In this situation you have to go to the check-in counter a bit early, but you are much more in control of the environment. You’re there as TSA inspects the crate, can help put her on the baggage cart and meet the handlers, claim her if you have a long connection, and you can make sure the flight crew know your dog is on-board.

If your flight is delayed, you can fetch your dog and regroup, and if there are problems along the way you’re positioned to address them.

Actually, if there’s any way you can manage it, fly Alaska in the U.S.. They are hands-down the best of the domestic carriers when it comes to pet travel, and we’ve only had amazing experiences. Their system ensures everyone from the check-in agent to the pilot knows your dog is on-board, and they let you know that they know.


It’s so reassuring to have the baggage handler come and talk to you during your connection, or have a flight attendant hand you a tracking tag before take-off. Everyone is on the same page, and as an airline Alaska seems to be more careful with pet travel in general.

Never assume airline employees care

This is a good rule for life, and something I mention frequently when talking about how to handle travel delays. Your travel is important to you. Your dog is important to you. Not necessarily to some random airport or airline employee.

That means you need to trust but verify everything you’re told, by everyone involved. I’ve had issues before where cargo space wasn’t blocked on the connecting flight, and so make it a practice to call back and confirm the booking details with a second agent.

Ask if the flights are on time, and what happens if they’re delayed. In this case it could have helped to ask what type of aircraft was operating each segment, and verify the dog would be allowed — I’m sure the doggy Grandma would have been willing to bring the dog back the next day versus having it spend the night alone in the airport kennel.

It also doesn’t make sense to me that the dog wasn’t sent with food on top of his crate. The United shipping checklist specifically asks if food is accompanying the pet, but it also asks a lot of operational questions that were perhaps not given full consideration given the unfortunate result. That could have been an indicator that the check-in agent wasn’t aware of the proper procedures, which would have been a red flag for me.

Stomach flipping is a thing that can happen to large dogs

If you haven’t read other articles about this story, when the dog arrived in Portland he seemed lethargic and non-responsive. The owner bundled him up and started driving back to their home in Central Oregon, noticing that his condition didn’t really improve.

I’m not sure if she took him to their usual vet or just a vet, but it sounds like it was about three hours after arrival when the dog received medical attention. The vet started CPR, but the dogs stomach had flipped, which crushes other organs, and the dog died shortly thereafter.

This in no way excuses United for their callousness or operational ineptitude, but large dog owners generally know that bloat is a risk you live with, regardless of the age of your dog. There was even a movie about it! That’s why we all have slow-feed bowls and are advised against free-feeding and take other precautions.

My in-laws had a four-year old lab whose stomach flipped at home one evening, and subsequently had to be put to sleep, so it’s not always something triggered by trauma (though that can happen too). Stomach-flipping was a potential risk for this dog even on his original itinerary, because these things can sadly happen.

It’s horrible, and I hope something we never have to experience. But you should be aware of the symptoms, as well as other potential health problems that could arise from travel, and have a plan for them.

In my experience both with my own dog and observing others at baggage claim, dogs are almost always immediately fine and bouncy once you let them out of their crate. They might be mad at you (not mine, she’s a good flyer, but we once saw an Australian Shepard completely shun his dad who had flown with him in favor of the un-implicated mom, which was hilarious), but they should be alert and normal.

If they aren’t, notify the airline and then go immediately to an emergency vet.

Bottom line

I feel so badly for this woman. I’m sure this is incredibly difficult, especially when it seems an effort was made to follow all the right procedures. I doubt United will accept any responsibility, but there are definitely some operational questions here, or at least some discrepancies a careful agent could have noticed.

The reality is that there are still going to be circumstances where some of us have to check our pets on airplanes. The more you can do to educate yourself and control the situation the safer the experience will be for your fuzzy one.

Also, this might be the most controversial post I ever write on OMAAT, because this is one of those things that everyone has an opinion on. So let’s start with the understanding that we’re all going to disagree about the morality of flying with a dog in the cabin versus in the hold, owning pets at all, traveling versus never leaving the house, and please keep the comments civil. 😉

Any other tips for flying with pets?

  1. Very easy answer: just say it is an emotional support dog and you can take it for free inside the cabin. That is exactly what you see all the time in flights in the US. 🙁

  2. Whoever’s fault it is, at the end , this is just a terrible situation. Not that it matters now, but for future pet travelers who have to check their dogs as cargo, it sounds like a nonstop flight to your destination could help avoid a situation like this.

  3. @2paxfly – my theory is that the airlines actually like emotional support animals because of people with allergies. Airlines make good money letting small dogs and cars fly in the cabin for a fee. On plenty of short flights like DCA-LGA or SFO-LAX the pet fee can be more than a human ticket. Now, someone with an allergy could reasonably argue that there health requires that the airline not allow these pets on a plane and maybe put this income stream at risk. However, the ACAA clearly allows emotional support animals on a plane so the baseline is if you fly the airlines have the legal obligation to allow animals onboard and you will be exposed to allergens. If a passenger complains airlines can simply point to ACAA and say call your Senator or Congressman if you don’t like it.

  4. I first have to say that you come across as an absolutely delightful woman, @Tiffany. You always sound like a truly good person in all your writing and your personality shines through. I never fail to enjoy reading your articles; you are very much a massive asset in Ben’s team. If I ever have the luck of seeing you in my travels, I’ll be the loud queen running up to say hi!

    We don’t have children, so our five year-old Manchester Terrier, Jango, is the centre of my partner & my lives. Adoption is still not legal in all Australian states for LGBTIQ people, although neither of us are interested in having children anyway as it turns out, so Jango happily takes that role on!

    I sympathize with this poor woman, and pray our little boy lives to a ripe old age & dies peacefully in his sleep.

  5. @2paxfly: I am not giving the idea. I am just disgusted by how many people take advantage of the non-existing rules for an animal to be considered an “emotional support” animal and bring their pets on board for free. Yes, I am very allergic to cats to the point I had to go to the ER couple of times because I was in houses that had cats. However, airlines couldn’t care less for other passengers if someone tells them their cat is an emotional support animal and they are free to bring them on board.

  6. @Santastico – if its an emotional support animal airlines not “caring less” = airlines following the law. If you have the needed paperwork and your dog or cat appears well behaved, airlines really can’t say no (at least that is what every airline’s general counsel would say). You may disagree with a law but telling airlines to start ignoring anti-discrimination laws is a very slippery slope.

  7. I didn’t click on any other blog posts I saw about this story, because I figured they would be short on actual details, and I’d just personally rather not read a hit-and-run piece about a sad event like this. Thanks for taking the approach of focusing on information that will help other dog owners. I haven’t flown with our dog yet and didn’t know a lot of this.

  8. @dan: I am confused. What is the law or regulation that makes sure that a dog, cat or any other animal is REALLY an emotional support animal? There were several discussions on this and other travel blogs about how laws and regulations for this topic are very vague or non-existant and people will take advantage and bring any animal that is not an emotional support animal on board just by telling the agent at the check-in that the animal is there to support him emotionally during the flight. My point regarding allergies is that again there is not a regulation for that. As 2paxfly mentioned above, he, myself and many other passengers are allergic to some animals. What rights do I have to not have a cat on the same plane that I am flying? I don’t think there is anyway I can tell them to not board an “emotional support” cat because I have allergies. On the other hand I was on a Delta flight the other day and before the doors were closed the FA announced that no peanuts would be served on board because there was a passenger that was allergic to peanuts. Again, the regulation is vague or non-existant and people take advantage of that.

  9. @ Santastico — Heh, yep. That’s one of those things I feel really strongly about, so probably best if don’t comment further other than to say I’d never do it.

  10. @Tiffany: Tks for your comment. I also comply to all laws and regulations by the book so it really frustrates me when I see people taking advantage of the lack of a regulation.

  11. This is incredibly distressing. It also goes to my comment on your last post, Tiffany; I couldn’t imaging owning a dog if I traveled as much as you. As it is now, my husband and I rarely vacation together, because I don’t feel comfortable leaving my dog in the hands of strangers for more than an overnight trip; we take separate vacations so that one of us will remain home with our dog (she’s family, after all…)

    I couldn’t ever imagine putting my dog in the cargo hold of a plane. In my case, I have a German Shepherd, so she’s a big dog, so there’s no putting her in a little carry-on case under the seat in front 🙂

  12. My wife is a DVM, and we’ve flown with dogs several times, most recently we traveled with our 6 pets (4 dogs, 2 cats) on our move to Maui. Here’s the rules to live by

    NEVER fly your pet below….just not worth it. Cargo, Baggage, doesn’t matter, it’s very stressing and you should never do it unless you HAD to, otherwise leave the dog at home. The noise alone can be horrid for them.

    Fly Alaska Airlines at all cost. They’re the best for pet travel…..and your only choice left to fly a pet to Hawaii from the US if you want them to remain in cabin with you.

  13. That poor woman… my partner and I are considering a move from Vancouver to Sweden with our two French Bulldogs. Unfortunately it can be quite dangerous for them to travel in the hold, especially in summer, and many airlines have restrictions. Ultimately it’s a very challenging situation for us. I’m a social worker, and ethically can’t stomach getting a fake note from one of my clinician colleagues to carry them as emotional support dogs. As a dog lover, I’m not comfortable putting them at risk in the hold, especially for a transatlantic flight from the west coast. We have a great opportunity that we may eventually pass on if I can’t find a creative way to get us all there safely.

  14. @ Tyler Weatherup — You may want to look at KLM. That’s the airline we’d settled on when we were going to bring ours to Italy, as they seem to have the most reliable program. French Bulldogs are more complicated though, but it sounds like you’re thinking through your options!

  15. @Tyler Weatherup: our first child is a furry husky-lab mix and once while contemplating an opportunity in Europe, similar to yours, we concluded airplane holds are off-limits – a strict no for us. If we wouldn’t put our human child there, why our furry one? Not even up for discussion. We go to great lengths for our family, and that included a drive to the east coast to sail on the QE2 with our dog. There ARE alternatives to nasty holds.

    @Tiffany: thanks again for another awesome post, and one that touches our hearts immensely. We’ve never, ever considered our dog going into a hold – inhumane, IMHO. On the flip side, we would never falsely identify him as an emotional support dog. We’re more of ‘just let them on the plane’ already, and recall seeing a documentary several years ago where pets were housed in kennels at the back of the main cabin. Seems like a nice alternative, though a revenue nightmare given how airlines are trying to maximize butts in seats, so I get it.

    “when the dog arrived in Portland he seemed lethargic and non-responsive. The owner bundled him up and started driving back to their home in Central Oregon, noticing that his condition didn’t really improve.”
    I would have hoped this owner knew about a 24-hr emergency vet hospital in Portland that is renowned for the incredible care they provide pets: Dove Lewis Emergency Hospital. The owner could have taken their dog there for expert and loving, caring treatment that could have potentially saved the dog’s life. Worth noting to other travelers to know emergency vet options at either end of a trip, just in case.

  16. Dogs are treated no different than luggage when they are checked. The cargo hold is EXTREMELY cold and has been linked to brain damage/death.

    Simple: If you are going to have a dog, DO NOT put them in the cargo hold. This includes asking a breeder to ship one to you. If you even consider this to be an option, you are not fit to be a dog owner.

  17. I have cats. Lots of them. I have cats at my home in Washington. I have cats at my secondary house in Little Rock. And I have cats at my work-related quarters in Jeddah. All of them were strays who found this sucker of a human. And they all stay put. Two decades ago I once brought a beloved cat with me on a transcon. I will never do that again. It was a horribly distressing experience for both of us. So the cats in Little Rock and Jeddah have caretakers for the times that I am away. I am thankfully married to the caretaker in Washington.

    Isn’t there an air charter company that does nothing but transport pets across the country? I remember seeing something on TV about it; the company has a fleet of planes and the babies travel inside the cabin with their own flight attendant. This may be worthy if a post, if the company still exists.

  18. @ Louis — I appreciate your passion, but that’s simply not true. The hold areas for live cargo (and most hold areas nowadays) are pressurized and climate-controlled, just like the passenger cabin.

    The various weather embargoes are due to anticipated tarmac conditions, and the possibility of delays that would expose the animal to extreme temperatures on the ground.

  19. @ Kelly — I wondered about that too. Our vet always makes sure we have the contact info of an emergency clinic at our destination, and there’s no way I would start a long drive if it looked like the dog didn’t feel normal. But, we weren’t there.

  20. I couldn’t agree more with your comment about Alaska, Tiffany. My partner and I were very apprehensive about having to check our slightly too large for cabin dog during our SAN to PVR move (first experience flying with the dog) but everyone at Alaska from the check-in agent to the flight attendant handing us a “Ricky is on board” confirmation slip just prior to departure were just great. They made the entire experience both reassuring and worry-free. Personally, I wish people would stop playing the “emotional support” (Not service animal, of course) card just because they don’t want to have their pets in the hold as it’s kind of getting out of hand. If someone claims they can’t survive being on a flight without their duck, dog, whatever with them for “emotional issues” they’ve got some major shit going on and would probably be better off spending the money on a shrink instead of airfare.

  21. Which airline would you recommend if I wanted to travel internationally with a dog on longer flights (13 hours+)?

  22. To TonyPVR–
    Maybe the Duck was the paying passenger and the person was the support animal.

    Thank you Tiffany for a most enlightening article so meany things that I didn’t know about transporting an animal. I do need to find a good long hall carrier from NZ to Europe.

  23. Endless speculation in the article. Air travel is not the healthiest environment for people or animals. I emphasize for the very young and the animals; both of which limited options to indicate situations of distress.

  24. Tiffany,
    That’s a very helpful post. A couple of questions:

    Are these kennel sizes (#400, 500, 700) standardized among the airlines? Or does every carrier have a different standard? I have a very skittish cat that I must take to Spain with me. Do you have any advice?



  25. I just wanted to second the recommendation to take the Queen Mary 2 for transatlantic trips. After reading so many of these heartbreaking stories of pets dying when checked as baggage or cargo, I simply wouldn’t consider it.

    Also, I haven’t yet tried it, but Amtrack now has a pet travel program as well.

  26. Great suggestion for the Queen Mary 2! I looked into it this afternoon after Kelly mentioned she did it years ago. Although I didn’t consider it at first, this will likely be the plan if we end up accepting jobs in Sweden. Prices seem reasonable, and they really embrace traveling with pets.

    I guess all that’s left to consider now are the car rides from Vancouver to New York and Southhampton to Stockholm. I’m willing to spend 3 weeks on the journey knowing it will be (relatively) stress free.

  27. My friends are moving from Cali to Sweden and they are driving to NY then taking the QE2 over because they allow dogs.

  28. @ James Pointer — For dogs at least they are standardized by IATA. I would think it would be the same with cats, but wouldn’t they fit under the seat?

  29. We were given a few tips on our relocation from the UK to California, to get our 8 year old Black Lab across.
    1. Don’t travel at the weekend, in case your flight gets diverted to an air strip in the middle of nowhere without weekend animal facility’s.
    1a. Fly direct, or as close as you can direct and then drive.
    2. Always fly on the same plane as your dog, so you are on hand if you divert. We would not have relocated if we could not have done this.
    2a. I contacted BA (who we were booked with) and they handed us off to 7 or 8 shipping companies. It appears the airlines don’t deal direct, certainly for bigger dogs. Most of those companies tried to send him with United because it was 400 GBP cheaper, despite the clear instructions that he needed to be with us. They are quite persistent on this, so hold your ground for your preferred carrier. I won’t fly United, therefore I wouldn’t expect my dog to.
    3. If you expect to be on a sizeable plane (747, 777 etc…) Get the biggest crate you can. If you are on a smaller plane, you are probably going short(ish) haul, so drive. Just don’t risk it.
    4. Get your dog using the crate months in advance, (or part of it), with their bed and toys in.
    Over a few months, put the lid on your crate, leaving the door off.
    A few weeks before travel, put the door on but don’t close it. Get the dog used to seeing and being in the complete crate and the unclosed door. (This actually gave him a safe haven from our 5 year old daughter when he was tired, so was happy to go in!)
    4a. We used a very good shipping company very close to LHR T5 where we had to leave our dog 4 hours before departure. They were great and I’d recommend them, but obviously once they have dropped the dog at Cargo, they are out of the loop.
    4b. They put 2 really good sized water troughs (far better than the small 1’s that our crate came with) tied to the inside of his door. 1 was frozen water, 1 was fluid. I guess the hope was that the frozen one would melt as the journey went on. I can’t remember whether they were empty when we picked him up or not.
    5. We booked a higher class of travel, just in the faint hope it might give us some extra sway if things went wrong.
    6. I’m Gold with BA and again, hoped that would help if things went wrong.
    7. Have a copy of all the doggy docs with you at all times, not in hold baggage.
    7a. When the CSD or Purser comes through, ask them politely as possible to check with the flight deck that animals are on board safely. I had nightmares about the crew forgetting to put A/C on in the animal hold, so I thought a gentle reminder might help. To be fair, 1 of the pilots came out and found us after he had taken off to let us know everything was good in the hold, before he went for his rest break. He didn’t need to and we really appreciated it.
    8. Dogs have to have an empty stomach before they fly and no sedatives. I carried 1 portion of food in my hand baggage, his small bowl and got some milk when I landed, so I could feed him and rehydrate him quickly when I got him from the Cargo area. I wasn’t sure how much water he would have drunk during the flight.
    9. If you are travelling in a party and have checked bags, 1 of you wait for your bags, the other go through and get to Cargo area asap. We flew into SFO and had to drive 10 mins to the north end of the airport and find the right Customs Clearance area. Don’t mess around doing bags, hire car etc… you can easily lose an hour or 2 and that could be the difference for your dog.
    10. Have plenty of cash with you. We got stung for about $150 of various fees to clear him, some without receipts despite requesting them.
    11. You will likely end up in a large warehouse cargo area with lots of other standard cargo and lorry drivers there to pick stuff up. Have a picture of your dog with you and just ask a few of them if you can go to the front of the queue/line to clear your dog. Until the paperwork is straight, they won’t release the crate. The desk we went to seemed surprised when we said we had come to pick up our dog. She upped the urgency a little then, when I explained he had been in a crate for 16 hours.
    11a. Have plenty of ID (passport etc..), Visa, proof of address with you.
    12. His crate door had been cable tied shut, so keep your eyes out for someone who looks like they may have a Leatherman handy, or have means to undo a cable tie, especially if 1 of you had cleared customs hand baggage only. Nothing more distressing for the dog to see you, be desperate for a bio-break and not been able to get out, whilst you wreck your fingers or snap your house key trying to undo it.
    13. All ended well for us. Our dog got out, had a huge toxic yellow pee and then tucked into biscuits and milk like his life depended on it, all in the carpark of the Customs place.

    Would we do it again? NO.
    Too many things to go wrong and we just think we were lucky that most of the stars aligned. Stories like this 1 break our heart, but anything with a connection is just a no-no and asking for trouble, especially Chicago in the winter.
    We did look at relocating via a Cruise across the Atlantic with him, but dogs have to stay in the ships kennels and only walk on a small specific deck. We just decided to do it in 1 hit, rather than drag it out over 5 days and then a 3500 mile drive.

  30. R Clark – we used Jetpets to transport our German Shepherd from Sydney to London. They weren’t the cheapest option, but they gave us confidence that they had their processes in place.

    With the European Pet Passport process, we were restricted to certain airlines and certain transit locations to avoid any additional quarantine requirements on arrival. They asked who I was flying with and when, and given it was an approved route, booked our dog to be on the same flights (Qantas A380 via Singapore back before QF routed via Dubai).

    The pick up was the day before the flight, so that they could conduct all of the vet checks and ensure she hadn’t eaten before flying. On my check-in, QF had noted that I had a pet on board, and I was given a message on board that she was also on board and that a crew member would be checking on her on a regular basis.

    We had opted to have her delivered to our residence, as we didn’t have a car in the UK, and were unaware at the time of how accommodating public transport is for pets over here. She cleared a vet and customs check, and was delivered about 4 hours after the flight landed.

    She was a little dopey to begin with – but then so was I after a 22 hour flight – but perked up as soon as she saw my wife whom she hadn’t seen for four months. The weather was also a bit of a shock – we left Sydney with temps in the mid-30’s Celsius, and it was about 2 in London – she grew a winter coat very quickly and hasn’t lost it in 6 years, even during the British “summers”. We took her for a walk after she oriented herself around the house, and was back to her usual self almost immediately.

    The kennel she travelled in was well prepared, and it was clearly marked on it that I was onboard with my seat number. Whilst I secretly hoped there was a minor issue that would require me going down to the hold mid-flight, in reality there were no problems.

    I was more than happy with Jetpet’s professionalism and how we were kept informed along the way. No questions were left unanswered, and there were no problems changing her flight when I needed to change mine.

  31. We used a Pet travel firm to transport our dog (a toy pom) from Jhb to London
    They recommended KLM She then had to spend 6 months in quarantine in London after a rabies jab She grew a winter coat and after one month we could visit
    We then moved to Doha Qatar Our pet travelled BA Both trips were in the hold which is quite safe for animals
    Two years later I flew Air India from Mumbai to Harare and she once again flew in the hold
    Only certain airlines will fly a pet in the cabin
    We had a travel box with a grid on one side and crew provided water
    She survived and lived a happy doggy life until her death from old age

    John Hobbs

  32. 1) Do NOT claim your dog is an Emotional Support Animal if he is not – that makes it harder for the people who genuinely need emotional support animals.
    2) Drive if possible – I drive my two GSDs (100 lbs each) 600 miles each way to Canada twice yearly just to save them the aggravation of flying. I stop eveyry 2-4 hours for a 10-30 minute walk – it breaks up the trip.
    3) Take NON-STOP flights – or drive however many miles it takes to get to a non-stop city. It simply adds too much risk to entrust your dog to an airline and have them connect him for you.
    4) Flying with your dog as checked baggage is far preferable to flying him as cargo.
    5) Introduce yourself to the handlers who take your cage and ask their names – bribe them with a $20 to encourage them to keep an eye on Fido.
    6) If there’s room put in a small spill resistant bowl with frozen water (ice). It might spill and make Fido wet, but it also may quench his thirst later. Worth the risk.
    7) Show a picture of the dog to the flight attendant and ask that s/he check on Fido’s status with the pilot when there is time making sure he is on with the luggage. It’s better to be thought of as a neurotic pet-lover than to risk your pup’s life and well-being.
    8) Always keep copies of vet-related paperwork and certificates with you.
    Years ago I lived in West Africa for 2 years and had to fly to and from California via Paris – driving is not an option! Super traumatic, but I followed the steps above with success. My wife and I flew on separate flights and each took one dog. In Paris I was able to take my dog out and walk him since there was a 7-hour connection.
    And I agree with the person who said that if you fly a lot you shouldn’t have a large dog.
    I just now read Rob’s write-up – excellent advice.

  33. I recently read a news that an airline employee had not locked the kennel properly by mistake and the cage door was opened. The dog fled and was running about on tarmac. The airport security shot him to death. Their excuse – he was causing (airplanes) traffic endangerment and they had no other choice – This is a horrible, horrible excuse for whatever the reason. They should hav taken an alternative course of action instead of that stupid, dumb lazy cruel way….This all happened at Incheon airport in Korea last year. Horrible.

  34. @ Jeanna — Oh, sad. In the US you’re required to secure the kennel and the door with zip ties to avoid things like that.

  35. If you must keep a dog (in conditions for which the species did not evolve, despite manipulative selective breeding), why not arrange to have a dog at each of your locations. There are probably “rent a pooch” type services also. Or just get over the selfishness of imposing travel schemes optimized for humans on other species. Really it is utter stupidity. Gent a grip for goodness sake !!!

  36. While I agree that air travel these days is often “not fit for a dog,” your response is just plain hateful. I guess you have never loved a pet, so maybe, when you go on vacation or a business trip you “rent a wife, GF, BF” or whatever fits your needs so you won’t impose “travel schemes” on your loved ones.

  37. @Tyler Weatherup–have you looked at Air Canada? They have a 10kg in cabin pet policy so my puggie and I have gone transatlantically with them a good 10 times now. Good luck!

  38. Thank you for your super well-written and informative article! It is difficult to find good information about the flying-with-dog process that isn’t simply scare stories. We are moving from Washington D.C. to San Francisco right after Christmas, and that is not the best time of year to drive across the country. We have a 45 lbs, 8 year old lab-mix dog, and I think we will be flying (on a direct flight, whichever day the temperature is above 45 degrees).

    My request for you in this comment (hopefully you still see these comments, even though your article is older at this point), now that I have given you my backstory: Could you please expand on the dog check-in process? I know they inspect the crate and such. My concern is my dog, while okay in most situations, is fine being boarded, and even accepts handling at the vet office, has occasionally exhibited fear aggression and has snapped (but not bitten) at people who try to pet her without asking me. I manage this on walks by using a gentle leader, clicker training with a lot of treats, and keeping our distance from others.

    Which brings me to my question for you – does a TSA agent (or other airport person) handle the dog at any point? Or am I the only one who will be putting my hands on her? Is it simply a matter of me taking her out of the crate and then they inspect the crate and then I get to put her back in? I really don’t know how she will take to strangers handling her, especially given she will be picking up on my likely sky-high stress levels that day. Given that you have flown with your dog under the plane many times, I figure you could explain this very well.

    PS: Thank you for not encouraging fake support animal tactics.

  39. @ Rebecca — Sure! Just make sure your airline allows pets during that time of year (you should be fine on that route, but some have a blackout due to cargo restrictions).

    I generally walk my lab into the airport on her leash, and then one of us assembles the crate at the check-in counter while the other one does the paperwork. It just makes everything easier to carry, and then she doesn’t freak out about being in the crate — it’s just a normal walk. I definitely have treats on hand in case anyone wants to pet her (though she loves all people, so it’s more about making the airport a super fun place where OMGEVERYONEHASTREATS).

    Once you’re checked in, an airline employee will call TSA, then one of the airline operations people will stand there with you while TSA inspects the crate, her bedding, any toys, etc. They’ve never needed to pet my dogs as part of the inspection, but I always offer them the opportunity to say hi and let them sniff (and give treats!). Once their inspection is completed you aren’t really allowed to touch the crate, so it works best if the dogs will go in on their own. Then the airline employee will zip-tie the doors, put the crate on a cart, and off they go.

    I think if you just explain that she’s nervous, people will be accommodating. If you have time in the coming months, I’d also suggest going to the airport with her for even a few minutes. The first exposure to any experience is of course harder for them (and you), so if you can make it a place where she knows that you go together, and she gets treats, and it’s not stressful, that will help.

    Speaking of stress, I would highly encourage you to streamline your day so that you aren’t stressed at dog time. I don’t find airports complicated, and I know that helps, but we make an effort to keep things very simple where the dog is concerned. We’ll generally check our bags in first, then go back and get the dog, or vice-versa, so that we don’t have anything to deal with but her. We give ourselves extra time, etc.

    Good luck!!

  40. I hope a movement arises where dogs that aren’t tiny can fly in cabin, paying for a regular seat– or even more, I don’t care, just so I don’t have to put my dog in the cargo hold again. I had to move here from Brazil with my 40lb dog. United was the only who would fly a larger dog, and only did it through Cargo. (We did one leg only and drove 17 + hours ) It was worse than flying my other slightly lighter dog with American as accompanied luggage, since it added 3-4 hours on each side. She emerged from the crate disoriented, with red brick gums, and unable to stand. She tore both her knee ligaments and had a terrible beahvioral regression. Fast forward 10 months , she has had knee surgery, 7 months worth of physical therapy, intensive behavior modification, and anxiety drugs and is still nowhere near the dog she was before she boarded. For those saying they don’t want to fly with animals due to allergy I want to remind them that emotional support animals or not , cats and small dogs DO FLY IN CABIN ANYWAY. There’s no difference.

  41. Can anyone explain exactly how the airline staff move the dog and crate to and from the plane, from the time I give her up to airline personnel to the time I receive her on the other end of the flight? I have traveled with my 65 lb. Lab to Europe on Scandinavian Airlines 4 times, and although she has handled the long trip well each time, there have been some complications and I worry every time that they may drop her. With the dog inside, the total weight of the crate exceeds 85 lbs. In San Francisco, after TSA inspects, you have to put the large dog crate on one of those regular small airport baggage carts which means her water sloshes around and onto the floor of the crate, and the crate itself, with the dog locked in, looks like it’s in danger of falling off the cart. An airline employee then wheels her away. I haven’t been able to get a clear answer from SAS as to exactly what happens next. Do a couple of strong employees lift the crate onto some other transport mechanism to get her to the plane? Is she put on a conveyer belt? What happens when they take her off the plane — how do they get this 85 lb. plus crate off the plane? I’m particularly concerned because I’ve recently been contemplating buying one of those indestructible collapsible aluminum crates that weigh around 40 lbs. for the large size. With the dog inside, that’ll be 100+ lbs. for airline staff to lift. So does anyone know if there’s a safe method for airline staff to move my dog to and from the plane?

  42. I don’t like the assumption that all “emotional support” animals are fake. Airlines and the law require documentation from a medical professional. If doctors are making stuff up then they are the ones responsible. As someone whose dog has (at least indirectly) saved me from crippling depression, I hate being judged about it. We have only flown once out of pure necessity, and happily most people on the plane were delighted to have her there. I think we all need to be more tolerant of both physical and mental ailments on the crappy shared tin-can we call air travel. If you have allergies, alert the airline. But respect that some people have genuine need for emotional support animals and may need the animal at their destination, and have no other recourse than air travel. There’s room for all of us!

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