Louis’s first flight from San Diego to Monterey on Alaska Airlines.
Tips For Flying With a Dog
Louis traveled with me since the day I got him. So the recent news story coming out about pet abuse on planes and the tragic death of the little Frenchie puppy is heartbreaking for me. I never traveled with a pet before Louis. When he first joined our family, I was away finishing some schooling program across the US and traveling from our home in Monterey to an apartment in San Diego twice a week. I knew having a pet sitter stay with him on the weekends would be too expensive so I made the decision to bring him with me. Here are my experience and tips for flying with a dog.
I had no clue where to begin. So I called up Alaska Airlines (the only direct flight from Monterey to San Diego) and asked them where to start. The phone agent was amazing and answered all of my questions, plus, sent me to their website for more information and tips for flying with a dog. At Alaska Airline’s advice, I went to my local vet and started planning our first trip. After speaking with both my vet and the airline I made an action plan. I did the same thing with United when we did our first cross-country flight. Each airline has different regulations on everything from timing, carrier requirements, and types of dogs that they will allow in the cabin.
Start by making sure your pet is acclimated to the carrier.
Both Alaska Airlines and my vet explained to me how stressful it can be for a pet to be in a carrier for the first time. Luckily, Louis was crate trained so this was an easy transition. I bought a few carriers and brought them with me to the Vet visit. She traveled with her pet and was able to advise me on the best one for Louis. This bag was perfect for travel. Louis can go in at his own leisure with the front opening and this is how we trained him. I put a few cookies in the carrier and left them in the living room. Every time he went in I would hand him another cookie. By the end of the week, he was napping in there. The bag fell down off a shelf the other day while we were cleaning the garage and he popped right in to look for cookies!
I like this bag because there is a small zipper opening on the side that I can slide my hand into to comfort him if he or I get anxious and I can unzip the top just enough for his head to pop out. The outside pockets hold his medical records, boarding pass, pet waste bags, a pee pad, wipes, a small serving of food, and a leash perfectly. I also have an ID tag on the carrier with my and Louis’s information, his picture, and a list of his allergies in the event we are separated. There is plenty of ventilation but also solid panels; my dog is weird and likes his privacy! The bag looked too small for him but he seemed to like the tight fit better than a larger roomy bag.
Louis did well on his first flight. He fell asleep before we even left the runway and woke up as we were landing. The case is super soft-sided but has a sturdy bottom and somehow he slept diagonally in it and made his own space on the plane. He stayed in his carrier the whole time and under the seat in front of me. I checked on him every ten minutes. The only issue was, he got a bit gassy when we were in the air!
ALWAYS get a medical record within 48 hours of flying.
This ensures nothing new has changed with your pup, you will have a full record of his shots and a health certificate. We have now flown cross country several times with United and they always measure the carrier, weigh him in the carrier, and ask to see his medical records. Again check with your airline to see their regulations. Some require a specific and certified medical record that not all vets are qualified to give. Plus, you can’t just show up with a dog and think they will let you on a flight. They only allow a certain number of dogs per flight with service animals getting priority.
Be cautious through security and never let your dog or cat out or off-leash in the airport.
To get through security you will have to take your dog off-leash and out of the carrier. Hold him or her tight! This can be scary and I hear stories all the time of a dog running off never to see its owner again. When Louis is with me I check all my bags. I only have him and a small cross-body bag. Several airlines have made this a requirement. Your dog is your carry-on so pack accordingly! At security, I leave him in the carrier while I take my shoes and coat off and get everything ready for security. I put his carrier in last while I hold him. He isn’t allowed in the X-ray machine so they do a pat-down on me and him. I keep him facing the opposite direction of the security agent just in case Louis gets nervous and snaps. He never has but I like to be cautious. When we are through security I put him back in the carrier or on a leash right away before doing my shoes or coat or bag.
I let him walk on a leash through the terminal but if we are sitting down I keep him in his carrier. I learned this the hard way after a guy tried to pick him up to take a picture with him. Not cool! Several airports have dog relief areas. Memphis has the best. LAX surprisingly has none! So have your pet relieve themselves prior to entering security so you don’t have to go outside and back through security.
Keep Your Pet Hydrated
I let Louis have a few cookies while we wait and access to water. Sometimes he drinks and others he isn’t interested but I like to make sure he always has the option. If it is a long flight and he seems to be awake I offer him water by dipping my hands in water and letting him lick it off. Or I let him have ice.
Advise EVERYONE You Have A Pet With You
We were on an Alaska Airlines flight once and the captain came out to interrogate me about Louis halfway through the flight. Somehow the gate agent never put in the paperwork that he was with me even though she issued him a boarding pass and charged my credit card for his ticket. I showed both the receipt and the pass to the captain who was angry because he is responsible for every soul on board including pets! Pilots take the passenger and crew list seriously. They had another dog in the hold and he put a camera back there to keep an eye on him! Talk about a dog lover. He took pictures of Louis, his boarding pass, and my receipt so he could speak with the company about it after the flight. After this lesson I always let the flight attendants and gate agents know I have a pet with me.
Always Be Your Dog’s Advocate
On an overbooked United flight, the gate agent once tried to make me check Louis in! After passionately explaining my bag wasn’t a piece of luggage but a dog she quickly apologized and went on to the next person. On a different flight with Alaska Airlines, there was another dog on the flight. The plane was TINY and they sat us across the aisle from the other dog. The other dog was an “emotional service animal” and I say that with quotes because it was obvious the dog wasn’t and had never flown before. It had no training, cried, whined, and barked the whole flight, snapped at the flight attendant, and was a scared wreck. I blame the owners. Because they were so close and the dog was so anxious, Louis got upset and started breathing heavily. I pulled him out from under the seat and let him pop his head out of the carrier to have water. The flight attendant started SCREAMING at me that only ESA dogs could be out. I held my ground and politely explained that seating us next to such a stressed out dog was making Louis nervous. He was breathing weirdly and I wanted to make sure he was okay before placing him back under the seat. The other attendant who knew us from a dozen or so previous flights came over to see what was going on. I explained the situation to her and she got Louis some water, crackers, and a new seat! I was polite but firm. I was not going to put my dog in danger. After moving he settled down and went back to his carrier under the seat. Luckily the flight was short.
We went for a walk after we landed to release his stress.
On the car ride home after Louis’s bad Alaska Airlines flight!
Be Polite and Prepared
Another tip for flying with a dog is one it took a few times to figure out. I realized from traveling not everyone is a fan of dogs. Weird, I know! I keep a small bag of individually wrapped surgical masks and gloves in my purse. I get them at CVS; individually wrapped because I don’t want to hand someone allergic to dogs an item that may have been exposed to pet dander. This helps if you don’t want to talk to your seatmate or they have strong perfume also! I haven’t encountered anyone with allergies or who was mad about me flying with a pet. Most people are curious, shocked at how expensive it is to fly with a pet, and generally want to snuggle him. Which I don’t allow because of the stress of flying. I let the flight attendants know I have the items in case anyone complains they can pass the items on.
I found out the hard way that some Uber drivers will NOT pick you up if you have a dog. Some people have religious aversions to dogs and won’t take you as a passenger. I was angry at first but now just take the next Uber or Cab.
We flew into Cleveland once and it was FREEZING! Coming from sunny California this was a shock to Louis. Luckily, I packed his sweater and a vest in case it was cold. We ended up using both on the flight and when we landed. The flight was extra cold so I popped on his sweater and wrapped him in a blanket. When we landed I popped on his harness, sweater, and fleece vest. This fleece is awesome for travel it cleans up easily, takes up no room, and keeps your pup warm. Plus, proceeds benefit rescue Frenchies!
Get Lots of Exercise Before and After the Flight
We do a nice walk before the flight. A sleepy dog is an easy passenger. We don’t eat before the flight so he doesn’t have bathroom issues and I give him his food in small quantities when we get to our destination so he doesn’t get sick.
Those are all my tips for flying with a dog! I bring all of Louis’s favorite toys. I check his nighttime crate and a bag of food plus his bowls. I make our hotel just like home so he acclimates easily. He is such a professional traveler now.
Like I said flying with your pet is EXPENSIVE. Often times his ticket on the Alaska Airlines flight cost more than mine!
Pupdate: Sadly, he can’t travel with me any longer. Back in November, he herniated a disc in his neck. While in the MRI they found he has hydrocephalus. I was shocked. He never presented a single symptom and at all of his health exams nothing ever came up. Even though I never spoke with his neurologist about flying I feel like it is best that he stays home with my sister now when I travel.
A note on meds: I decided NOT to drug or sedate Louis while we traveled. I spoke with our vet about it before our first flight and she gave me a lot of information plus pros/cons about it. We found that making sure he was comfortable in his carrier and surrounding he didn’t need it. IF I ever thought travel was not safe for him I wouldn’t bring him.
A note on United: We have flown with United at least 7 times now. Not once did we have an issue. That being said United is awful on customer service. Delays, cancelations, and missed connections are the norm. Factor those possibilities into your travel with a pet. Long delays can be brutal if there are no relief areas. Louis is trained for potty pads so I always had one. They do have the easiest pet traveling policies and access to direct flights from my home. While I wish I could speak to someone at United about how to make the passenger experience for both pets and people better and I do call them out regularly on Twitter I choose to still fly with them because of their direct flight options from my home airports.
A note on Alaska Airlines: Louis has been on Alaska flight so many times he deserves his own Frequent Flyer number! They have a lot of rules about pets and I appreciate that. I want my boy to have a safe and easy flight. Other than the one bad flight we have had nothing but easy travels with them.
We also flew once on American Airlines and it was a breeze. They were very strict about health certs, the case and his weight so make sure you know their rules before traveling.