If you want to bring your four-legged baby with you on your next flight, you have to plan carefully and do your research so you can ensure you have a smooth trip and do not confront any problems at the airport check-in counter. Below find some suggestions you can follow to prepare to fly with your pet:
BEFORE YOUR TRIP
Schedule a pre-trip visit to your veterinarian
You should take your pet to the vet before booking a trip to make sure it's in good health to travel. You will also need a health certification from your veterinarian, which most airlines require prior to flying, along with up-to-date vaccination certificate.
Review the airline's pet policy
Each airline's pet travel policy varies from the weight restrictions, fees, acceptable carrier sizes, breeds allowed to travel and much more.
Emotional Support Animals
People used to claim that their pets were emotional support animals to avoid paying airline fees on their dogs and, therefore, get them to travel for free. Sadly, some people used to take unusual animals such as pigs, squirrels and snakes, to name some, in the airplane cabin.
This behavior caused the U.S. Department of Transportation, on December 2020, to rule under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) that "a service animal means a dog, regardless of breed or type, that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Animal species other than dogs, emotional support animals, comfort animals, companionship animals, and service animals in training are not service animals." After this ruling, many airlines decided not to allow emotional support animals onboard.
You can read more on the DOT Service Animal ruling here. If you need to fly with a Service Animal, you will need to complete the US DOT Service Animal Air Transportation Form and you may also be requested to complete the Animal Relief Attestation Form.
Big dogs should stay home
If you want to travel with your large dog, it will have to into the cargo hold. This can be quite stressful for the animal for several reasons: it will be separated from you and in a strange environment, which will cause stress. On top of that, baggage handlers are not always the best at being careful or gentle while moving luggage, let alone a pet carrier. If it is completely necessary, you have to check which airline will allow dogs in the cargo hold, many don't allow it. You also have to make sure you're on a direct flight and ensure the temperature won't be too cold or hot on the travel date. It is a whole different, and more expensive, process to travel with a large dog in a cargo hold. This should be carefully evaluated and consulted with the airline of your choosing.
Remember to check the airline's safety records, since you'll be putting your pet in cargo. It would be wise to learn what the airline's pet incident rate is. You can read a full report on Veterinarians.org.
Keep an eye out on breed and age restrictions
Most airlines have restrictions on the type of dog and cat breeds they allow onboard. Pitbulls and short-nosed breeds such as pugs and bulldogs are mostly banned from flying due them being more prone to respiratory issues. Airlines also will have restrictions on the age of the pet, so keep that in mind.
Pet Travel Fees
Bringing your pet onboard will not be cheap, they can vary from $95 to $200 for each way, for domestic flights. International flights may be higher, so make sure you add this when making your travel budget.
Make your reservation as soon as possible, since there is a limit on the number of pet carriers allowed per flight. I highly recommend buying a refundable flight, in case you need to make any changes.
AFTER YOUR TRIP IS BOOKED
Get the right pet carrier. The carrier should:
Be big enough for the animal to stand, turn and lie down
It should have ventilation on both sides
It should have a water bottle
It should have a leakproof bottom covered with absorbent material
Place a "Live Animal" label with arrows pointing up and include your name, address and phone number
Make it comfortable - Since traveling can be stressful for humans, let alone a pet, try to make it comfortable enough for your pet and put some of its favorite toys in the carrier, as well as a nice plushy blanket and maybe even a shirt with your scent on it. Make it as pleasant as possible so they don't become afraid of the carrier.
ON YOUR TRIP DAY
Beware of the time - Make sure you have plenty of time to get to the airport and get yourself and your pet through the check-in process without having to hurry. This will cause you stress, and therefore, your pet.
Feed your pet before your trip - Try to feed your dog about 4 hours prior to your flight, since flying on a full stomach may be uncomfortable for your dog and he may vomit his carrier. Give him water right up to travel time and let him release himself in a pet relief area right before your flight.
Get him tired before the flight - Try to give him as much exercise as possible before your flight, to burn some energy and get him tired. This will help him sleep during the flight.
Pack a pet bag - Pack your pet's essentials such as food, treats, water and any medication required. Don't forget your pet's vaccination records, medical history and your vet's contact information. Make sure your pet is wearing his ID tags and microchip, if possible, and take a photo of your pet before traveling. This will help in case it gets lost.
Below find the links for the pet policy for some of the major U.S. airlines: