Updated: Dec 12, 2019
Ready to jet off on vacation? Taking your dog along can make a family getaway all the more fun, but before you put Fido in his carrier, it’s best to prepare for traveling with a dog on a plane. It isn’t as simple as showing up at the airport with your dog in tow.
Frequent fliers agree that flying with a dog can be a pleasant experience for all—if you take a few important steps. They share their secrets for a stress-free flight below.
Prepare for Traveling with a Dog on a Plane
1. Know the rules for flying with a dog.
Understand the airline carrier’s rules for dogs on planes—before you book your ticket, says Charlie Hobart, public relations manager for United Airlines in Chicago, Illinois.
“Review all the information … in terms of the policies,” Hobart says. “What you need to do when you get to the airport, what needs to be done when you get on board the aircraft, and most importantly, what you should do to prepare your pet for the travel experience.”
Each airline’s rules may vary, but most will require dogs to be stowed in an airline approved pet carrier of specific dimensions at your feet for the whole flight.
2. Book the right (and best) seat.
Get the most spacious seat you can when traveling with a dog on a plane, advises Cassandra Ballone, a flight attendant with Republic Airways in Kansas City, Missouri. You’ll want every inch for your precious cargo!
While not all airlines allow pets in the bulkhead seats, Ballone says the first row in economy and first class can be a boon to those flying with a dog.
Check-in with the gate agent before you board to ensure you’re in the right seat.
“The gate agent is mostly in charge of making sure there’s the proper documentation for the dog, including if it’s a service animal,” Ballone says. “So, if you don’t book the proper seat, they’re going to change your seats around.”
3. Acclimate your dog to the travel carrier.
If this is your dog’s first flight, be sure to get them used to the carrier before the trip.
“The most important thing is to acclimate your pet to that on-board experience,” Hobart says. “They will likely be in that kennel for an extended period of time.”
He suggests taking your dog in their airline approved pet carrier for several long car drives ahead of the flight.
4. Take a potty break before you board the aircraft.
As with little kids, let your dog have a potty break immediately before boarding.
“I’ve had a dog poop on my plane and it wasn’t good,” Ballone says. “It was diarrhea, and it dripped on the seats and he pooped all along the jet bridge and people were rolling their bags through it.”
In-Cabin Tricks for Traveling with a Dog on a Plane
5. Line the carrier with potty training pads.
Sara Redding Ochoa, DVM, a small animal and exotic veterinarian at Whitehouse Veterinary Hospital in Whitehouse, Texas, has another trick to prevent potty accidents while flying with a dog.
Layer puppy potty training pads, like Wee-Wee Absorbent Dog Pads, along the bottom of the carrier in case of an emergency, Dr. Ochoa says.
She flies several times a year with her Schnoodle (Schnauzer-Poodle mix) and always packs a couple extra absorbent pads, so her pet can go even if the airport lacks a pet relief area.
“I take her to the family bathroom, put the puppy pad down, and let her do her business,” Ochoa says.
She also packs baby wipes and dog poop bags to clean everything up.
6. Bring a favorite toy or blanket to comfort your dog.
A familiar item, especially one with the smells of home, can comfort a dog during travel.
“My dog always travels with her blanket … that she has had since she was born,” Dr. Ochoa says. “This keeps her very comfortable and relaxed while flying.”
Tuck that tennis ball your dog carries around everywhere or a small dog blanket into the carrier to encourage your pet to drift off to sleep.
7. Carry on some dog food.
Carry on at least a day’s worth of dog food, Dr. Ochoa says. If your checked luggage is delayed, your dog will still be able to eat his usual food without fear of the local store being closed or out of your brand.
A snack won’t hurt either.
“Just like me and you, your dog will also get hungry and want a little snack while on the plane,” she adds.
8. Consider packing calming treats and anti-nausea medication.
Discuss your travel plans with your veterinarian, Dr. Ochoa says, and they might be able to prescribe anti-nausea medication if your dog suffers from motion sickness, or a probiotic.
Calming treats, such as Isle of Dog's 100% Natural Chillout Dog Treats with lavender and lemon balm, can also be a good option for anxious dogs on planes, she says.
9. Speak up.
Both you and your pet deserve a safe flight, so don’t be afraid to ask your flight attendant for help. Ballone says she’s happy to offer a cup of water to dogs and to allow them out of the carrier briefly.
“Some people will set a little dog on their lap, and I don’t mind if it makes the dog more calm,” she says.
Allowing pets out of their kennels is prohibited on some airlines, however—another good reason to check with your flight carrier before boarding.
Most likely, traveling with a dog on a plane is going to be uneventful for you and your pet; just be sure to do your homework ahead of the trip.
“That’s going to best serve you and your pet: understanding what you need to do before you book a ticket,” Hobart says, “rather than winging it and showing up and hoping everything goes smoothly.”