How to Transport a Dog by Air

by Cindy Quarters

With the exception of very young puppies, dogs of all ages travel on planes every day, either with their owners or as unaccompanied cargo. How the dog travels depends mainly on two things: the size of the dog and whether he is accompanying his owner. Very small dogs traveling with their owners may often ride in the cabin of the plane, but larger dogs, with or without their owners, must ride in the pressurized cargo hold.

Cargo Hold

Step 1

Reserve a spot for your dog well before you plan to ship him, especially if you want him to travel on a flight with you. Airlines limit how many live animals they will accept, and if your dog doesn’t have a reservation, you may find that he is not allowed on the plane. You will usually need to pay for his travel before his place is assured.

Step 2

Take your dog to a veterinarian within 10 days of the travel date to get him a health certificate. Be sure all of his shots are up-to-date, especially his rabies vaccination, unless he is too young.

Step 3

Check the specific requirements for your dog’s destination. Within the United States, he will usually only need a valid health certificate, but international regulations can be more complicated. A dog going to the United Kingdom or another country in the European Union, for example, must not only have a current international health certificate, he must also be wormed for tapeworms by a veterinarian one to five days prior to his flight, and he must be microchipped with a chip that complies with European standards.

Step 4

Avoid transporting your dog by air during restricted periods. These periods vary by location, but are generally the times when the weather is either too hot or too cold to allow your pet to travel safely. The temperature restrictions are different for snub-nosed dogs such as Pekingese and boxers, so check the forecast with the airline before heading out to the airport. In some cases, your dog can travel as cargo but not as checked baggage during these periods. Each airline is different, so it’s important to understand the rules well in advance of travel.

Step 5

Place your pet in an approved travel crate. Purchase these in advance or when you arrive at the airport. Since you can’t always count on the airport having a crate of the right size, it’s best to have it ahead of time. This also gives your dog a chance to get used to the sight and smell of the crate. The crate must be large enough for your dog to sit upright without bumping the top of the crate, to stand up, to turn around and to lie down in a natural manner.

Step 6

Deliver your dog to the appropriate place at the airport well in advance of departure time. If he is going as checked baggage, you will normally take him to the ticket counter where passengers check their bags, but if he is traveling as cargo you may need to take him to another building, usually located away from the main terminal. Attach all necessary stickers, instructions and paperwork securely to his crate.

Passenger Cabin

Step 1

Keep your dog’s health certificate and immunization record with you. Ensure your dog meets all the requirements for your destination, such as having a current rabies vaccination. These are the same whether he is traveling alone or with you, and they vary by location.

Step 2

Check to make sure your dog can fit comfortably in his crate. It must be able to fit completely under the seat in front of you, and your pet must be able to move around while he is in his crate. Each type of plane has different restrictions as to crate size, so check with the airline for details before your trip.

Step 3

Reserve your pet’s spot on the plane. Some destinations, such as the United Kingdom and Hong Kong, do not allow dogs to travel into the country in the passenger cabin. There are also limits as to how many pets can be in the cabin on any one flight, and some sections within the plane may not allow any pets.

Step 4

Arrive at the airport early. Expect to pay an extra fee to take your pet along, which is usually due just before departure. When it is time to board the plane, carry your pet with you, and slide his kennel under the seat before the plane takes off.

Items You Will Need

  • Airline-approved travel crate
  • Health certificate

Tip

  • Get a carry-on travel kennel for your pet that has small openings in the top so that you can reach in and comfort your pet, but he can’t get out.

Warning

  • While it is rare, it can sometimes happen that a dog escapes from his shipping kennel either at the airport or in the cargo hold of the plane. A collar with identification and a microchip are the best ways to ensure that your dog finds his way to reunite with you if he should manage to get out of his crate.