Flying With Your Dog: Everything You Need To Know
I have a confession. I hate flying. Even though I usually do it at least once a month, I look at it like a necessary evil. For me it’s not the flying itself that makes me anxious, but everything surrounding it -- all the airport lines and security, getting there in time, making sure my bags aren’t overweight, the undersized airplane seats, the list goes on. Even with all of that going on, I still bring Polly with me to fly whenever I can. Why add the stress of bringing my dog to that mix? Because once we get to where we’re going, it’s SO worth it. If it’s a Polly-appropriate trip, it’s so fun to watch her have a blast in a new place and make memories with her.
Polly’s first time flying was when she was just 8 weeks old and I came to pick her up from her breeder in Orlando. In her 1st year of life she’s flown round trip to St Louis twice, Huntsville, Alabama once, and most recently to Moab, Utah. Since Casey and I like to travel so much, she has many more flights in her future! We’ve definitely had our fair share of struggles at the airport but it gets easier each time we do it. That being said, today I’m sharing our tips, tricks, and lessons learned so far from flying with Polly. If you want to be able to travel with your dog but don’t know where to start, read ahead for how to get started! If we can do it I promise you can too. :)
Call Your Airline
First things first. The only hard and fast rule that I will give throughout this whole post is to make sure you CALL YOUR AIRLINE before your flight. Each airline is different and they can change their rules at any time, so it’s important that you do this. If you know you want to travel with your dog at the time of purchasing your flight, instead of booking online, call the airline to book. It actually gives a kind of concierge service feel, which is nice. I’ve never had to wait a long time to speak with an agent for booking a flight over the phone. You can just call their main number and it should direct you to booking a flight fairly easy.
Once they have your flights picked out, let them know that you will be traveling with your dog. I believe all airlines require knowing if you are traveling with a pet ahead of time, so it’s important that you call and let them know. Unless your dog is an Emotional Support Animal, Therapy Animal, or Service Animal, there will be a fee to have your dog fly with you. It depends on the airline but it’s typically around $100 per flight or $200 round trip. Next, ask them about all of their policies for flying with animals to make sure you will be prepared. Here is a list of questions I would ask:
What is the weight limit for dogs that are allowed on your planes?
Is my dog’s breed allowed to fly? (Some breeds like Pugs sometimes are not allowed.)
Is there any paperwork that I need to fill out in preparation for this flight? If so:
Do I submit it online or print out and bring it with me or both? (Even if they say just submitting in online is fine, if there is a form I would also print it out and bring it in case.)
Is there any veterinary paperwork that I should bring with me to the airport? Vaccination records? Vet information?
Are we required to bring a pet carrier with us? If so, what are the height, length, and depth requirements for the carrier?
Is there anything else that we are required to bring with us for flying with our dog?
Are we able to check in for our flight and go straight to TSA, or will we need to go to the check-in counter to check in with our pet there?
Should we plan for more time than usual at the airport since we will have our dog with us? How much extra time will we need?
Is there any other information we need to know about flying with our dog on your airline?
If you ask all these questions, you should be good to go. Since it has been getting more popular to fly with pets lately, airlines have been changing their policies on flying with animals more frequently. Even since getting Polly less than a year ago, rules have changed with airlines we’ve used. So instead of assuming an airline’s policy, it’s best to ask for a refresh each time when you call to inform them that you’ll be flying with your dog.
As far as which airlines to fly, we haven’t had a problem with any of them! We have flown Delta, Southwest and American so far and never had any issues.
We have never given Polly any medication for flying - not that it’s wrong to! I’ve heard of CBD, Benadryl, and Melatonin being used for easing dogs’ anxiety while flying. There’s also a lot of dog calming treats and aids on the market. It is definitely a stressful experience for most dogs. It clearly makes Polly anxious (although her anxiety usually starts before we even leave the house). But I have never felt 100% comfortable with the idea of giving her these meds, so since I’ve never felt like it’s an absolute need, we’ve always opted out of this. But I haven’t totally ruled this out for the future, either.
This probably goes without saying, but make sure you talk to your vet before using any medications for your pup! Does anyone have any experience good or bad in using any of these for your dog? Let me know, I’d love to hear about it!
If you’re worried about your dog being anxious but want to stay away from medication, another option is the Thunder Shirt. We haven't used this yet either, but I’ve heard that it can be a great option for easing their anxiety.
Security is almost the same with a dog as it is without a dog. You don’t need to plan for anything special. The main difference is that the TSA agents will probably be extra nice to you because you have a cute dog with you, and they might ask to pet them, too. :) Once it’s your turn you will send your items and pet carrier through the X-ray screening, hold your dog, and then walk through the metal detector together. Afterwards, a TSA agent will wipe your hands with a cotton swab. I believe it’s to test for explosives but I’m not positive. After that, you are all done and able to go to your gate!
What To Pack
Obviously you will need to bring supplies for your dog for the duration of your trip including food, medication, toys, clothes, and grooming supplies. You can pack all of this away in your checked or carry on bag. But what to bring with you for the flight? I usually try to keep it to a minimum so I’m not carrying around too much stuff. Here’s a packing list of items that will be good to have with you (links will send you to the products):
Paperwork: We already went over this above, but bring a folder with veterinary information, vaccination records, airline pet forms. If your dog is an ESA, therapy dog or service dog bring proof of that as well.
Travel carrier: I think these are typically required to bring on flights. We usually don’t use ours for the most part, but we still always bring one with us in case we ever need it. I have heard of people getting kicked off of their flight for not having a carrier with them, so this is an important one! They need to be small enough to fit under the seat in front of you so keep that in mind when picking one out.
Water: So important to always bring water for your dog so they can stay hydrated! You can bring a water bottle with a little bowl to pour it in, but then you’ll have a problem with what to do with the water your dog doesn’t drink. So my favorite solution is this $15 Amazon find. It’s a bottle with a dog bowl attached, and the water that hasn’t been drank goes right back into the bottle with the push of a button. Perfect for the airport or airplane!
Medication: Bring any medication they may need for the day.
Treats: I don’t know about your dog, but mine will not eat her kibble if she’s feeling nervous at all. She’ll rarely ever eat her food out in public, and that definitely includes the airport. So to make sure she gets some food for the day, I have to pack treats to bring to the airport with us. It may not be as healthy but at least I know she’s getting something in her belly for the day.
Bone: This is a great activity for the airplane! Since it’s hard to play while flying, chewing a bone gives them something to do and keeps them entertained. Our favorite is the Yak Chew, but we also love Nylabones and Benebones.
Toys: I know I said I like to keep the packing list to a minimum, but I would feel bad if I didn’t bring any toys along. I pack 1 or 2 small toys in my backpack; usually 1 stuffed animal and 1 chewy toy. If you still have your dog’s baby toys, these work great since they are usually extra small.
Blanket: This one is more of an optional item, but if I have room I’ll pack this too. We usually have Polly sit on our laps throughout the flight, but it’s nice to have something to lay over our laps to make it comfier. Again, a baby blanket works great since they are super small and easier to pack. A sweatshirt or jacket works for this too.
Potty Pad: If you are flying with a puppy that is not yet potty trained, this one is a must! Probably the most stressful thing about flying with a dog is the lack of places for them to go potty. Pack a two or three of these with you so you can provide them an opportunity to go. Simply go to the (human) bathrooms, go in one of the stalls, and lay out the potty pad. I always wait for the big stall so we will have enough space. Once you lay out the pad, sit your puppy on top of it, point to the pad, and tell them “go potty” or whatever command you use. Watch your pup carefully to make sure they don’t explore over to other stalls! When I was traveling back from Florida with Polly after picking her up from our breeder, the potty pads were lifesavers. You can also use these in the plane bathroom during the flight if needed. Since Polly is now grown up and potty trained, I still bring one of these with me when we fly, just in case. She refuses to use it - I think it’s so different than grass that she doesn’t understand that she can pee on it. However, it still makes me feel better knowing that I’ve at least given her a chance to go.
Poop Bags: Another no-brainer, but something you always want to bring along for the journey.
Other Tips & Tricks
I’m sure this goes without saying, but NEVER let anyone put your dog in the overhead bin or cargo hold. This is unsafe and dogs have died from this. Always keep your dog with you while traveling.
Pick a pet carrier with wheels. We used to have one without wheels, and my arms would get soooo tired if I ever had to carry Polly in it. A carrier with wheels is so much more convenient and easier to transport. Any brand will do, just make sure the size is small enough to fit under the airplane seat. The one we have is this one.
If you’re worried about potty breaks, you can limit your dog’s food and water intake the night before or the day of the flight. This doesn’t mean completely withhold, just decrease the amount so they’re less likely to have to go on the plane.
Be prepared for lots of attention! Airport passengers and employees alike LOVE getting to see a cute dog at the airport. The closest I will ever feel to being a celebrity is being at the airport with Polly. People love to pet her, ask questions about her breed, ask how she’s doing, and even take pictures. Being at the airport is a stressful situation for many people, so seeing a dog is therapeutic. It brings me so much joy to see how happy Polly makes people at the airport. The best reactions I’ve gotten are when people realize they get to sit next to her on the plane. Yes, there are a few people who it does nothing for, but the vast majority will smile, point, or say “AWWW!” as you walk by.
As long as your dog is fully vaccinated, let them walk on a leash at the airport. I’m not sure what the technical rules are on this, but I’ve always been allowed to have Polly walk next to me. I've never been asked to put her back in her carrier, and walking makes her feel more comfortable than being in her carrier.
After checking in with your dog at the airline check-in counter, ask if you’d be allowed to go through the TSA PreCheck line. You can also ask the airport employee directing TSA traffic if you’d be allowed. I’ve been directed through the PreCheck line before for having Polly with me, and other times I haven’t. But if they don’t offer and you think you need the extra time, it doesn’t hurt to ask!
If you need extra time to board the plane and get everything situated, you can board when they call for families with young children. I don’t think this is a set rule, but I’ve always been allowed. If they don’t offer it to me, I will just go up and ask when they call for early boarding. I find it extremely helpful and way less stressful to have the extra time so this is something I always do.
When the flight attendant comes by to take drink orders, ask for a small cup of ice for your pup. Oftentimes planes can get hot, so this is a great way to cool them off. It’s also a fun activity for them to get to lick ice cubes!
If the plane is poorly ventilated or you notice that your dog is panting, put some water or ice on their paws and belly. This can help cool them down. You can also point the air vent on them to help.
Offer your dog water throughout the flight! Flights are dehydrating, so you need to give your dog chances to drink water. There’s no bowl of water sitting out for them when you travel, so the only chance they’ll have is when you offer it to them. The same goes for food.
If you have a layover, ask an airport employee if they have a pet relief area near your gate. These aren’t super common, but some airports have a few. They consist of fake grass in a small room or roped off area and to be honest, it’s pretty gross. We’ve tried to use them before, but Polly will never go on them. I think it might be because so many other dogs have peed on the area? Either way, it’s at least nice to have as an option if you need it.
If you have another person flying with you, once you land to your final destination, have one person head straight outside to find grass for your doggo. In the meantime, the other person can go to baggage claim or wait for the Uber.
Lastly, don’t stress! Sometimes everything doesn’t go exactly as planned, but that’s ok. What’s the worst that could happen? I’ve had Polly puke right before a flight, and more recently than I’d like to admit, poop right in the middle of the TSA line. My friend’s dog peed on her lap during the flight. Even though it’s horrifying when it happens, you get through it and it becomes a funny story in no time. Accidents can happen when dogs are in a new and stressful environment, but luckily messes can easily be cleaned up. Also, I guarantee you will find that almost everyone around you is non-judgemental, willing to help if you are struggling, and just happy to get to see a cute dog at the airport. Most people are dog people, and I don’t think I’ve ever experienced the kindness of strangers more than when flying with Polly!
That’s all for my flying tips! I hope this helps. Feel free to comment or reach out if you have any other questions I didn’t answer! Xo, Allie