Flying With Your Dog? Four Ways To Prepare While You're Still on The Ground
Assess whether your dog can handle the trip.
Radio show host and pet travel expert Stephanie Abrams points out that every breed and every dog has its own temperament that can affect your trip. "Some by nature are more high-strung," she says, and not good at dealing with the motion and the other rigors of travel. If your dog is relaxed in the car, that is a good sign. Certain breed-specific physical characteristics can make travel difficult, for instance brachycephalic dogs such as pugs and shih tzus have a pushed-in muzzle that often causes breathing problems which makes traveling in airplanes -- and especially the cargo hold -- risky.
Veterinarian David Smith of the New York Department of Agriculture agrees: "Be realistic about whether or not your pet is a good candidate for air travel. If your pet is easily stressed out by new environments, it may be better to leave it with a trusted pet-sitter." (The U. S. Department of Agriculture and state agriculture organizations are involved with the rules regarding transport of live animals.)
Know the airline rules.
These can vary quite a bit. Many airlines, like American Airlines, require that animals be at least 8 weeks old at the time of travel. Most airlines say that an animal under 20 pounds (including the weight of the pet carrier) can be brought aboard as long as the carrier can fit underneath the seat. Some allow larger animals to be flown in the cargo hold, but not all. For instance Jetblue has an extensive JetPaws Pet Program but passengers can only bring a pet as carry-on.
Not all customers feel comfortable having their pets travel kenneled in the airplane's cargo hold. It can be extremely stressful for both the dog and the owner -- especially with recent news reports of dogs being lost or sent to the wrong destination. If your dog is small enough to fit in its carrier underneath your seat, you'll probably want to travel that way.
Fees vary per carrier and can be anywhere from $75-200. A good resource for comparing airlines is PetTravel.com, which has the lowdown for every major carrier. Once you've narrowed your choices, go directly to the airline site to get the most updated rules. If you plan to have your dog in the cabin, it's important to make a reservation for your dog at the same time you are booking your flight, because every airline has a limited number of animals they will allow on board.
The Air Transport Association recommends that, "whenever possible, book a direct, nonstop flight and avoid holiday or weekend travel. Consider schedules that minimize temperature extremes. For example, try to avoid travel during excessively hot or cold periods. Morning or evening flights are preferable during the summer."