The first time I traveled with my rescue puppy, I arrived super early to the airport, meticulously measured and weighed all our bags, and copiously studied the airline regulations. I was still nervous. What if I missed something and she wasn't allowed on board? What if she bothered the other passengers or got sick mid-flight. As it turns out, my anxiety was unfounded. Airline travel with my dog, Ghost, is the least stressful travel experience in the world. From keeping her comfortable to dealing with the TSA, keep scrolling for my tips on how to not sweat traveling with a canine.
Having your pet officially registered as a service animal is not a pre-requisite to fly. A service certificate registering your pet as a service animal, however, will allow you to fly for free and carry on an animal larger than twenty pounds. Most commercial airlines reserve a limited number of pet spots per flight for animals weighing under 20 pounds for a fee. Most airlines charge around $100 to $150 for in-cabin carry-on pets and around $200 to $250 for the animal to fly in cargo. American Airlines now offers First Class cabins for pets. Availability is on a first come, first served basis, so make sure to notify customer service well in advance at your time of booking.
Certain breeds may not be permitted to fly in the cargo section of the plan. Dogs with snub noses have difficulty breathing and are more sensitive to temperature and pressure changes. If you have a boxer or pit bull, they may not be allowed to ride in cargo. Go to the website of your particular airline or call customer service to enquire after the weight and breed restrictions. Some airlines include the weight of the pet carrier in the 20-pound rule, others are more flexible. The airline’s primary concern is with the animal’s safety and comfort. If you are carrying on a pet carrier, the dog must be able to stand up and turn around in the carrier. In my experience, as long as the pup looks comfortable, the airline won’t get too stringent with a few extra pounds over the limit.
You will be allowed one carry-on and one personal item for your flight. Your pet counts as your carry-on. Check your bags and use a backpack or larger tote as your personal item. Keep any valuables you don’t want to check in your tote along with an extra change of clothes just in your checked luggage is lost. Trust me: Checking your bags will be a relief, as you’ll have to maneuver your way through security with your dog. The TSA will be remarkably generous and helpful to this end. Every time I’ve gone to the airport with my dog, Ghost, it has been the most pleasant security experience ever. You’ll put the pet taxi through the x-ray along with your other carry-ons, walk through a metal detector holding your pet. The TSA will quickly test your hands, and you're done. It's almost surreally quick and painless. Plus, everyone stressed and waiting in line is happy to see a dog.
I have the blessed good fortune of having a dog who is as quiet as a church mouse. Ghosts is asleep in her carrier the second the plane takes off. In fact, the neighboring passengers often have no idea there is a dog under my seat. One reason for this is she loves her Sherpa Pet Taxi. When I first purchased it, I placed her in it as though it was a bed whenever we were home watching TV. When you purchase your carrier, have your pet spend a little time in it before you travel. Line the inside with a piece of your clothing or favorite blanket. The familiar scent will be comforting. If your animal barks or gets stressed, pack treats to keep them calm. For anxiety, look into stress compression vests, available at any pet store, or use lavender oil to soothe their nerves.
Be sure your pet is up to date on vaccines before you travel. Some airlines may require proof of vaccination. If you are traveling beyond the continental U.S. or internationally, additional measures may be required. Look into the specific qualifications for allowing an animal into your final destination. For example, Hawaii has a strict quarantine law for all animals traveling to the island, in large part due to rabies prevention. Failure to comply with your destination’s guidelines could result in hefty fines. Do your homework.
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