Air Travel With a Small Dog Tips!

Considering I write a blog on the very topic of with-small-dog-travel, it is shocking that it has taken me this long to write an umbrella post on air travel with your small dog. So it is time for me to fix that situation and give you a basic, Air Travel With a Small Dog 101 or if you prefer Air Travel With a Small Dog Tips!

First, what does “small dog” actually mean?

Basically, it means any dog that is less than 15 pounds. Why? In order to fly in cabin, the restrictions require that your dog + carrier = 20 pounds or less. Take away a few pounds for the carrier and you have, ta-dah! about 15 pounds for a dog!

Note that in addition to weight restrictions, the carrier must fit and remain under the seat in front of you like a traditional carry-on might. So there are size restrictions as well.

Next, assuming your dog is small, should you bring your pet with you?

As much as we encourage people to travel with their pets, there are some things to keep in mind. Do a quick search with your favourite search engine and research the following:

  • Can your pet even enter the country? And if so, are there quarantine laws? How long is the quarantine? (We do not vacation in countries with a quarantine.)
  • Culturally, what’s the attitude toward dogs at your destination? Will your dog be safe? Can your pet be included in activities?
  • What illnesses and diseases are common at your destination? What extra precautions are you going to need? (Just like humans, there may be a need for an “unknown to you” vaccine.)
  • Is the location safe for dogs? Some countries have very large and potentially aggressive wild dog populations. Something to consider.

If your chosen destination isn’t conducive to taking your dog with you, you can either change your mind and go elsewhere, or find a wonderful place for your pet to vacation while you take your trip. Your pet’s vacation can be with a relative, a friend you trust, a boarding kennel, or fancy pet hotel. Just do not abandon your pet or leave your pet at home unattended!

But, if you have found the perfect destination to vacation with your pet, then the leg work begins.

Choosing the Right Pet Carrier

Your pet in his or her carrier will replace your carry-on or computer bag, so you will only be allowed one additional carry-on item to accompany you on your flight. All other luggage will need to be checked. Even with your pet, you are still limited to a total of two carry-on items per person. So make sure you pack accordingly.

Montecristo Travels Air Travel With a Small Dog Tips

My carrier (seen here on the Air France bus between Ottawa and Montreal)  has mesh openings on both sides and on top! Also collapses into an envelop or expands by 4-5 inches once in the airplane for extra leg room. Sweet!

As for airline-approved carriers, I will share with you the things that I believe are the most important considerations when navigating the confusing store shelves full of options.

  • Size matters. Most airlines require carriers to be no larger than 17×12.5×8 inches. And the carrier has to be comfortable for your dog. Your dog should be able to get up, turn around, and settle down again.
  • Quality counts. I can’t stress this enough. Many bags may certainly be cute or fit in with your own fashion sense, but carriers take a beating on the road and are holding very precious cargo. So look for sturdy materials and really great workmanship. Ensure there are no faulty zippers, stitching that may be loose, or flimsy clasps.
  • Ventilation. You should have mesh ventilation on both sides. There are some very reputable carriers out there that only have ventilation on one side. I assure you, this is not what you want. You want vents on each end and, very importantly, you want mesh ventilation on top. Heat rises.
  • A leak proof bottom. Because accidents happen.
  • Easy to open and close, but escape-proof. Our carrier has a tether you can hook to a pet harness if needed. And for ease of access during a flight, I can’t stress enough the importance of an opening at the top of the carrier.
  • Crush-proof. Yeah, even if it is a soft-sided carrier, you want to make sure that without the dog inside, you can put the carrier on the ground and it won’t collapse. The carrier should have a frame of some sort.
  • Easy to carry. We loved our original carrier—the sleepy pod mini. But the circular shape, as great as it is for the dog, was a real pain to carry.
  • Pockets, and compartments on the outside. At minimum, choose a carrier with a pocket for a poop bag, a treat, and some baby wipes.

Once you have your carrier, let your dog get comfortable with it. Put it in a favourite spot at home and leave the front “door” open. Put a treat inside or a favourite toy, and let your pet explore. The carrier needs to become a happy place for your canine companion. It can take a while, so make sure you have the carrier well ahead of any trips. A short walk around the block carrying your dog in the carrier can also help your dog become accustomed to the idea of being carried inside. Use positive rewards to encourage your dog to love the carrier.

Booking your Flight

As you likely guessed (or have read), there will be a few extra steps when booking a flight for a trip that includes your dog. It’s nothing hugely inconvenient, so don’t be discouraged. Just plan for it. I normally use a travel agent (ours is now well versed in with-dog extras!) but in case you want to do it all on your own, here are the things you need to consider:

  1. Look up your options for flights for the humans. Once you have a flight you like, check to make sure that all the airlines involved accept pets in-cabin. (Don’t assume that a connecting flight will accept your pet if the connecting airline is a different, even if related, airline.) Read every airline’s policies on their official websites.
  2. Book the tickets for all the humans. Make a note of that reservation number. You will need it.
  3. Call the airline’s toll-free number IMMEDIATELY after booking your ticket. Give the agent your reservation number and let the agent know you have a canine traveling with you.
  4. Depending on the size of the plane and how long the flight is, there will be a limited number of pets allowed in cabin. That total number includes service dogs and emotional support animals, so you need to make that call to the airline ASAP. Also, an airline will work with you to rebook a flight that won’t work for your pet if you have just booked the flight, but let even a few hours go by, and they won’t be so cooperative.
  5. Get the airline to email you confirmation that they have registered your dog on board.
  6. Pay your dog’s fee up front if possible. (The fee varies by airline, but starts around $75 and goes up.)
  7. Book your seat! Airplanes that have TV monitors built into the seats have the monitor equipment located under the middle seat. That equipment gets really warm during a flight and in some cases, the equipment will create too narrow a space for your carrier. You’re best to book aisle or window seats.

And that is it. Getting everything in writing is key. I can’t stress that enough. In addition, the day before you fly, call again to re-confirm that your pet is indeed registered as a passenger. Oddly enough, that information has a bad habit of disappearing from the system.

Papers and Goodies

Just like you, your dog will need travel documents. In some countries, there is even such a thing as a pet passport. For those countries less organized, you will need documentation that serves in place of a pet passport. Generally, a dated health certificate from your veterinarian is all you will need; however, be aware that many countries have their own form. So although the information is essentially the same, having your veterinarian complete the correct form is crucial. I compare the process to that of obtaining visas for humans.

Air Travel With a Small Dog Tips

ALL this is for me!!

The best place to get the form you need is from your food and animal inspection agency. As an example, for the USA, that would be the USDA, and for Canada, that would be the CFIA. A quick call to the toll-free numbers and they will happily email you the form. Otherwise, you can also contact the country’s embassy, but allow a lot more time for this. I have found going to embassies in person can expedite things considerably.

Once the documents are in order, you’ll need to pack a few things. Try and resist the temptation to bring too many items. Keep it simple. I always ask, “What did you have when you brought puppy home?” That is all you will need.

  • One Leash
  • One harness/collar
  • ID tag (It’s vitally important to make sure the phone number listed can be reached once you are on location!)
  • Papers mentioned above
  • ONE toy!
  • Medication, if needed
  • Pee pads
  • Poop bags
  • Food (The bag must be small and sealed for carry-on. Larger supplies must be sealed and go as checked baggage. You can also mail a bag of food ahead to your destination.)
  • A collapsible water bowl (Don’t use tap water on the airplane! It’s not safe to drink. Use bottled water.)

That is really it. Certainly if your dog gets easily cold, you may want to add a sweater, but the idea is to keep the items to a minimum. Your dog should not need his or her own suitcase!

On the Day!

It’s best to give your dog a long walk before a flight. If your flight is an early one, then get up in time to include a good walk before you leave. Your dog, like you, will benefit from getting the blood flowing before being stuck on a plane for several hours. Feed your dog before heading out on your walk—even if out of schedule—and walk until your dog has had a bowel movement. Once you arrive at the airport, walk your dog again before entering.

Once at the airport, your dog may be limited to the carrier and you likely won’t be able to go back outside again. So, think about how much water your dog gets and when. You may want to limit water intake until you’re in the air. You don’t want your dog to have a full bladder and have to hold it any longer than necessary. But don’t let your pet get dehydrated either! That can happen very easily.

You’ll need to allow for a bit more time to register for your flight. Do not be alarmed when there is no sign of your pet in the system. (Trust me, it happens!) Just pull out your email confirmation and stand your ground. When travelling with a pet, I don’t recommend using the automated kiosk that is so popular these days. The reason is that you need to register your dog and that means checking-in with an agent. You may also need to pay your pet’s fee at this time (if you weren’t able to pay in advance) and, annoyingly, that can require that you go to yet another desk. Don’t despair. This is why you gave yourself extra time. The airline may require your pet’s health certificate as well, and if so, they will make a photocopy. Make sure to get the originals back! We are in the habit of carrying a few photocopies of documents with us to speed things up.

Montecristo Travels Air Travel With a Small Dog Tips

Some airports, like Washington seen here, have indoor pet potty areas. AWESOME!!

At this point, your dog will get his or her own boarding pass, OR the agent will write something on your boarding pass. Make sure to check and ask where or what indicates you have a pet travelling in-cabin with you.

Passport security is nothing to worry about. You will put all your things in the bins as usual, including your carrier, and the dog’s leash and collar. You and your dog will then get a pat down by the security staff. You may see a guard refuse to do so. Remember some people are afraid of dogs or may have a religious reason for not wanting to be near one. Remain calm, ask for another person or to move to another line, and keep your dog as zen as you can while he or she is being “petted down” as well.

In the Air Petiquette

Of all the Air Travel With a Small Dog Tips; this one is the most important. As soon as you know who your airline seat neighbours are, let them know you have a pet travelling with you and offer to move should your neighbours have allergies or be afraid of dogs. Being proactive will go a long way in keeping people open to the idea of pets in-cabin. We have never had to move and in fact, most people are thrilled. Still, it is a good idea to speak up at the beginning. Plus, should your dog let out a bark or whimper at some point, people will be less startled if they know there was a dog there in the first place.

If at all possible, avoid sitting next to children. Even if your dog is normally fine with children, their screaming and crying in flight can add an avoidable level of stress for your canine companion. Kids will also want to pet and play with your dog and since he or she can’t exit the carrier, it can cause quite the fuss. We are speaking from experience!

Montecristo travels Air Travel With a Small Dog Tips

Yes I know, a picture of a toilet. Just want to show you my pee pad set up. Here in the airport bathroom but the same applies for the airplane.

I have found that the change in atmospheric pressure can often create a need to wee-wee. As soon as the seatbelt light is off, a trip to the toilet is in order. We go with dog inside the carrier and, after locking the door and placing a pee pad on the ground, we wait for a few minutes. After a few sniffs, there is usually a pee. Do not panic if your dog does not go. Some dogs can and will hold it for hours! Before the plane is ready for landing, try one more time. There can be delays once on the ground and you want to give your friend that last chance.

Arrived at Last!

You’ll get off the plane, go through security, show customs your passport and your dog’s papers. Usually that is it. If entering Canada, you will be asked to go to the secondary (something to declare) area and declare your dog. They will ask a few questions; you will pay an administrative fee and be on your way.

If you are flying solo with your dog, you will wait for your bags before exiting. For couples, I recommend you split up and one of you take the dog out for a pee and a short walk while the other collects the bags. You will almost always find a little grassy spot you can use. Before you split up, make sure you know where you will all reunite.

And that is it! Is it a little more work? Certainly. Is it expensive? It can be, yes. But so are kennels or pet hotels. In the end, we wouldn’t have it any other way. Having a dog when you travel is such a joy. They make life better. You are not treated as a tourist at your destination, but as a local. There are a lot of dog lovers out there! And the bonding experience of vacation time with your pet is priceless. Dogs already have such short lives. For us … we need to make that time count.

In review: Sure, travelling with a dog adds a few extra steps to the process and may change the planning requirements and schedule, and even impact your destination choice. But it is not nearly as stressful on the pet as you may think. In fact, it’s not nearly as stressful on the owner as you might believe either. And the more you do it, the easier it gets. Budget a bit more time and money, start small and work your way up to longer flights, and reap the rewards! Keep in mind these Air Travel With a Small Dog Tips and you will be fine!

20 Comments on “Air Travel With a Small Dog Tips!

  1. Monte, I have travelled with you all over the place on the train when we were in Florence. You never seemed stressed or upset. It looked like you always had a great time, even after a long flight, because everything had been so well planned for you. You’re quite a travel hero!

    • Aw thank you but we are actually at 255 posts! “101” is a term used to mean “for beginners”. I believe it relates to the way they number courses in Universities such as “English Literature 101” versus the next level “English Literature 102”. Nut now you have me thinking I should change the name of the post and just say “For beginners”!

  2. Great tips.
    Thank you for sharing.
    I always take “lick it sticks” with me for my dog to lick when the pressure changes in the cabin. I believe they work in the same way as humans sucking on boiled sweets- it prevents ear popping which can be very scary for a dog

    • What a fantastic tip!! Thank you for sharing it with us. Do you have a preferred brand of said “lick it sticks”? I am curious to know.

  3. Airplane toilets are so small it’s nearly impossible to fit the dog, pad and me in it for a pee. Riley is 11 lbs so he’s not as small as Montecristo. He used to fly with me, but it’s too hard now. Also, at LAX I’ve been admonished by an agent in bathroom for letting my dog go on his pad. I hope she was in the minority. It just got to be too big a hassle to fly with Ri.

    • Sorry to hear that Ri no longer travels with you.

      So far we have never had an issue. Of course it is tough for crew to know what we are doing behind closed doors. My biped tends to sit on the Loo feet up while I do my business. Once the pee pad was placed on the baby change table instead. Worked too. Naturally this is only needed if the flight will be more than 4-5 hours. Otherwise I just hold it in.

  4. This is a lot of good information! One of my friends is planning a trip with her small poodle, I’ll have to share this with her.

  5. I sat next to a small dog on a flight once. He was VERY well behaved. No chance of the corgis getting to do this, but my, what an enlightening article. A passport line pat down? Oh my! 🙂

    • Corgi’s are also often just that little bit too heavy … but I know one on the small side that travels all the time! His name is Oscar Wags. His people go to Florida every winter. And he goes too!

  6. In the US, you also get your hands swabbed at security for bomb residue if you take a pet in cabin. We ran into this extremely uninformed TSA person once who wanted me to walk Mr. N through the metal detector by himself without a leash or a collar. He would have done it but I can see a lot of pets making a run for it!

    • I would do it – but wow! We walk through if it’s just the metal detector if it’s a X-ray we ask for the pat down instead.
      Wow…that has yet to happen to us. Mom always brings a print out of the official policy for TSA … JUST in case! have yet to need it but glad to see it isn’t a silly thought!

  7. Pingback: U.S. Canada Border Crossings – with a pet | About Morkies!

  8. Pingback: Our Round Up for Travelling With a Small Dog!

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