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Flying With Fido: Do or Don't?


My tenth month-old cocker spaniel, Dolly, is pretty much always by my side. We dine together al fresco at restaurants; she always tags along when I run errands; she’s even accompanied me to a handful of outdoor music festivals. I guess you could call her my BFF—best furry friend. So as I gear up to fly home to my native Wisconsin for Thanksgiving and Christmas, I find myself grappling with a tough decision: to fly home with Dolly, or not? 

I know I could just as easily board her (I have a fabulous, trusted dog sitter who takes great care of my little princess) but, selfishly, I really want my little sidekick home with me for the holidays. I have wistful, romantic visions of Dolly running through the expanse of my parent’s snow-covered background, romping with our family’s two English cocker spaniels. I imagine her sprawled near the warmth of the blazing fireplace, or sitting beneath my chair during Thanksgiving dinner as I toss her scraps of turkey meat. It would be a dog’s paradise. She would love it. I would love it.

Unfortunately, however, traveling with a furry friend comes with a fairly hefty price tag-- both when it comes to your pocketbook and your pet's wellbeing.

Many airlines charge upwards of $150 each way to fly with Fido. At that rate, it financially might make more sense to shell over the money for a dog boarder.  Additionally, there can be a lot of hassle associated with bringing your pet on board—many airlines have very rigid requirements concerning kennel size, breed restrictions, etc.

Most importantly, keep in mind that traveling can be an incredibly stressful experience for your pooch. Large and medium sized dogs that aren’t eligible to fly as carry-on luggage are placed, instead, like baggage in cargo, where temperature conditions are unpredictable and the dogs have no supervision. Worst case scenario, there have even been incidences of dogs escaping from their cages on the runway or dying mid-flight in cargo due to extreme heat or cold. Talk about every dog owner’s worst nightmare!

Considering these risks, it may be best to keep Fido safe at home in the care of a petsitter, trusted friend or at a reputable boarding facility. However, if you feel that you must fly with your pet for any reason, here are some crucial points to consider in order to ensure your pet’s comfort and safety, as well as your peace of mind.

1) On commercial airlines, there are two options for dogs: cargo and in-cabin. Assess your airline’s size guidelines to figure out whether or not your dog is eligible for in-cabin travel. Typically, only very small dogs are permitted to fly with their owners; all other dogs must travel in the cargo. In order to travel in-cabin, your dog must be able to comfortably fit beneath the airline seat in front of you.

2) Be sure to contact your airline in advance of your flight to coordinate your pet’s accommodations. This way, the airline can you notify you of specific requirements or any travel changes that may affect you and your pet. After all, the worst thing in the world would be to show up to the airport with your animal in tow, only to learn that they are not permitted on board.

3) Some airlines have certain breed restrictions, so do your homework to make sure that your pup is in the clear. For example, many airlines now exclude all snub-nosed (brachycephalic) breeds, including toy spaniels, bull dogs, boxers, pugs and Boston terriers. Why? These breeds’ pushed-up noses—although cute—are potentially problematic because they make breathing more difficult, raising concerns about respiratory issues on the flight.

4) Many airlines require you to bring along a health certificate to prove that your dog’s vaccines are up-to-date. Additionally, most airlines require that your pet be over eight weeks of age.

5) Research your airline’s kennel dimensions and requirements. Depending on whether your pooch is being checked as baggage or is boarding the flight as a carry-on, airlines have very specific kennel guidelines, so visit your local pet store and purchase an airline-compliant dog carrier prior to your trip.

6) Talk to your veterinarian to ensure that your dog is safe to fly. Some pets cannot tolerate air travel due to age, temperament, or certain medical conditions. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, in most cases, cats and dogs should not be given sedatives or tranquilizers prior to flying—this can increase their risk of heart or respiratory problems mid-flight.

7) Try to book direct flights when possible.  However, if you do have a layover, many airports do have designated animal relief areas.

8) Want more information? Here is a helpful list that compiles the pet policies of major airlines. Additionally, the American Veterinary Medical Association has put together a comprehensive list of FAQs about air travel with pets.


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