Traveling with your Pet on an Aircraft

Several years ago, I was approached by a client who was re-locating from New York City to her home in Johannesburg, South Africa, and wanted  to bring her dog. I had worked with other clients in regards to making arrangements for them to travel with their pets, but making these particular arrangements certainly was a challenge. That experience alone, could have been turned to a book.

Recently, I had the pleasure to meet Darlene Arden at a local dog show, and purchased her book “Rover, Get Off Her Leg”. It is a delightful, informative and fun read where she discusses traveling with your pets. She was kind enough to allow me to post this chapter of her book,  that outlines the basic information you should know and preparations you should undertake before flying with your pet.

I am very grateful to Arlene for allowing me to reprint this chapter.

Excerpt from: “Rover, Get Off Her Leg”
by Darlene Arden
Dogs at 30,000 Feet

Plane travel brings up two options. The small dog can go on board with you unless you’re flying overseas, in which case he’ll have to go in the cargo hold, and all medium, large, and giant dogs always go in the cargo hold. And, yes, you pay extra either way***. No one has ever been able to explain to me why a carry-on is free if there’s a laptop computer in it but it’s not free if it’s a laptop dog!  As far as I know, there’s no rule saying that the airlines have to charge extra to the customer who is losing legroom by having their dog under the seat and not bothering anyone else. But they do.

If the dog has to go in the cargo hold, be sure the airline knows that you have a dog there and that the cargo compartment is pressurized and not cold. Those are important points if your dog is going to survive the journey.  Be certain to have plenty of identification on the dog as well as on the crate and bungee the door closed so it won’t pop open, allowing your dog to escape. Your dog should respond to the words Sit and Stay no matter who utters them, or your dog may not survive the trip. Tie a plastic bag of extra food to the crate in case the trip takes longer than anticipated.

Air Travel Tips

A frequent doggie traveler offers this wonderful advice: ”When traveling with a dog on an airplane. I always print out a page with a favorite picture and a standard statement under the picture:

”Hi! My name is [insert dog’s name]. I’m a/an [insert breed or mix], and I am on my way to a show [or wherever else] with my mom! She is flying in seat number [insert number]. Both she and I are nervous about my flying. Please call me by my name, as it reassures me and eases my fears. If you would, please ask the pilot to let my mom know I am on board. Thanks for taking good care of me, and please don’t open my door, as I might be afraid and would run. I won’t bite, but would lick you to death.”

“I also take a 5″ x 8″ picture on board with me with an added area at the bottom and hand it to the flight attendants to give/show to the pilot as I enter. ‘Hi! My name is [insert dog’s name], and I am traveling below in the cargo hold. While I am a show dog [delete it not appropriate], I am a very much loved pet to my mom who is in seat number [insert number]. Would you please make sure I am loaded and secure, and then let my mom know before we pull away to leave? Thanks!”

”The crews always love this. They have told me they like knowing about their ‘precious’ cargo, why the dog is traveling, where it is going, and a bit about the dog, too!”

This is excellent advice whether your dog is going to a show or on vacation, or you’re moving to a new home in another place and flying out there with your dog. Just fill in the blanks with your specific information.


Along with being sure the dog is okay on the day you travel, be certain to get him accustomed to his crate or carrier long before you leave on your trip. If he’s going on board, in your pre-travel training, keep his carrier near your feet with the door open so he can get used to the idea that he will be near your feet. Close it with him inside for a few minutes, extending the time just a little bit more each day. He’ll have to learn to stay in his carrier for the duration of the flight. And be sure to walk him before you board the flight (or before your dog is put in his crate for the trip) and upon arrival. If necessary bring Wee-Wee Pads with you and take your dog into the restroom and allow him to relieve himself on the pad. Put the soiled pad in a plastic bag and dispose of it in the trash just like a used diaper.  Travel with paper towels and plastic bags so that you can clean up after your dog, and also take your dog’s food and bottled water, which you now have to buy after you’ve cleared security. Otherwise, you can pack a bottle or two in your suitcase and purchase more when you reach your destination. Water changes from place to place, and you don’t want to upset your dog’s digestive tract. Take a first-aid kit along for emergencies as well as a photo of your dog in case he gets lost.


Do not tranquillize**** the dog before you fly, because the tranquillizer can drop the dog’s blood pressure and slow his responses. He really doesn’t need sedation. He just needs to learn, as with everything else, that travel is a normal experience. Don’t worry; most dogs take advantage of their time in the carrier and nap. Don’t leave his excrement for others to step in when you walk him. Clean it up!

Darlene Arden is the author of “Rover, Get Off Her Leg!”,  ” The Angell Memorial Animal Hospital Book of Wellness and Preventive Care for Dogs“, and “Small Dogs, Big Hearts: A Guide to Caring for Your Little Dog“.

***Reservations Policies with American Airlines

Traveling with pets? The following American Airlines pet policy information will provide the answers to many common questions regarding the transportation of pets. Special pet guidelines apply for travel to international destinations and Hawaii. Please refer to the appropriate American Airlines pet policy sections below for more detailed pet information regarding those destinations

***JetPaws™ Pet Program and Travel Guide with Jet Blue

JetPaws is JetBlue’s exclusive program designed to provide pets and their owners the tips and tools they need for a smooth trip from start to finish. We’re simply committed to each and every one of our customers—including the four-legged ones

****Regarding Tranquillizing for animal.

The reason for not doing this is really rather simple, if and should the aircraft suddenly loose altitude in flight, you are aware that oxygen masks are deployed for passengers use. If this should ever happen, the animal that is placed in the pressurized cargo hold will most likely begin to bark. This is a good thing because this reaction will be additional oxygen into the animals system. Therefore keeping the animal active, you do not wish that the animal be tranquilized, for its on safety.



4 Responses

  1. Airlines change rules with amazing frequency. Since “Rover, Get Off Her Leg!” was published, there have been changes to some of the rules as to which airlines do, and do not, allow pets in the cabin on transatlantic flights. Those could change again at any time. I suggest that anyone who wants to travel with their dog (or cat!) check with the airlines in advance of the flight. Read the information carefully at their website and print it out in case they decide to change again while you’re on your way to the airport! 😉

    • Dear Darlene,
      Again thank you for allowing me to post that chapter of your book. Yes it is very true; airlines do change their policies regarding pets traveling in the cabin with their owners.
      In addition to airlines changing their rules and regulations, are the countries that the dog and or cat maybe visiting or moving to. On the positive side, at least for the Traveler and their companions, many of the old restrictions are being lifted, and even “Rover” can have a cultural experience also to be shared together.

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