all about plane travel

In cabin versus cargo hold?

Your dog can travel in one of two places: in the cabin under the seat in front of you or in the cargo hold. This decision is largely dictated by the size and weight of your dog, since most airlines require that the dog fit in a carrier under the seat in front of you to fly in the cabin. 

You have much less control over travel in the cargo hold, in fact airlines refer to this as “shipping” your dog. If you’re considering this option, your dog should be very comfortable in their crate and not have major anxiety as this can be a very unpleasant experience for your pet.  

How does it work for my dog to fly in the cabin with me as a pet?

While the rules are generally the same across airlines, they do vary slightly by airline so make sure to confirm directly with them. 

The first thing you must know is that there is a maximum of pets allowed on each flight, so as soon as you know you’re bringing a pet with you, “book” their ticket so the airline knows they are coming. Once a flight has reached the maximum number of pets allowed, you won’t be able to bring them on that flight. Booking their ticket is simple. It works similarly to purchasing an add-on for your flight like in-flight WiFi or prepaying for checked bags. Go to manage your flight online, add your pet, and pay their ticket. Usually $100-$150 each way.  

Pro tip: You have to book your pet for both your departure and arrival flights. Booking your pet  for your departure flight does not book them for your arrival flight. 

On the day of the flight, show up to the airport as you normally would. Many airlines require you to go to the counter to check your pet before going through security. They will check that your carrier meets the size and weight requirements, and place a luggage tag on their carrier. Then, simply go through security, and board your flight. Note, your dog will need to be removed from the carrier to go through the security checkpoint. You will carry them through a metal detector (not the body scanner) and their carrier will go through the x-ray machine. Other than security, your dog needs to remain inside the carrier at all times from the time they go through security until they exit the controlled area at your destination airport. They can’t be on your lap during the flight either. 

How does it work for my dog to fly in the cargo hold?

Shipping your pet in the cargo hold has two main restrictions to be aware of: seasonal and breed. Most airlines observe seasonal restrictions to protect pets from extreme weather, and require a certificate of acclimation for cold weather they deem safe only if the pet has been acclimated to that type of weather. The main breed restriction in place by airlines is for any flat-faced dogs, as they have respiratory issues that can be aggravated during the flight. 

So first things first: booking. Shipping your pet requires a completely separate booking. It is not an add-on to your itinerary, and most airlines only allow you to book a certain number of days in advance. Additionally, your pet is not always guaranteed to be flying on the same flight as you. To ship your pet in cargo, you’ll also need to provide health guarantees from your vet within a certain number of days prior to flying. Forms vary by airline, but they’ll definitely ask you for vaccination records and a general form where your vet confirms your pet is healthy enough to fly. 

On the day of the flight, you will drop off and pick up your pet at the airline’s cargo location. This is nearby but separate from where humans board their flights. Drop off is usually required a few hours prior to the departure time so make sure to plan accordingly. 

Carrier for flying?

Whether your pet is flying with you in the cabin or in the cargo hold, you need to provide the carrier or crate yourself. The International Air Transport Association has guidelines most airlines adhere to, or you can check the requirements directly with the airline. 

The dimensions and number of sides that need ventilation will vary by the plane you are taking and by your departure and destination. As a rule of thumb, durability, ventilation, leak-proof bottom and strong handles are the most important qualities to look for. Lastly, your pet carrier should be clearly labeled with a “live animal” tag, arrows showing which way is up, and your contact information. 

If your dog is flying in the cargo hold, make sure you leave two empty bowls and small bag of food so airport workers can give your dog food and water in the event of a delay.

What if I am flying to Hawaii?

Hawaii has different guidelines than the rest of mainland USA to protect the biodiversity on the island. Given the different regulations, many airlines do not accept pets in the cabin, only in the cargo hold. If you are considering flying to Hawaii with your dog, make sure to plan ahead so they meet all the requirements. Dogs can be held in quarantine for up to 120 days upon arrival if they do not meet all the requirements. 

Your dog can be released at the airport upon arrival if they meet the guidelines for the “A Five Day Or Less Quarantine” program. This program requires that your dog is microchipped, vaccinated against rabies, passes a rabies titer test (proves the rabies vaccine is successful), receives a tick treatment less than 10 days from departure, and is cleared by your vet less than 10 days from departure. You must send this information to the Animal Quarantine Branch prior to arrival. 

Lastly, make sure to book a flight that lands early to give you and your dog enough time to clear customs before the office closes for the day (4:30PM). Any dog that does not clear customs before the end of business is held for quarantine. 

This information is subject to change so make sure you check for any changes directly with Hawaii’s Animal Industry Division

What if I am flying internationally? Where do I find the requirements for each country?

You can check the USDA’s Pet Travel site for information on requirements to go to another country and to return to the US from an international location. Note that simply meeting requirements to go abroad with your pet does not mean they have met the requirements to come back so you need to check for both.  

Where can my dog relieve themselves at the airport?

Most airports will have a pet relief area in each terminal. This is a room inside the terminal where dogs can relieve themselves on either concrete floor or artificial turf. The sites are listed online at each airport so you can plan ahead if you’d like to visit one prior to your flight. 

Does my dog need to remain in the carrier in the terminal?

If your dog is flying as a pet, they will need to remain inside their carrier at all times including the terminal. The only time you should remove them is when you are going through the security checkpoint. 

Should I give my dog a tranquilizer or sedative for the flight?

Unless directed by your vet, you shouldn’t give your dog any sort of tranquilizer or sedative prior to flying. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, giving dogs a tranquilizer or sedative prior to flying can create respiratory and/or cardiovascular problems at higher altitudes. Additionally, these substances may prevent your dog from maintaining their balance and equilibrium, which can lead to injury when their carrier is being moved. 

What is a U.S. pet passport? Does my pet need one?

A pet passport is simply the collection of documents your dog needs to enter a foregin country. Unlike the passport you use to travel, there is no look-a-like booklet that serves as a pet passport for U.S. dogs. The main exception is a dog passport that can be issued for dogs traveling inside the EU and can only be issued by EU licensed veterinarians. 

Since your pet passport is just a collection of documents, this is something you can put together yourself with the help of your veterinarian who will have to sign vaccination and health records. 

Should I give my dog food and water up to and during the flight?

It is recommended that you stop feeding your dog around 4 hours prior to your travel time to minimize any nausea and/or vomiting. You should still take some dog food and treats with you so you can feed your dog in the event of a long delay.

Water is a different story. Dogs can get dehydrated quickly, so you should continue to give them water right up to the travel time and give them the chance to use the relief area right before the flight. 

What if my dog is an emotional support animal?

Emotional support animals (ESA) are classified as pets by the U.S. Department of Transportation so even if your pet is an ESA, they will be treated as a pet by the airlines and need to adhere to all pet guidelines. Trained service animals will still be permitted on flights.