20 Tips on Reducing Stress when Flying with your Dog In-Cabin!
Flying for many has become the necessary evil one has to survive in order to enjoy a new and wonderful destination. The feeling is understandable. More people are flying; stringent security has resulted in longer lineups; the seats in aircrafts are narrower and closer together in order to cram as many people on board as possible; food quality has gone – pardon the pun – to the dogs; and to add a little insult to injury, for the pleasure of all this, the prices have sky-rocketed.
It is no surprise that people look at what is an already stressful activity and conclude that adding a dog to your carry-on luggage is just more stress than can possibly be managed. Yet, if done well, bringing your dog along can actually reduce your stress level.
Here are some things you can do:
- If you’re travelling to participate in a once-in-a-lifetime celebration or function (e.g., family reunion, wedding, milestone birthday, fashion show), leave a day or two earlier. This will reduce any stress you might otherwise experience if you are delayed in transit. Instead, you can relax knowing you will not miss the event. It also means you and your canine friend have time to rest before you add the (happy) fatigue of an event on top of travel stress. Travel topped with an event can cause any person – or dog – to crash! Mom, for example, often gets an unsettled tummy after a long flight and appreciates a quiet, “no plans” day upon arrival. Take your travelling dog along for company on a quiet stroll and enjoy some cuddle-time on return – all without guilt.
- A destination’s largest airport may offer more diversions (shopping, restaurants, etc.) and a greater choice of flights, but sometimes less can really be more. Smaller airports are often easier to move through and are frequently more dog friendly than the large airports. A few small airports, such as Fort Myers Airport in Florida, will even allow dogs out of the carrier to stretch their legs, assuming they are walking next to you when inside the terminal.
- Travel nonstop whenever you can. Each time you change planes, you boost the possibility of things going wrong. You become subject to weather and travel congestion, risk mechanical problems and personnel-related delays. And don’t forget that checked luggage (and pets in cargo) have to make the connections as well. If your connection is to a different carrier, things become even more complicated. In addition to avoiding problems, nonstop travel (or at least travel with as few stops as possible) is better for your pet: he or she can settle down and sleep through as much of the trip as possible.
- Look for flights with high “on-time” performance ratings, particularly if you’re scheduling a tight connection. Check the statistics online before you book or ask your travel agent. Sometimes it’s worth paying a little more if it means a better chance of arriving un-frazzled.
- Always fly as early in the day as possible. In fact, aim for the first departure if you can. This is especially important if you’re travelling around a holiday. Flight delays often ripple through the system, so the earlier you leave, the better your chances of avoiding a bottleneck down the line. Also, should something go wrong, you will have a whole day’s worth of options to get you to your destination.
- Avoid airport rush hours and other peak-travel periods. Know if you are taking a business-travel route and avoid their peak times (between 8:30 and 10 in the morning and between 4:30 and 6:30 in the afternoon). For flights to Europe, Fridays are busy; leaving from Florida, avoid Sundays. Holiday weekends are never a good idea.
- Give some thought to which seats you want to reserve on the plane. For example, if you like to sleep on flights, pick your seat with comfort in mind – it’s easy to sleep when you have a window, but more difficult if you’re in a middle seat – and bring a pillow. When travelling with a pet, an aisle seat is often easier for managing the dog carrier. It is more difficult to get the carrier under the seat in front of you from the middle or window seat. Look for seats that have more legroom. (Note: When travelling with an in-cabin pet, you cannot sit in seats that don’t have another seat in front of you, nor can you sit at an emergency exit door.) Seat Guru is an excellent resource for helping you select the best seat for you.
- Find out what paperwork you need to travel between countries. Understand that there are different kinds of visas and not all of them automatically give you the right to enter a country. The country’s embassy, your travel agent, and online sources can provide you with the details. The same cautions apply to securing paperwork for your canine friend. Start the process early and err on the side of caution: if you have 30 days to get something done, don’t wait until day 25 to start. Instead, start the process in the first week so you are not caught short by unexpected delays or challenges reaching the correct people. Don’t add to the stress of travel by being unsure whether you have every paper, visa, stamp and passport you and your dog need.
- If possible, print your electronic boarding passes. When travelling with a dog, you still have to see an agent to check-in, but it does speed things up if you have all of your paperwork ready. Don’t waste valuable time – yours, the agents, and that of every person standing behind you in line – by needing to look for paperwork at the check-in desk.
- Pack light. Minimize your needs as much as possible so you can avoid checking a bag. That will save you time and, likely, money. Even if you can’t pack everything into a carry-on, packing light is still an asset overall, especially when you add your pet and carrier to the mix.
- Remember that your pet in his or her carrier will take up the space you would normally have under the seat in front of you. Choose a carrier that will allow the most comfort for your pet, but don’t choose the largest one on the market and unnecessarily reduce your legroom.
- Wear appropriate clothing. You’ll be sitting or standing for long periods of time. Therefore, wear something comfortable. You’ll also have to take your shoes off when you go through security. I recommend you opt for slip-on shoes, if possible. Don’t wear a belt or a great deal of jewelry; they will complicate and slow down your clearance through security. Wear and bring layers so you can take layers off or add them as necessary. Also be sensible about what you bring onboard for your dog. This is not the time to put a cute dress on your dog. And keep doggie related items to a minimum to prevent losing something. A harness, leash, single toy, pee pad and the carrier should be all you have with you; the rest should be packed in your suitcase.
- Exercise before boarding your flight and include your dog! Long flights can be tedious, not to mention the negative effects on your body as a result of sitting for a long time. A workout or some form of exercise before you fly will reduce or even eliminate those aches and pains. It’s the same thing for your dog. Plus, a tired dog is a happy dog. Before every flight, I go on a good two-hour walk before the journey even begins. That means the bipeds and I are happy to sit and even doze for a while on our flight and we no longer have that nervous energy to burn.
- As you stand in line for security, get yourself, your dog, and your belongings prepared for screening. Untie your shoes, prep your laptop, if you have one, and grab a few bins, even if you don’t have space to use them yet. Make sure your dog is harness-free and ready to be patted down. Avoid getting in line behind families; sadly, they are often disorganized and the stress they are experiencing has a way of seeping out to affect you. Your cute dog may also add a new level of distraction for the kids – not always so welcomed by tired parents who are trying to corral their children through security.
- Don’t gush about your dog as you go through security. Most of the people working at the airport are not interested, have other things to deal with, and may not even be happy about “having to deal” with your dog. That said, we have met all sorts of people, including those who want to cuddle! Let them lead your actions: if they ask to pet your dog, then by all means, go for it and gush. If, however, they remain cool and professional, respect that as well. If a security officer – or any airport or aircraft employee – is obviously not pleased with your dog’s presence, don’t take it personally and get all worked up. Remain polite and courteous, and be an ambassador for the “travelling with dog” choice. Note: Gushing about your dog can make you a security target. Dogs travelling as carry-on are viewed as a possible way to distract security officers from something else the officer should be looking for. As a result, security personnel may be more curt than usual in their attempt to do their job.
- Be courteous. If the flight is heavily booked, don’t put all your stuff in the overhead bin. You can always sit on your jacket or use it as a pillow. It’s unfair to force passengers to check luggage because there was no carry-on space left on board. As well, being greedy causes delays for both you and your fellow passengers when it comes time to disembark. Putting your carry-on luggage into overhead bins behind you will also cause delays; be courteous and put your luggage into the bin directly above you or ahead of you. This will make exiting the plane easier and less stressful for all.
- Plan well if you have a layover while travelling with your dog. Ask about the minimum connecting times between flights and add 40 minutes or more for larger airports. Don’t put yourself in the position of missing your connecting flight because the gate agent didn’t show up or someone took forever to get their bag out of the overhead bin. Also, remember that as soon as a dog awakes from a long nap, they need to relieve themselves. Therefore, ensure you allow enough time to take your pet to the pet relief area. Most pet relief areas are outside of security, which means you’ll have to go through security again. Even with planning and allowing extra time, have a backup plan; know the alternative flights to your destination, just in case. On the up side, having a scheduled break will allow you enough time to get outside and enjoy some non-airport air, let your dog pee, and maybe have a coffee while you both stretch your legs. It might take you longer to get to your destination,
but you and your dog will be less stressed and in better shape when you arrive.
- Layovers are an opportunity to do a little training with your dog. If you have a few hours to wait, go outside and find a green spot. Have some treats ready and once your pet has relieved him or herself, do a little training session. It will be more entertaining for both you and your pet than sitting in the waiting area near a gate.
- Delays happen. So do unappetizing meals, broken TV screens and overworked flight attendants. Bring snacks, water, and your own entertainment and you’ll be fine even if you get stuck in the airport, on the tarmac, or in the air. Always check for departure delays BEFORE going through security. If you have already cleared security when you learn about a delay, you’ll still be in good shape if your pet is indoor potty trained: your pet can go with you for a washroom break both at the airport and on the plane (in a carrier) to the bathroom.
- If someone is picking you up at the airport, be certain, even before you leave your home, where you will be picked up. Airport parking can be expensive. To save your friends and/or family having to pay more for parking than needed, arrange your pick-up with time allowed to take your canine on a bathroom break upon arrival.
Do you have any travelling tips to share? Please do so in the comments below and let everyone benefit from your own experience!