Flying with your dog?

Thanks to public demand, air travel for dogs is improving. But you still need to take steps to ensure your canine’s safety and comfort when flying.   

Over the last number of years, we’ve seen several news stories of dogs that died while traveling by air. Understandably, these stories might put you off the idea of flying with your beloved canine companion. In response to public demand, however, airlines and airports are upgrading their policies and improving their services. Rules are changing at a rapid rate, and for the better. But the system isn’t perfect, so it’s important to do what you can to ensure your dog will arrive at your destination safe and sound.

Rules and regulations

Each airline has its own regulations for transporting animals. For example, the number of dogs allowed per flight is usually limited. Jet Blue sets the maximum at four. And depending on where you’re going, paperwork requirements range from vaccination records to a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection and more. There may be breed limitations too. American Airline no longer flies Chow Chows, and as of May 2018, United Airlines updated its list of prohibited dogs to include bully breeds and large dogs, as well as brachycephalic short-nosed breeds that are more apt to suffer from respiratory distress under the best of circumstances.

“Some airlines make it difficult,” says Hernando Umana, who frequently travels with his seven-year-old Shih tzu, Blanche. Last year, they were in the air nearly once a week, visiting about 30 states, so they’re both seasoned flyers. “I like the airlines with clear simple rules,” Hernando adds. “My favorites are Delta and Jet Blue. I always triple-check to make sure they know Blanche is flying with me.”

“I look at policies for pets in the cabin,” says Heather Mellinger, another air passenger who travels with her dog. “I also check prices and see if they will fly dogs from Europe to the US. Azores Airlines, Iberia and Jet Blue are the ones we’ve used. Azores was by far the best, and very affordable from Madrid to Boston. Jet Blue is also fantastic. We had a very pleasant experience.” Jet Blue has a JetPaws program that offers a tag for pet carrier bags, a petiquette guide, and TrueBlue points for travel awards and other perks.

Since airline policies can change, sometimes without notice, advises that it’s best to call ahead for the most current information surrounding the transportation of companion animals.

Cabin or cargo?

Jet Blue does not ship dogs as cargo, but most others do depending on how large the dog is. In an airplane cabin, size matters. Qualified dogs must remain in a ventilated carrier, which counts as carry-on luggage and is placed beneath the seat near your feet. (Dogs do not belong in overhead compartments – ever.) Restrictions are based on the flight’s destination, type of carrier, and the dog’s age.

“My Australian terrier mix and Papillon mix did well,” says Heather. “They’re each under 12 pounds, so they flew in the cabin with me.” shows graphics for carrier requirements and more.

Most airlines use outside temperatures to decide when dogs can fly as cargo, and will cancel if it’s too hot or cold on the day of departure. It’s also important to know that relaxants can slow breathing rates to dangerous levels in some canines, so if a dog appears to have been sedated, many airlines will refuse to let him fly. Let the pilot and flight attendants know if your dog is flying in cargo.

Air travel is getting easier and safer for dogs, but you still need to do your homework. Start well ahead of time when researching airlines, so you can be sure they’re able to give proper attention and priority to your dog’s safety. Familiarize yourself with their rules and regulations, check for the latest policy updates, and consider your dog’s comfort as well as his safety. Before the trip, attach an ID tag to his collar with phone numbers for your destination, home and cell phone. Update your dog’s microchip contact information and carry a current photo of him. Now it’s time to get the suitcases out!