We have taken several road trips with Chuy and have traveled in an airplane twice. Just recently, we returned from BlogPaws in Las Vegas and Chuy did awesome on the flight! I wasn’t sure how he would react since the last time we flew was almost 4 years ago when he was a puppy. Based on our experience, I would like to share my tips for flying with a small dog.
Before The Flight
1. Confirm the Airline’s Pet Policy in Advance
If you know you’re going to be flying with your dog, check the airline’s pet policy before you buy tickets. Each airline is different and policies change frequently. (Believe me, I used to be a travel agent!) You will need to reserve your pet’s flight and yes they do charge a fee.
2. FAA Approved Pet Carrier
If you’re flying with a small dog under 20 lbs, they are allowed in the cabin with you. However, they must be in a FAA approved pet carrier under the seat in front of you for the duration of the flight. We got our carrier at PetSmart and we are really satisfied with the quality. The bag needs to have side ventilation and it will usually be noted on the box if it’s FAA approved.
3. Airline Pet Carrier Training
Before you travel, you’ll want to spend some time getting your dog comfortable with their air travel carrier. Don’t force them to get inside. Instead, make it a fun game! Put a few treats inside the carrier, and praise your dog for going in voluntarily. Keep doing this daily so that by the day of your flight, they actually have a loving relationship with the carrier!
4. Get A Pet Health Certificate
This used to be a requirement for all of the airlines but they are starting to slack off a little bit. Even though AirTran didn’t require it for our flight to Vegas, I still recommend you don’t leave home without an updated pet health certificate. Your vet can give this to you and it basically just shows that your dog is up to date on shots and they are fit to travel. You never know who may ask to see it and some hotels require it. My motto is, better safe than sorry!
5. What to Pack in Your Carry On
Flying with a dog is a bit like flying with a child in that you need to plan for every possible situation. Here are a few things I recommend packing in your carry on bag.
- Food + Treats – You will definitely want a few treats in case your pet gets nervous. Depending on the length of your layover, you should bring some of your dog’s food. Don’t forget a collapsible bowl for food and water!
- Pee Pad – Even if your dog is potty trained, please think about taking a pee pad! We had a connecting flight with 2 hour lay over. However, to take Chuy outside meant going back through security and dealing with all those lines. That’s the last thing we wanted to do! We simply found an empty corner of the airport, put down a pad, and let Chuy relieve himself.
- Blanket and/or T-Shirt – Even though your dog will be right at your feet in the carrier, you want to make it feel like home. Take an unwashed blanket or t-shirt from your house and place at the bottom of the carrier. The scent will help them relax.
- Toys – Take one or two of your pet’s favorite toys to keep them busy in their carrier. The Kong is magical!
The Day of Your Flight
6. Eat, Poop, and Walk Before the Flight!
The last thing you want is a whiny dog on an airplane that needs to potty. The biggest piece of advice I can give you is to keep your routine on the day of the flight . . . if possible. Chuy gets really excited/anxious when he sees suitcases laying around. Also, if he hears us saying “lets go” , “ready” or anything like that he automatically assumes he’s leaving with us and refuses to eat or poop. I try to make the day of travel feel like any other work day so that Chuy eats all of his food and uses the bathroom. If your flight is really early or during a meal time, you’ll want to make sure your dog eats and poops at least 2-3 hours BEFORE the flight!
A long walk will help rid your dog of nervous energy so they can sleep and relax during the flight!
7. Arrive Extra Early at the Airport
I detest having to rush around, especially at the airport. I’d rather arrive extra early then extra late. Plan to arrive earlier than normal if you’re flying with a dog. It takes longer at the ticketing counter to pay for your pet’s ticket, get them their bag tag, go through security, etc. Even though the airports require that your dog stay in their carrier at all times, we did take Chuy out before our flight so he could stretch his legs.
8. Airport Security
You will be asked to hold and carry your dog in your arms through security, while your pet carrier and carry on bags go through the x-ray machine. It’s not really a big deal but something you should know about in advance so you can plan for it.
On The Plane
9. Place Your Dog Under the Seat
I know this part really sucks but rest assured that your dog will be safe and cozy! You must place them in the carrier in the seat in front of you, just like you would with any piece of carry on luggage.
10. During the Flight
Once you get your pet carrier under the seat, it’s really inconvenient to move it. However, if you want to check on your dog, you can open the bag to stick your hand in or feed them a few treats. If it’s a long flight, you may want to give them a few drops of water . . . but not so much that they’ll need a potty break!
Once You’ve Landed
Once you’ve landed and are off the plane, be sure to find an area where you can let your dog out for a walk to stretch their legs and go potty! Some airports like Atlanta have dog parks which are super convenient! Chances are your dog is also going to be thirsty, so make sure to hydrate with a bowl of water.
Traveling with a small dog can be stressful but it should be a fun and enjoyable experience. We love traveling with Chuy because we love to be together all the time! Following these tips and doing a little extra planning will ensure you both have an irresistible vacation!
I’m so nervous to fly with Wynston. I know he’ll do well and we have a non-stop flight each way, I just don’t like stressing him out. I remember you posted this last year so I came back to your blog to find it!
Irresistible Pets says
I was really nervous too but everything went so smoothly both of the times we have flown with Chuy. Let me know if you have any other questions!
Great tips! Your dog is adorable, btw. Those ears! I travel with my dog as well, and I can’t stress the importance of doing training with the carrier! Practice makes a perfect traveler. 😀
There are some airports (like San Diego) that have indoor doggy bathrooms now, which eliminates the need to go through security. We haven’t used one yet, but we love the idea!
Irresistible Pets says
Thank you 🙂 Way to go, San Diego! That is so cool.
This was very helpful! I might relocate next year and I’m already researching it! But, my dogs are too heavy and will not be able to stay with me during the flight. I think it will be very stressful!
Irresistible Pets says
Yikes! Yes, that would stress me out! I would driving everywhere lol
Amanda Diedrick says
These are great tips! We’ve been traveling with our small dog for 9+ years now, and it’s getting easier. More and more airports are building pet relief stations within the secure areas, meaning you no longer have to go outside and back through security just for your pup to have a potty break during a layover.
I wish we’d have trained Wrigley to use pee pads early on. I used to travel with them, but whenever I tried to use them, Wrigley just looked at me strangely, as if he were saying, “What the heck? You know I’m not allowed to pee on your stuff!” It took him a while with the air-side pet relief stations — I think he was suspicious that we were asking him to pee indoors, but I think the scent of the other dogs that had “been” there before maybe convinced him it was ok.
Over Christmas we flew from LAX to Canada, and I was thrilled to see that Terminal 3 now has an open-air pet relief area inside the secure area and right beside the gates. VERY convenient!