How to Prepare a Dog for Air Travel

Research Your Options Before Flying with Your Dog

All airline pet policies are not created equal. While some airlines offer luxurious options like “Cuddle Class” in the first-class cabin, others may not allow your dog to fly at all. It’s not just a matter of space some airlines refuse to fly dogs in the cargo hold for liability concerns.

Here are a few of the major airlines that will not fly dogs in cargo:


Jet Blue


Some airlines have restrictions on breeds , mainly those with shortened airways that might have trouble breathing aboard the plane in cargo, especially under stress.

The general rule of thumb to fly in the less-stressful cabin is the dog and crate combined can weigh no more than 20 pounds.

This comprehensive site lists all the rule and regulations of flying with your pet, including fees and pet reservation lines.


Plan to Fly with Your Dog Weeks in Advance

Whether in the cabin or in cargo, dogs have to fit comfortably in their crates and be willing to stay there for hours.

Whether in the cabin or cargo, you’ll need to prepare your dog for flying. Follow these expert tips for a seamless trip:

Step 1:

Crate Training Your dog should already be crate trained well before the flight. Your dog needs to be able to stand up and turn around in their crate. “Make sure they’ve had plenty of time to adjust,” Ulbrich says. “They should be able to sleep in their kennel and be comfortable with it.”

Step 2:

Conquer Separation Anxiety Your dog must be able to lay down in his crate by himself, even in the cabin. “They have to stay in a kennel underneath the seat the entire flight, so you have to make sure they can be in the kennel alone,” Ulbrich explains.

Step 3:

Desensitize Noise Make sure your dog is desensitized to loud noises and crowds, which means he must be properly socialized. There are some exercises to help your dog be calm in the crowd.

“Play some sounds of airplanes taking off in the house or loud noises over the speaker systems so the dog is desensitized to the noise and doesn’t think the sky is falling,” Ulbrich suggests.

Should I ask my veterinarian for a dog sedative for travel?

Most of the time, dogs travel quite easily and do well without the need for medication. Some dogs, on the other hand, experience tremendous stress when subjected to air travel. Consult your veterinarian to create the best travel plan for your dog if he doesn’t travel well. Strategies to reduce the stress of canine flights include:

A Thundershirt® which swaddles the dog much like swaddling an infant and can reduce anxiety.

A pheromone calming collar to help lower anxiety.

Trazodone (brand name Desyrel®), gabapentin (brand name Neurontin®), and alprazolam (brand names; Xanax®, Niravam®) are examples of medications that are sometimes prescribed by veterinarians to reduce the anxiety that some dogs experience when traveling. Be sure to provide a dose at home as a “dry run” ahead of your trip in order to know how your dog will react to the medication.

With some advance planning, attention to detail, and consultation with your veterinarian, flying with your dog can be as “smooth as silk”!

Book early

Most airlines only allow one or two dogs on each flight, so it’s important to book your dog’s ticket as soon as possible.

Don’t buy your ticket until you call the airline and make sure there is a “seat” available for your dog on the flight.

Once the agent has confirmed availability, reserve both your seats on the same ticket while you’re still on the phone with the agent.

Fly direct

Book a non-stop, direct flight whenever possible and try to fly on a weekday when airports are typically less hectic.

If your pet will be traveling in the cargo hold, it’s best to fly in the morning or evening during the summer, and midday during the winter to avoid extremely hot or cold temperatures.

Eat, drink, poop, then play

Since a full stomach might be uncomfortable for your dog during travel, we recommend feeding him about four hours before the flight, if possible. While it’s best to refrain from feeding your dog right before the flight, you can (and should) continue to give him water right up to the time of travel. Just be sure to empty the dish before checking in so it doesn’t spill during the flight.

If you’re checking the dog, leave the dishes in the carrier so an airline employee can provide your pet with food and water in the event of an extended delay before or after your flight.

You should also exercise your pet and let him use the facilities (i.e. grass) before heading to the airport.

Make Sure You Have the Right Crate!

Unless your crate or carrier bag meets the airline’s regulations, Toggie will not be allowed on the plane, regardless of whether or not he is a good boy. Although the standard policies are the same for most airlines, some might vary on details.

For example, American Airlines pet policy requires the combined weight of your pet and its carrier to be less than 20 pounds, whereas Delta requires only the pet to weigh less than 20.

When choosing a crate or carrier size, the general rule of thumb is that the dog needs to be able to stand up naturally (with a couple of inches of additional headroom), be able to turn around and lie down in a natural position.

To make sure he/she is allowed to fly in-cabin with you, the crate must be small enough to fit underneath the sit in front of you. Depending on the airlines, maximum crate length allowed could be between 16 to 19 inches, maximum height could be between 10 to 12 inches.

Traveling with service dogs, emotional support dogs , or psychiatric service dogs is a little different.

These dogs are allowed to fly for free in all US domestic flights and will be allowed to lie on your lap, at your feet or under the seat in front of you, so you may not need a crate.

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