In 2013, I flew roundtrip from San Francisco to Houston with my dog, Marly. When at the airport with Marly (or even just talking to friends and family), I get a lot of questions about flying with a dog, like “You can do that?” or “How does that work?” Now that we are pros, I thought I would answer some of those questions here and even share some tips I have figured out for stress-free traveling with your pup.
Many airlines these days allow you to bring your dog onboard with you for an additional fee. I know for sure that Southwest (what we have flown) and Virgin America do. With Southwest, it is $75 each way, and with Virgin America it is $100 per segment (which leads me to believe that means that you have to pay $100 each time you get on and off the plane). Since our trip, however, I have heard that if you get your pet certified as an emotional support animal, you will be exempt from those fees and have less strict rules to follow, which would definitely make things a bit more stress free!
At any rate, in order to fly with a pet, they must fit in a carrier that will fit under the seat in front of you. Under seat measurements are available on airline websites. Also, your pet counts as a carry-on! Which, in my opinion, is ultra silly since you have to pay a fee to bring them on board.
Here are some tips and tricks I have discovered that are great to keep in mind to make flying with a dog easier:
+ Go to a pet store with your pup and try out many different carriers. It’s like buying a purse: you have to compare them and figure out what works best for you and your dog. It was kind of difficult to find one for Marly since he is the recommended weight for the carriers, but is longer than most breeds that the carrier is intended for. But we found a few that worked and that I liked! Also, if you are traveling alone, be mindful of how you will carry your pup in his carrier AND all of your luggage. They make rolling carriers that also have backpack straps, which would have been great except that Marly was too long for those. So, find what is manageable for you and most comfortable for your dog, since he will be the one in it for hours at a time. Then, go buy it online because they are much cheaper!
+ Buy a “guaranteed on board” pet carrier. Some even have a printable certificate to bring to the gate with you incase there is a problem. You can find the carrier I got for Marly HERE.
+ In the weeks and days leading up to your flight, put your dog in his carrier for small increments of time. You could take him for short car rides, carry him around the neighborhood, or even try going on a longer road trip before your big flight.
+ Whenever possible, take a direct flight. Though it may seem like a good idea to have a layover as a break for your pup, it just adds hours to your travel time, not to mention the affects of taking off and landing multiple times. Think about how your ears tend to pop or hurt during this time, and then think about ow your dog must feel since he doesn’t know what is happening or how to help it. He can’t chew gum like us! Plus, it is much easier to get settled just once instead of having to haul your pup, your carry-ons, and yourself from one gate to the next. Just sit back and relax!
+ Bring a lot of water! I always get so thirsty when flying, so only imagine how your dog feels in that carrier! Bring and empty water bottle and fill it up at a water fountain once past security, or buy a bottle of water at a kiosk. Be sure to also bring a small bowl to keep in your purse for easy access.
+ Bring a lot of treats! I don’t usually want to bribe Marly, but they were necessary for making sure that he would get into the carrier once we were in the airport. Your pup may be nervous, so don’t hesitate to give him a little incentive to get in his carrier.
+ Use the pet relief area before going through security. Also, be mindful that once you are past security, there will not be a relief area. Additionally, if you have a layover, you will most likely have to exit the airport to find a relief area, which you may not have time for. Because airports are evil places that want to make life difficult and want your dog to pee on their ticket counters. True story.
+ Be prepared for people to approach you. People are naturally curious, especially when you are toting a little dog in an airport. A lot of people will probably smile at you, or come up to you and ask questions about what it is like flying with a dog. Marly was really good with people coming up to us and petting him, and was actually pretty excited about the whole thing! But if your dog isn’t up for the attention, just politely excuse yourself by saying that your dog is nervous about flying, so it would be best to leave him alone right now. This is better than saying he is aggressive in any way, because you don’t want that to jeopardize your flight if someone reports it.
+ Tell the people sitting next to you that you have a dog with you. This way, they are aware and if it bothers them, they will be able to find another seat. Plus, this is a great conversation starter if you are the type of person who likes to make friends on planes!
I hope these tips help you when and if you fly with your dog! I really loved traveling with Marly and hope to be able to do it with him again some day 🙂
* all photos by Jess unless otherwise noted