Whether you want to take your dog along on vacation or need to ship a puppy to a new home, an airplane flight sometimes is part of the plan. If your dog is not a small breed that can easily fit under the seat, he must go as baggage in the plane's cargo section. This can be a bewildering and terrifying experience for your pet, and there are safety risks, airline policies and laws you must learn about before you set out. You can fly your dog in the cargo sections of some aircraft with some assurance of safety, but the process does require much preparation and planning.
Make sure the dog will be at least 8 weeks old. She must be in good health on the day of the flight, and ideally, neither pregnant nor in her heat season. Take your dog to the veterinarian no earlier than 10 days before the flight for any required shots and a health checkup. Obtain a dated health certificate and rabies vaccination certificate, which is required by most airlines. If your dog is flying to Europe, he must be microchipped in accordance with European laws.
Be aware of breed-specific bans for short-nosed (brachycephalic) dogs such as pugs, bulldogs and Lhasa apsos. Such dogs cannot cool themselves well, which can lead to dangerous health problems in flight. Your airline may refuse to fly such breeds in summer, and some refuse to fly them at all.
Schedule your trip with temperature-related restrictions and laws in mind. Many airlines, such as Northwest, won't transport dogs during the hot summer months to avoid the risk of subjecting a dog to extreme temperatures. Some airlines are equipped to handle animals and have cargo areas that are lighted, air conditioned and pressurized much like the passenger area. One such is Lufthansa, which flies between the U.S. and Europe. Know what conditions you are subjecting your dog to. Federal law does not allow shipment of animals if they will be exposed to temperatures below 45 degrees or above 85 degrees Fahrenheit for more than 4 hours. That means your plans may have to change at the last minute.
Contact your airline well in advance of the trip and ask about its pet policies.Tell the agent what country or state your dog will be flying to. Different airlines have different policies and different fares. Some do not transport dogs at all, or do not transport them under certain weather conditions. The Dominican Republic does not allow dogs on planes. Other countries, like Mexico and Greece, require that a customs broker facilitate entry to the country. Rabies-free Hawaii enforces a 120-day quarantine after a dog's arrival in the state unless specific conditions have been met in advance. It is important to learn well ahead of time what restrictions you are likely to encounter, and to plan the entire trip carefully with the safety and comfort of your dog foremost in your mind.
Choose a nonstop flight whenever possible. It is stressful for a pet to be transferred from plane to plane, PetTravel.com says. Your dog may sit on the tarmac for a long time and be subjected to extremely loud jet noises and vehicles and people rushing around. Remember, your dog's hearing is more sensitive than yours. It is at airports that things go wrong when shipping dogs, so do all you can to make sure whatever can go wrong doesn't. Baggage handlers can put your dog on the wrong plane or accidentally fail to put him on the plane at all, so you must check at the start that he's on the right plane, and check again at each stopover. If plane changes are required, make certain there will be enough time between planes to assure that your dog will make the change.
Purchase an airline-approved kennel from a pet store or from the airlines. Look for an escape-proof, heavy-duty kennel made from wood, metal or plastic with ventilation on at least two sides, with a grate on the front for visibility. It is important for flight personnel to be able to see the dog in the crate, and it's easier on the dog if he can see out, as well. Ensure that the kennel is big enough to allow the dog to turn around, lie down and stand, and that he is not able to stick a paw or head outside. According to Northwest Airlines, pet carriers must conform to regulations set forth by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the International Air Transport Association.
Prepare the kennel with the documentation provided by your veterinarian. Place certificates in a waterproof shipping pouch on top of the kennel. Include your name, address and phone number as well as the dog's name. List any special medical considerations and include your vet's contact information. Place "This Side Up" directional signs on all sides of the carrier, as well as "Live Animal" stickers that can be seen from a distance.
Ensure your dog is wearing an identification tag that includes both your phone number and the veterinarian's number.
Withhold food from your dog for six hours before the flight. Include ice cubes in a crate crock or freeze water in a plastic water bottle that attaches to the side of the kennel so that the dog will have access to the water from the melting ice.
Give yourself plenty of time to get to the terminal on the day of the flight. Walk your dog, and give him water. Transport the kennel and the dog on a luggage or baggage carrier. Check the dog in where you check your baggage.
Confirm with the ticket agent that your dog has been loaded on the plane, as you typically cannot see the baggage handlers load the cargo section. Tell the pilot or flight attendant that you are traveling with a live animal in the cargo hold.