Dog Air Travel: Paperwork, Preparation and Minimizing Delays

If you are like us, the term all-inclusive family vacation
really means paw inclusive family vacation where Fido gets to enjoy
the trip, even if dog air travel is involved. While airlines have
become much more accommodating for people traveling with their
pets, there is still a lot that goes into making sure your dog is
safe when flying on an airplane.

Whether dogs are put on flights as emotional support dogs,
therapy dogs, or just catching a lift to play fetch on a white
sandy beach with his fur-mom, plan the trip well in advance to make
sure all pets, either dogs or cats, are able to make the flight and
will be accommodated by the airline.

Airline Pet Policies

Before you start your adventure with your furry friend, you need
to understand the airlines animal transport policies. Many airline
pet policies forbid dogs over a certain weight limit to travel in
the cabin during the flight. The cut-off is often around 20 to 22
pounds unless the furry friend is a guide dog, therapy dog, or

emotional support animal.
You can imagine that 22 pounds will
eliminate most dog breeds from being allowed in the cabin.

Size and Weight Limits

Traveling with a dog usually means you aren’t shopping for
airfare strictly based on price. Most airlines have a weight limit
of 20 pounds though some carriers such as Southwest don’t state a
weight limit as long as the dog is able to be stowed in his crate
at your feet under the seat in front of you. Most airlines will
accept dogs up to 100 pounds secured in a crate in the cargo

Dog’s Health Exam

All dogs traveling on an airline need to be
cleared by their veterinarian
within 14 days of travel. Puppies
and kittens under 16 weeks of age may not be eligible for flight
per some airline restrictions. All vaccinations must be documented
with the dates of vaccine administration and expiration before
flying. The veterinarian’s paperwork must also include the name
of the dog’s owner, identifying information about the dog such as
breed, sex, age, color, and markings.

When importing dogs and cats from rabies-free countries such as
Australia and Germany, rabies certificates are required. The Center
for Disease Control (CDC) doesn’t require cats to have a rabies
vaccination certificate yet some states do. Check with the state
rules at your landing destination to confirm what is required to
avoid delays. Vaccinations must be completed at least 30 days prior
to travel in most cases.


To alleviate the anxiety many dogs and cats feel when traveling
by air, many veterinarians recommend sedating the dogs. Some
airlines such as
United Airlines
has a policy stating that dogs cannot be
sedated while flying. There are two sides to this; the veterinarian
wants to help your dog relax and not chew through is crate and eat
the landing gear of the plane. The airline is concerned about a
medicated dog that may be unresponsive creating problems in

Understand your dog and his normal levels of anxiety. Talk to
your vet about the right dosage and determine if the airlines will
allow a medicated dog. If the airlines forbid sedation, consider
another airline or a holistic approach perhaps with CBD oil treats
to help relax them.

Food and Water for Trip

Your dog will need enough food and water to last the flight and
any time on the ground. Airlines will require food to be labeled in
a bag that is attached to the top of the dog crate. Make sure to
affix a water bowl or water bottle so your dog has ample water.
Many pet owners will set up two, one with fresh water and one with
ice to melt as your dog needs it on the trip.

When you fly with a dog you hope for no delays but should plan
for them. Pack food for him as if there will be many extra hours in
travel time. Delays can leave dogs for hours in the crate,
sometimes on the tarmac. If dogs have food attached to their crate,
airline crews will feed them. But, they won’t feed them anything
you didn’t provide for obvious liability reasons. Once your pet
is checked-in to cargo, you won’t be able to get to him until you
reach your destination so plan accordingly for his comfort and

Maximum Number of Pets Per Flight

Live animal limits are another reason to plan your trip early
when traveling with pets. Most airlines will limit the number of
dogs and cats they have. Some carriers will even limit the number
of crate sizes they allow on any particular flight to ensure the
pets are not being neglected. If you are taking dogs into the
cabin, you may be limited to two dogs and their respective carry on
crates in the passenger cabin.

Types of Pet Travel

Traveling with pets is achieved in one of two ways: either the
dog is with you in the cabin and considered part of your carry-on
luggage, or he is stowed in a dog crate under the cabin with the
luggage. Some dogs and cats take to air travel well and end up
becoming frequent flyers in their own right. Other develop anxiety
from even short travel days. The chance of dogs and cats becoming
stressed increases when traveling by air in the cargo or luggage

Crate Under Aircraft Cabin

If sending a dog in the cargo hold, find out where you will need
to check them in. It is possible that check-in happens with your
luggage but there may be instances where you have to deliver them
to the cargo department. For example, United Airlines cargo area is
not even on the main airport property at Los Angeles International
Airport. Plan extra time accordingly to make sure everyone makes
the flight.

Being in the cargo hold is often very distressing for dogs. Some
dogs become wrought with anxiety during the trip, scratch at their
kennel until they bleed, or even break out of it. The cargo hold is
loud and unfamiliar with unregulated temperature conditions. This
can leave dogs and cats overheating or freezing depending on the
outside conditions.

Carry-On Pets

Dogs taken into the cabin are considered carry-on
subject to a special fee. Some airline carriers charge
a fee as part of the pet policies of the flight. These fees can be
as much as $125 per pet limited to two carry-on pets per person.
The flight attendant confirms that the pet fits in a carrier
comfortably with enough space to move freely and that the carrier
fits under the seat in front of you.

This size restriction limits in-flight pets to small dogs and
cats. Your pet must be in their crates during taking off, landing,
and during the flight. Pet owners are responsible for their dogs
for the entire flight.

Types of Flights

There is a big difference between a short hop from two adjoining
states that may only take a few hours from check-in to landing
compared to an international flight across an ocean. The better you
prepare yourself and your dog for extended travel, the easier it
will be for everyone.

Direct Flights

When possible, direct flights are usually the fastest way to get
you and your dog from point A to point B with the fewest potential
travel problems. The last thing you want is you to make a
connecting flight while your dog missed it or got redirected to the
wrong location. Sometimes paying just a little more for a direct
flight helps alleviate a whole host of potential problems and
anxiety for you and your pet.

Connection Flights with Dogs

Remember that connecting flights require your dog to be
transferred from planes. This is added time on the tarmac that you
can’t control. You can’t go down and let him out to do his
business and you can’t control how long he might be exposed to
extreme weather, loud noises or lack of food and water. While
airport personnel keeps dogs and cats in covered areas on the
tarmac, they are still outside where the planes are moving about.
It’s a prime area for dog anxiety.

International Flights

International flights require extra preparation. Not only is the
entire process longer, but there is the issue of customs
requirements and screening when arriving. Make sure you have a good
understanding of your requirements to enter a new country as a
person and any special requirements your dog or cat will have.
Bringing pets in from other countries to the United States will
require rabies certificates depending on the state laws, but going
to another country may have a whole list of required declarations
to meet customs standards.

Find out ahead of time what the exact process will be to reclaim
your pet. Map out the airport and determine where your customs
holding areas are and how to get to the pet holding areas. If you
will need to shuttle there, find out where the shuttles are and how
often they come. Many travel apps on phones have airport assistance
making it easier for pet owners to get to their pets sooner.

Follow all rules once you have your pet in your possession.
Remember, as badly as you’ll want to let him out to go to the
bathroom or hug him, make sure it is in designated areas.

Preparation for the Trip

Preparing for your dog for air travel involves all the required
veterinarian visits, documents, and travel accommodations. While
there are a lot of logistics involved with safe and enjoyable pet
travel, don’t forget the emotional preparation for your dog. The
better you can train him for the event with similar circumstances,
the less stress he will experience during the actual trip because
everything will seem more familiar.

Create Training

If your dog isn’t already crate trained, you’ll want to
start immediately. Older dogs may need to be reacclimated to
creates getting used to being in the kennel again. Start with short
durations of time in the crate followed by a ton of positive
reinforcement. Don’t let him think he is in trouble. This isn’t
a timeout for being in trouble or time away from you in

When starting crate training for flights, getting your dog into
the crate is the first goal and let him become comfortable in it.
Dogs already crate trained will quickly adapt, knowing that the
crate is their safe zone. Let your dog spend time in the crate with
chew toys and bones and as well as sleeping in it. Even if your dog
normally sleeps with you or in another spot of the house, learning
to relax and sleep in the crate develops a great habit for him to
trigger nap time in the crate.

Start to include mealtime in the crate and install the travel
water spickets so he becomes accustomed to drinking from them.
While he may not eat on the plane, you want to make sure your dog
knows how to access water that isn’t in a bowl if necessary.
Crate water bottles are the best option for dog air travel to
prevent spilling and losing water but if your dog isn’t sure how
to use it, it’s useless.

Loud Noise Tolerance

The other major area of training that will help your dog relax
on the airplane is getting used to loud noise. Some dogs are more
skittish than others by nature but this doesn’t mean your only
solutions to help them travel safely is medication. Airports and
airplanes are not just noisy, there are wrought with loud, scary
engines, fans, and other machines that are likely to give even the
calmest of dogs some anxiety.

Some vets will tell you that for every flight you put your dog
in a cargo hold, you are taking time off their life because of the
long-term effects of stressful flights. The more acclimated to loud
sounds your dog gets, the less stress he will experience.

Start with a good old ruckus at home with crazy noises and chaos
to help train your dog to deal with loud noises. Start with banging
pots and pans around the house helps your dog become accustomed to
sharp, loud sounds. Expand to noisemakers and air horns outside to
create a variety of sounds that might be alarming. Not only will
loud noise acclimation training help with air travel, but it will
also keep your dog calm during thunderstorms and neighborhood work
going on.

While it might not be practical to take your dog to an airport
ahead of time to get used to the sounds, if you do have access to a
municipal airport this is a great idea. You don’t need to be on
the airport grounds to give your dog the ability to watch and hear
the planes as they take-off and land. Start with him in the car
with the windows up to muddle the intensity and slowly provide more

Making the Trip Easy on Your Pet

Your dog may love to get in the car and go places, but he might
be very concerned when he suddenly is surrounded by other barking
dogs in crates, the loud noises of an airport and the overall
anxiety of the situation. Aside from medication, take the time to
make the flight as comfortable as possible for him.

Favorite Blanket or T-Shirt from Mom or Dad

Your dog will be more comfortable if he has a favorite blanket
with him. Getting an old t-shirt that has your smell on it may also
provide your dog with comfort. If your dog is anxious that you
aren’t nearby, these comforts from home may be enough to soothe
him. However, realize that depending on how long the flight is
these items may be soiled when you pick your dog up at the

Favorite Toys and Chews

While you may want to load your dog up with things to keep him
busy and alleviate stress while on the trip, many airlines don’t
allow it. Check with the airline to see what is allowed when
traveling in the cargo hold. Try to refrain from toys and chews
that your dog will break and potentially choke on. Remember that no
one is watching pets for the duration of the flight in the cargo
area so you need to make it as safe as possible.

A dog or cat traveling in the passenger cabin will be able to
have a toy as long as it isn’t disrupting other passengers in the

Start Early with Pet Air Travel

Whenever possible take the time to plan air travel with pets
well in advance. This not only helps you find great rates on air
and hotels but also helps to prevent being bumped from the ideal
flights you want to be on because others already have booked pets
and the flight is at capacity for dogs and cats.

Pet-Friendly Hotels

When you get to your destination, you must have a pet-friendly hotel. While
service dogs have to be allowed to aid their owners, not every
hotel allows dogs and cats as normal pet guests. Some may allow it
but have limitations to the rooms they allow pet guests to stay in
to prevent accidentally triggering animal allergies in other

When you make the reservation, confirm that the hotel allows
pets and what the exact pet policy is. Confirm any extra costs,
locations for walking, and playing. You will likely need to adhere
to strict noise policies to keep all guests happy. This means if
your dog is experiencing separation anxiety while left alone in the
room and barking excessively, you may be asked to leave. Once
again, good training ahead of time is the best way to prevent
excess anxiety.

Airport Rules

Airports are extremely strict about where dogs can be outside of
a crate. Follow the rules for the safety of other travelers and for
your dog. While your dog may always be wagging his tail and
friendly in most instances, anxiety from the situation can be
disastrous. In 2017, a Hawaii family let their dog out in an area
of Honolulu International Airport where the dog broke free from a
tether and was shot and
killed by airport security

Follow all the rules set forth by the airport regarding where
dogs are allowed out of the crate and where they can relieve

Dogs in Pet Crate

Crates must meet all airline guidelines and Federal
Aviation Administration (FAA)
rules. For dogs traveling in the
passenger cabin, rules are less strict. If your dog is going in the
airline cargo hold he needs an FAA approved dog crate. His health
certificate will be affixed to the crate along with his food. Keep
a copy of all documents with you to make sure nothing gets lost or

Designated Potty Areas

When traveling in airports with dogs, know where the designated
dog potty areas are. Major airports may have places for people
traveling with in-cabin pets within the checked-in areas that dogs
can walk and relieve themselves. Check to see if you need special
access for these areas. Just as important is knowing where you can
take your dog once you reclaim him at your destination. You might
not be able to let him out of the kennel right away. Hawaii has
some clear rules about keeping dogs in crates after collecting them
at the quarantine station until you are off the airport

By knowing the rules and what you are allowed to do, you can
comply with local laws and plan to get your dog to a safe,
designated location where he can get out of the kennel quickly and
receive some much-needed love and cuddles from you – along with a
desperately needed tinkle and maybe a bath.

Potential Quarantine

Arriving at an airport like Honolulu International Airport
usually means your dog will be put into quarantine. If you
haven’t met all the rabies certification standards, your dog
could be quarantined for up to 120 days. Get your paperwork
together, the required blood titer tests through your veterinarian,
and call the
Department of Agriculture in Hawaii
before you arrive to make
sure all rules are followed.

Dog Air Travel Best Practices

The best practices for dog air travel all revolved around early
planning, researching the location, and preparing your dog
physically and mentally for the trip. Most dogs, even highly
anxious ones, get through their airplane trip and return to their
normal fun-loving selves quickly. Take the time to work on crate
and noise training to prepare your dog for common flight scenarios.
If you need assistance, don’t hesitate to call a professional
training in to help prepare your dog so he can enjoy the family
vacation with everyone else.

What about you and your dog?  Do you have any travel hacks that
you want to share?  Drop us a comment!

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Dog Air Travel: Paperwork, Preparation and Minimizing Delays

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Source: FS – TheDogTrainingSecret
Dog Air Travel: Paperwork, Preparation and Minimizing Delays