Trips with your pets can be lots of fun! If you know how to do it right. Traveling with your pet on an airplane can be one of the most stressful and potentially dangerous ways you can travel with your pet. How can you make the experience as safe and enjoyable for you and them as possible? Educate yourself, be prepared, and understand not all pets can learn to enjoy jetting off as much as you. Read on for our tips from our own personal experience with flying both our dogs and cats when we moved cross-country and around the world!
If you can not drive, and if your pet is small enough to fit in an approved-size carrier under the seat in front of you, plane cabin travel is infinitely safer than flying a pet in cargo. If you are moving with multiple pets and need to fly them to their new home, consider making multiple trips or have friends/family fly them so they can go in the cabin. Sometimes, cargo is the only option when moving with your pets.
Fly nonstop: Our #1 flying with pets tip is BOOK DIRECT NON-STOP FLIGHTS. Take off and landings are the noisiest/scariest for pets, and layovers make trips longer. It’s riskier if your pet has to change planes. Delays on the runways are often when pets overheat or freeze to death in cargo.
Pets as cargo: Cargo is the most dangerous way to fly with your pets – read a USA Today article on the dangers of flying pets as cargo here. Flying pets as cargo should be avoided if possible. Sometimes it is the only way you can move with your pets. Make sure you have very strong crates in excellent condition. Consider multiple TSA-approved locks for the crate doors and hiking straps around the outside just in case the crate falls and the connections break. Write your phone number with a sharpie on the crate itself. For dogs, do not put any kind of bedding in the crate that could be eaten. Only a totally-chew proof bed may be safe. Yes they will be less comfortable, but they will not die like they might if in this super stressful situation, they chew up and eat their bedding. That means no newspapers, no pee pads, nothing chewable in the crate.
Pets in cabin: If your pet is small enough to fly in cabin, it is much safer than cargo. Call the airline for their rules, restrictions, and costs — every airline is different. You need to make a reservation for you pet when you book your ticket. Airlines limit the number of pets on each flight. Don’t just show up at the airport with your pet!
For pets flying in cabin, at home line the carrier with several layers of pet pee pads. You are not supposed to take a pet out of the carrier in the plane or terminal, except when going through security. We’ve heard of surreptitious pad changes done in a bathroom, and some airports do have pet ‘relief’ areas inside. Some pets respond to the stress of flying by ripping up – even eating – whatever is in the carrier. Be ready to pull out the pads for their safety, if needed. No in-flight napping for you!
Crate train you pet: Get your pet comfortable being in their travel crate for as many hours as they will be on the plane. For longer flights, train your pet to sleep in their crate at night, and then try to book a night flight.
Vet approval: Get your pet checked out for flying by your vet before you book your tickets. Some pets have subtle medical conditions that make it very dangerous for them to fly.
Tip: Planes are very loud. Loud noise is very stressful on pets. Even calm pets will often be so stressed by the noise they will go to the bathroom in their carrier. Ask your vet if and how much you can restrict food the day before and day of your flight.
Give your pet a sedative? Sedatives have risks. Many vets will not prescribe them for plane travel. You and your vet will have to weigh the risks. Even if your vet says it is medically safe, it may be scarier for your pet to be sedated and woozy trying to cope with all the scary parts of plane travel.
ID and harness: If your pet isn’t microchipped yet, get them chipped at least a few weeks before travel. Register the chip with phone numbers at both your departure and arrival locations. A breakaway safety collar with an ID tag is essential. For in-cabin travelers, also add a harness. Use the safest escape-proof harness you can find with plastic buckles, minimal metal. Get your pet used to wearing it at home. Put the collar and harness on them at home before you put them in the carrier.
At the airport: Ask for a private TSA screening room. Almost all airports now offer optional private screening rooms. These are much safer for fearful pets and for all cats. You have to ASK for them at the TSA screening checkpoint. They take more time, so be sure to arrive an additional 30-45 minutes before your flight’s suggested checkin time.
Pets have to be taken out of their carrier to go through the airport security. Relaxed dogs can be held and walked through the xray machine.