Flying with Your Dog

Traveling with Dogs on Planes

Flying with your dog is more popular than ever. Half a million animals flew in 2017, and I am willing to bet most of them were of the canine persuasion!

This post will give you lots of information about flying with your dog. I have found that regulations are pretty consistent among all the major carriers, but there are enough differences that you should definitely double check with an airline official to make sure your info is up to date.

Flying with your dog
Mila Eyes the Tarmac

 Recommendations on Flying with Dogs

Here are Urban Dog’s “universal” rules and recommendations regarding flying with your dog that you should follow no matter what a particular airline’s policies are.

Health Certificates: Take your dog in for a check-up. Get paperwork from your vet certifying that your pet is healthy and is up-to-date on all her shots. Even if your airline doesn’t have specific requirements about health paperwork, your destination may require certificates of health. It is worth it to be prepared for any eventuality.

Sedation: Do not sedate your dog for the duration of the flight. You can find any number of sources, including some airlines, saying they “don’t recommend it” or “you should avoid it.” Urban Dog’s veterinary experts all say “absolutely not!” Bodhi’s vet, Dr. Dion Osborne, and others say that flying with your dog under sedation, even if they are very healthy, could result in any number of serious, unforeseen outcomes.

Crates and Carriers: Get a USDA-approved shipping crate for flying in cargo and an airline-approved carrier for flying in the cabin. The requirements vary from airline to airline.

Food and Water: Feed your dog and give your dog water well in advance of flying. Dogs should fast for at least six hours before lifting off.

Pooping and Peeing: Walk your dog before flying, making sure your dog has one last pit stop as close to travel time as possible.

Identification: Properly label your dog and your dog’s carrier with names and contact info. Crates should have “Live Animal” plastered all over them. You should also carry a picture of your pet with you in case he somehow gets away from you or gets loose.

Connecting Flights: Book direct flights. This avoids any time spent on the tarmac between flights and reduces the chances of your pet being mishandled by baggage personnel.

Communicating with Airline Staff: Make sure every airline employee you encounter knows you are flying with your dog checked in the cargo hold. In a worst-case scenario you will want airline staff to know that your pet needs to be removed from the cargo.

Age: Fly with dogs that are eight weeks old and weaned. Most airlines have this requirement. Delta is the exception; they say that dogs need to be ten weeks old and weaned.

Airline Pet Policy

Here are some details about flying with your dog on each of the major carriers. They are listed in alphabetical order. You should definitely check with each airline’s website for details and to make sure none of the info I’ve included below has changed.

Alaska Airlines
www.alaskaair.com
1-800-252-7522

Pets Can Fly in Cabin: Yes, subject to availability.
– Pets must travel in an airline-approved carrier that fits under the seat in front of you.
– Pets must fit entirely inside carrier; no body parts may protrude from carrier.
– Passenger may travel with two pets provided an adjacent seat is purchased.
– Pet carrier counts as one of your two carry-ons.

Pets Can Fly in Cargo Hold: Yes, subject to availability.
– Travel to certain destinations is restricted due to temperature and weather considerations.
– Travel during certain holiday periods is restricted.

Brachycephalic, or short-nosed dogs like Pugs, Frenchies, and Bulldogs, and mixes are not allowed. See airline website for complete list of breeds.
– Dogs must be eight weeks of age and weaned.
– Check in at least one hour and no more than two hours before departure.
USDA-approved crate required.

Cost: $100 each way.

Health Certificate: Required for cargo. Must be dated within ten days of initial travel and 30 days of return travel. Not required in cabin.

American Airlines
www.aa.com
1-800-433-7300

American Airlines has very specific restrictions about traveling with pets to various parts of the world. Check their website for details. American allows travel with pets on most flights not longer than 12 hours, including the time it takes to clear customs at arrival cities.  American has some first class little dog cabins.

Can Fly in Cabin: Yes, subject to availability.
– Pets must travel in an airline-approved carrier that fits under the seat in front of you.
– Pets must fit inside carrier; no body parts may protrude from carrier.
– Passenger can travel with one pet.
– Pet carrier counts as one of your two carry-ons.

Can Fly in Cargo Hold: Yes, subject to availability.
– Travel to certain destinations can be restricted due to temperature and weather considerations.
– Brachycephalic dogs and mixes are not allowed. See airline website for complete list of breeds.
– Allow extra time for check in, but no more than four hours before departure.
– USDA-approved crate required.
– Passengers are allowed to check two pets.
– Flights connecting to other American flights are only allowed through ten airports in the US. Check airline website for details.
– American also has specific requirements regarding food and water for checked pets; labeling of crates; and medicine. Please consult airline website for details.

Cost: $125 each way for pets traveling in the cabin. $200 for pets traveling in cargo, $125 for pets traveling to Brazil in cargo.

Health Certificate: Required for cargo. Must be dated within ten days of initial travel and 60 days of return travel on same ticket. Ten days of your return on a separate ticket. Not required in cabin.

Delta Air Lines
www.delta.com
1-800-221-121

Delta Air Lines has very specific restrictions about traveling with pets to various parts of the world. Check their website for details. Delta allows travel with pets on most flights not longer than 12 hours, including the time it takes to clear customs at arrival cities. Delta ships pets through a service called Delta Cargo. This is different than flying on Delta’s regular commercial passenger flights.

Can Fly in Cabin: Yes, subject to availability.
– Pets must travel in an airline-approved carrier that fits under the seat in front of you.
– Pets must fit inside carrier; no body parts may protrude from carrier.
– Passenger may travel with one pet. Delta has some exceptions to this rule. Check airline website for details.
– Pet carrier counts as one of your two carry-ons.
– Dogs must be ten weeks of age and weaned for domestic travel. Check airline website for international flight requirements.

Can Fly in Cargo: Yes, subject to availability. Please note that Delta ships pets through a service called Delta Cargo. This is different than flying on Delta’s regular commercial passenger flights.
– Travel to certain destinations is restricted due to temperature and weather considerations.
– Delta does not guarantee to ship animals on the same flight or flight schedule as passenger.
– Pets must check in a Delta Cargo location at least three hours before departure and separate from regular passenger check in. Picking up the pet at the destination would occur at a Delta Cargo location as well.
– Travel during certain holiday periods is restricted.
– Brachycephalic are not allowed. See site for complete list of breeds.
– Dogs must be ten weeks of age and weaned for domestic travel. Check airline website for international flight requirements.
– USDA-approved crate required.

Cost: $125 each way in cabin for flights in the US, Canada, Puerto Rico, and the USVI. $200 outside the US; $75 to Brazil. $200 for pets flying on Delta Cargo; $150 for Brazil each way.

Health Certificate: Required for cargo. Must be dated within ten days of initial travel and 30 days of return travel. Not required in cabin.

Frontier Airlines
www.flyfrontier.com
1-801-401-9000

Can Fly in Cabin: Yes, permitted only on inter-island flights and flights leaving the state.
– Pets must travel in an airline-approved carrier that fits under the seat in front of you.
– Pets must fit inside carrier; no body parts may protrude from carrier.
– Pet carrier counts as one of your two carry-ons.

Can Fly in Cargo Hold: No.

Cost: $75 each way.

Health Certificate:  Not required for domestic travel; required for international travel. Certificates must be dated anywhere from within five to 30 days of entry depending on the destination. Check the airline website for details.

Hawaiian Airlines
www.hawaiianairlines.com
1-800-367-5320

Flying with your dog in Hawai’i has special travel considerations. Because it is the only rabies-free state is has a number of strict guidelines you need to follow. Please follow this link for details.

Can Fly in Cabin: Yes, permitted only on inter-island flights and flights leaving the state.
– Pets must travel in an airline-approved carrier that fits under the seat in front of you.
– Pets must fit inside carrier; no body parts may protrude from carrier.
– Pet carrier counts as one of your two carry-ons.

Can Fly in Cargo Hold: Yes, if pet and crate do not exceed 70 pounds. If they exceed 70 pounds they must be shipped through Hawaiian Airlines’ separate cargo service.
– Travel to certain destinations is restricted due to temperature and weather considerations.
– Travel during certain holiday periods is restricted.
-Brachycephalic are not allowed. See site for complete list of breeds.
– Check in at least one hour and no more than two hours before departure.
– USDA-approved crate required.

Cost: $100 each way.

Health Certificate: Required for cargo. Must be dated within ten days of initial travel and 30 days of return travel. Not required in cabin.

JetBlue Airways
www.jetblue.com
1-800-539-2583

JetBlue has a special JetPaws program. “JetPaws is an exclusive program designed to give owners all the tips and tools they need for a smooth trip with pet, from start to finish.”

Can Fly in Cabin: Yes, subject to availability.
-Pets must travel in an airline-approved carrier that fits under the seat in front of you.
-Pet and carrier cannot exceed 20 pounds.
– Pets must fit entirely inside carrier; no body parts may protrude from carrier.
– Pet carrier counts as one of your two carry-ons.
– There is no specific age requirement for pets.

Can Fly in Cargo Hold: No.

Cost: $100 each way.

Health Certificate: No specific requirement for health certificate, but vaccinations must be up-to-date.

southwest-flying-with-your-dog

Southwest Airlines
www.southwest.com
1-800–435-9792

Can Fly in Cabin: Yes, subject to availability.
– Pets must travel in an airline-approved carrier that fits under the seat in front of you. Pets must fit inside carrier; no body parts may protrude from carrier.
– Pet carrier counts as one of your two carry-ons.

Can Fly in Cargo Hold: No.

Cost: $95 each way.

Health Certificate: Required for cargo. Must be dated within ten days of initial travel and 30 days of return travel. Not required in cabin.

Spirit Airlines
www.spirit.com
1-801-401-2222

Can Fly in Cabin: Yes, subject to availability.
– Pets must travel in an airline-approved carrier that fits under the seat in front of you.
– Pets must fit inside carrier; no body parts may protrude from carrier.
– Pet carrier counts as one of your two carry-ons.

Can Fly in Cargo Hold: No.

Cost: $100 each way.

Health Certificate: Required for cargo. Must be dated within ten days of initial travel and 30 days of return travel. Not required in cabin.

United Airlines
www.united.com
1-800-864-8331

United Airlines has very specific restrictions about traveling with pets to various parts of the world. Check their website for details. United allows travel with pets on most flights not longer than 12 hours, including the time it takes to clear customs at arrival cities. United has a program called PetSafe, a special service for animals that fly in cargo. The program includes a dedicated 24-hour PetSafe desk, as well as the ability to track pets from point of origin to destination. You have to fill out an application online for your dog to fly in cargo. This is different than booking your flight through United’s regular commercial flights.

Can Fly in Cabin: Yes, subject to availability.
– Pets must travel in an airline-approved carrier that fits under the seat in front of you.
– Pets must fit inside carrier; no body parts may protrude from carrier.
– Pet carrier counts as one of your two carry-ons.
– Dogs must be eight weeks of age and weaned.

Can Fly in Cargo Hold: Yes, subject to availability. Please be aware that United ships animals through a service called PetSafe, as noted above. This is different than flying on United’s regular commercial passenger flights.
– Travel to certain destinations is restricted due to temperature and weather considerations.
– United does not guarantee to ship animals on the same flight or flight schedule as passenger.
– Flying with brachycephalic dogs is not recommended. United has concerns with other types of dogs as well. Check the airline’s website for more info. (See NOTE 2 below.)
– Animals must be eight weeks old and weaned. Puppies weighing less than two pounds must be ten weeks of age. There are special considerations for shipping small dogs and puppies less than 12 weeks old.
– Check in two hours before a domestic flight and three hours before an international flight.
– Check in and claim may occur at different location than your commercial flight.
– USDA-approved crate required.

Cost: $125 each way. There is an additional fee of $125 for each stopover of more than four hours within the US or more than 24 hours outside the US.

Health Certificate: Required for cargo. Must be dated within ten days of both outbound and inbound travel. Not required in cabin.

NOTE 1: When I wrote this post I decided I wasn’t going to weigh on the reputations of the different airlines in terms of safety. But an event that occurred on a United flight from Houston to New York has forced me to revise that. On March 13 a flight attendant made a passenger put her puppy in its carrier in an overhead bin. The animal died. You can read more about this here and here from the Washington Post. United says it accepts full responsibility for this unfortunate event.

I also want to point out that United has the worst track record for incidents reported to the DOT. Here is a good summary of what I learned pouring through DOT reports, it comes from Market Watch:

United had the most animal deaths of all U.S. airlines in 2017 for the third year in a row on scheduled domestic or international passenger flight, according to the latest Department of Transportation date. It had 18 deaths of animals in 2017, a sharp increase on the 9 animal deaths reported the year before, and 13 animal injuries, one less than the previous year, meaning it had 2.4 incidents involving the transportation of animals per 10,000 in 2017.

Of the 24 reported deaths in 2017, 18 occurred on a United Airlines flight.

I do want to stress that some of these deaths may have been due to natural causes, yet, these statistics do give me pause. This Market Watch story does a good job of putting this all in perspective.

And here’s another story from the Washington Post putting why United might have more incidents than other airlines into perspective.

NOTE 2: I recently read — after a series of mishaps, including the death of a puppy French Bulldog — that United was no longer allowing brachycephalic dogs to fly on the airline. I checked their website and it now has a very detailed listed of what types of dogs are accepted on the airline.

flying-with-your-dog-virgin

Virgin America
www.virginamerica.com
1-877-359-8474

Can Fly in Cabin: Yes, subject to availability.
– Pets must travel in an airline-approved carrier that fits under the seat in front of you.
-Pet and carrier cannot exceed 20 pounds.
-Pets must fit inside carrier; no body parts may protrude from carrier.
– Pet carrier counts as one of your two carry-ons.

Can Fly in Cargo Hold: No.

Cost: $100 each way.

Health Certificate: Required for cargo. Must be dated within ten days of initial travel and 30 days of return travel. Not required in cabin.

Research Your Destination

Be thorough when researching your destination!

Different states have different requirements. Sometimes cities and other municipalities may have more stringent rules than the states they are in. For example, Nome, Alaska requires proof of Parvovirus vaccine while the state itself does not.

Also, as noted above, travel to Hawai’i has special considerations because it is the only rabies-free state in the Union. Here’s a link to very thorough FAQ page on the Hawai’i Department of Agriculture’s website. It should answer any questions might have about bringing animals to the Aloha State.

Flying with your dog to international destinations comes with many, many more requirements than does domestic travel. Research your destination very thoroughly. Many countries require you to quarantine your pet upon arrival. That’s definitely something to consider when planning your travel. Also look into the rules regarding what a country can do if your flight is delayed while making a connection. If you are in a country too long, it may become subject to the rules of that country even if it’s not your final destination. You can get in touch with an American consulate in the country you are traveling to get the most up-to-date information.

Flying with Emotional Support Animals

I spoke to a number of veteran flight attendants and they all say they’ve seen more and more dogs traveling in the cabin recently. And they all pretty much say the trend started about five years ago, attributing it to the rise in people claiming that their dogs are emotional support animals (ESAs.) There are a lot of people out there who slap a vest on their dog and call it an ESA. Please be aware that airlines are within their rights to ask you for supporting paperwork if you claim your dog is an emotional support animal. Without getting into too much detail, that means you will likely need a prescription from a doctor attesting to the ESA bona fides of your dog. In 2018, Delta and United announced they were cracking down on people flying with ESAs without proper documentation. You can read about that here. And here’s a recent opinion piece on the topic from the New York Times.

Please note that all certified service animals can fly for free on all airlines. (For more on the differences between service dogs and ESAs, click here.)

Flying with your dog
Miami International Airport

Pet Safety on Flights

I checked with Urban Dog’s resident veterinary expert, Dr. Christina Moore, and she says, given a choice, she wouldn’t put her dogs in the cargo hold. She says it can be very stressful. The Humane Society also recommends against checking your pet in the cargo hold. However, you may not have a choice. I did a little research and here are some statistics… In 2017, 506,994 animals flew according to the Department of Transportation. There was a total of 40 incidents reported. That’s less than .01%. That means that the vast majority of animals that flew, arrived safely. However 24 of those reported incidents were deaths, and in our book that’s 24 too many. (NOTE: those reports are for all animals, not just dogs.) For more info follow this link to the Department of Transportation’s Air Travel Consumer Report for 2017. The information about animals is at the end of the report, starting on page 57. You will find links within the report that will take you to the individual incident reports for each airline.

Pet Travel Concierge Services and Charter Flights

If you have the money, you might consider special concierge services or charter flights when flying with your dog. Friends of ours, who moved from New York City to Sao Paolo in Brazil, used a concierge service and were very happy with the result. The service facilitated and monitored the dog’s travel. Most important, they responded to requests from the dog’s owner in Brazil when he started to think that the dog had been in his crate too long before they could claim him. There are also plenty of private charter groups that allow flying with your dog the cabin. There are too many charter groups and concierge services to list here, but a good place to start is IPATA, the International Pet and Animal Transportation Association.

And here’s a recent article from the Robb Report about flying on private charters.

For more information on transportation issues, click here for advice on how to navigate travel in New York City.

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