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Traveling by Plane with Your Dog

Updated on January 26, 2015

I travel via plane with my Boston terrier Luna at least 3 times a year and have found the following tips to be very helpful. Although Luna has been boarded at a “Dog Hotel” in the past, she much prefers to be part of the group and travel with us if possible. Dogs that meet the height and weight criteria can easily travel on a plane in the cabin with you. This may be a better alternative to boarding your dog depending on cost and your dog’s temperament. Most airlines in the United States allow smaller dogs in cabin on domestic flights. Typically the dog has to be less than 25 pounds and be able to stand or turn around in an approved carrying case.

Luna my boston terrier wearing a hand knit grey dog sweater
Luna my boston terrier wearing a hand knit grey dog sweater

Before Making Travel Arrangements for Your Dog

Before making flight arrangements for your dog, it is important to check with your vet to confirm your dog is allowed to travel. Most dogs that meet the size requirements should have no problem traveling on a plane in cabin. Larger dogs can travel via plane but have to travel underneath where checked luggage is stored. Since the air in this location is not depressurized and circulated like in the cabin area, it may not be safe for some dogs, specifically dogs with shorter snouts, to travel underneath.

You should confirm that your dog is up to date on all of their vaccinations including heart worm. Different diseases are more prevalent in different areas on the country so it is best to cover all of your bases. You can request a copy of a vet clearance to carry with you in case you are questioned during travel. No one has ever asked me to see this but it is good to be prepared.

Luna, my boston terrier laying in a suitcase with clothes
Luna, my boston terrier laying in a suitcase with clothes

Making Flight Reservations for Your Dog

You have to make a flight reservation in advance for your dog. Since there is a limited number of dogs allowed on each flight, it is important to make this reservation as soon as you book your own ticket for the flight. Before booking your flight, check on the airlines website that dogs are allowed in the cabin and the size criteria for the travel case. Once confirmed, make your flight arrangements as usual. To make a flight reservation for your dog, you need to call the airline directly. The customer service representative will usually ask for the confirmation number for your booked flight. You should request that the pet reservation be made for both your departure and returning flight. You should be given a reservation number for your dog. If you are traveling on multiple airlines, confirm the reservation is put into the system for all legs of the flight. You will pay the pet fee at the airline ticketing counter on the day of your flight. The cost is usually around $100 each way depending on the airline.

Preparing Your Dog for Travel

If your dog is anything like my Luna, he or she will get upset or anxious just seeing the suitcases being rolled out. I noticed if I take the suitcases out a few days in advance, including her travel case, she seems to be less nervous. I also make sure to open up her travel case so she can go inside and sniff it. Putting a few treats in the corners doesn’t hurt either. It is important to pack certain items in your carry on so they are easily accessible if needed. Luna’s travel carrier has a large zipper pocket on the side which is perfect for carrying her leash, treats, and sweater.


I pre-portion Luna’s dog kibble into sealable sandwich bags so I have the exact amount of food needed for the trip. This doesn’t take up a lot of space in my suitcase and it also ensures us that she has the same food incase her dog food brand is not available where we travel. Bringing along Luna’s favorite toys and a blanket that smells like home helps to soothe her. I ask friends and family members in the city we are traveling to for a vet recommendation or I look up reviews on Yelp to be prepared in case of an emergency. If your dog is newly potty trained, I recommend lining the carrying case with a few pee pads. If your dog has an accident in flight, your can easily dispose of the soiled pad and be left with a clean one underneath.

Travel Packing List for Your Dog

Travel Item
Carry-on
Non Carry-on
Dog Carrier
X
 
Leash
X
 
Collapsible Dog Bowl
X
 
Dog Collar with Appropriate Tags
X
 
Copy of Vetrenarian Clearance
X
 
Pet Reservation Number
X
 
Pee Pads (if applicable)
X
 
Sweater (if applicable)
X
 
Extra Poop Bags
X
 
Treats
X
 
Feeding Bowls
 
X
Blanket
 
X
Pre-Portioned Dog Food
 
X
Toys
 
X
Luna my boston terrier  Waiting for a Flight in the Airport Terminal near the united ticket desk
Luna my boston terrier Waiting for a Flight in the Airport Terminal near the united ticket desk

Day of Travel Dog Check-in

It is important to give yourself extra time to check-in the day of travel. Even if you are only bringing carry on luggage, you still need to check-n at the airlines ticketing counter. You will pay your pet travel fee here and the ticketing agent will either put a special tag on your carrier or give you an additional ticket for your pet. Airlines pet protocols are all different. Some airlines make you sign additional waivers at check-in. Every airport also has a different policy whether pet is allowed outside their carrier when in the airport terminal. From my experience traveling with Luna, and all of the airports she has successfully traveled in, no one has ever made her stay in her carrier while walking around the airport or in the airport terminal.

Pet Relief Areas at the Airport

Most airports have a pet relief area outside of security. It is important to let your dog relieve him or herself one more time before going through security. If I cannot get a direct flight, I try to book flights with long enough layovers to take Luna outside and back through security. I also try to limit the amount water she is given when through security and I avoid giving her salty treats that may cause more thirst.

Taking Your Dog Through Airport Security

Your dogs carrying case is required to go through the X-Ray machine. You should pick up to go through the metal detector together. You will not be allowed to go through the body scanner with your dog. Once you go through the metal Detector, a TSA agent will usually do additional security protocols such as swabbing your hands.

Your Dog on the Plane

I don’t put Luna in her carrier until we actually board the plane. If your dog dislikes being in their carrier, you can wait to board the plane the last group is called to maximize your dog’s time outside of the carrier. Your dog is required to stay inside the carrier during the entire flight unless your dog is a service animal. Luna’s carrier fits snuggly under the seat in front of me and has mesh paneling on all sides so she can see outside. After takeoff, I slide the carrier out a little ways and unzip the top so she can see better. Luna usually sleeps the entire flight and never barks. If your dog is more vocal, you may want to pack additional treats or chew toys to distract him or her. Since the air is super dry on planes, I like to give Luna an ice cube to lick on during the flight. I wrap an ice cube in a napkin and hold it for her to lick. That way there isn’t a melted ice cube in her carrier which would be uncomfortable. During take off and landing, I try to pet her inside the travel carrier in case she gets nervous but by now she doesn’t even notice. Once we land and de-board the plane, we immediately take Luna directly outside to relieve herself and give her water from her collapsible bowl.

Luna my boston terrier in a fort of pillows
Luna my boston terrier in a fort of pillows

Traveling with your dog can be a fun enjoyable experience for both you and your pet if come prepared and are organized. Your dog will love even more when that are included in your travels.

Air Travel with Your Dog Important Reminders

  • Confirm with your vet that your dog is safe travel and is up to date on all vaccinations

  • Make your Dog's travel reservation well in advance and confirm the reservation includes the returning flight

  • Confirm with your airline that your travel carrier meets specific size requirements

  • Confirm the locations of pet relief areas at the airports for every leg of your trip

  • Take your dog carrier case out a few days before leaving so your dog can get familiar with it

  • Make sure your dog is actively moving around before departure and is hydrated during the flight

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    • Bazaar Compass profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Ellen Block 

      3 years ago from Southern California

      Thank so much for your comment! I wish they would allow larger dogs in the cabin as well. It would be a less stressful experience for both the dog and human traveling. I know certain companies specialize in pet air travel but I am not sure if it is any different then your dog traveling underneath the plane via crate but it might be something to look into for your rotties:)

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 

      3 years ago from USA

      A very helpful hub. Lucky you that your doggy can go in the cabin! She looks like a happy camper. My kitty used to fly with me quite often in the cabin, she was sure an attention grabber, but when I must go overseas, my 85 pound Rotties are forced to go in the belly of the plane and I really hate that and spend the whole flight worrying.

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