Whether you’re planning for a short flight or dreaming of your dream vacation across the world with your pet by your side, successful airline travel begins with careful preparation and research. Flying with pets can be a great experience. However, there are some unique risks and concerns that need to be addressed. We’re going to look at how you can set yourself up for a comfortable and enjoyable flight for both you and your pet.
Be Prepared with These 6 Airline Travel Tips for Pets
Learn the Rules and Regulations
When booking your flight, take the time to research the rules, restrictions, and fees for each of the airlines that you are considering. This includes confirming that your pet can travel in the cabin with you (check weight limits), the size of pet carrier that is permitted, and what paperwork is necessary for you to travel based on both the airline and your destination. Remember that every airline and destination will be different, and these pet policies can change over time, so it’s safer to not rely solely on past experiences.
Print out and carry a hard copy of all required paperwork. While you can carry these documents easily on your phone, you don’t want to be caught with a dead battery or a tech issue at a time when you must provide documentation to continue your travels.
Purchase An Airline-Approved Pet Carrier
There are regulations to consider when it comes to determining which pet travel carriers are permitted onboard a flight. These are designed to be secure and provide adequate ventilation so that your dog or cat is both safe and comfortable throughout your flight. Some additional features to consider include a waterproof bottom (and potentially adding pee pads as a precaution), a comfortable should strap for carrying and privacy panels to help keep your pet calm and shielded from the activity around them.
When choosing the correct size of carrier, there are two important features to consider. First, the airline itself will have a maximum sizing that you must adhere to in order to fly with your pet in-cabin. Second, you want to make sure that the carrier is large enough for your pet to be comfortable. They should be able to stand up and turn around easily if the carrier is sized properly.
Though sizing guides will be similar for dogs and cats alike, you’ll want to consider the features of your carrier for your specific pet – durability, comfort, and safety.
Purchase your pet’s carrier well before your planned trip to give them time to get used to it. You can help to make their time in the carrier a positive experience by feeding your pet in it or giving treats while they are inside. This will help to alleviate stress during the flight as it will be a familiar and ‘safe’ space.
Make Plans for Your Pet’s Bathroom Needs
If you’re a frequent flyer, then you know that you aren’t always going to stay on schedule. This could mean waiting at the airport for an extended time while waiting for your flight to board during a delay or even changing plans and flights altogether from a cancellation. Though dogs and cats can generally go between 4 and 6 hours between bathroom breaks, having only one before entering the airport may not be enough.
Many airports now offer a ‘potty area’ for pets where they provide a designated spot with fake grass for dogs to go to the bathroom. However, the smell associated with other animals having used this space can quickly turn a pet off using this location. And if you’re traveling with your cat, this may not be ideal at all.
One great recommendation is to bring a potty pad and small garbage bag with you on your dog needs to go to the bathroom, find a location away from others like a family-style washroom and allow them to use the potty pad, cleaning up behind yourself with the bag which can then be disposed of. Similarly with cats, you can pack a portable litter box, but you’ll need to set aside enough time to set it up and clean up after use.
Avoid feeding your pet or giving them large quantities of water right before your flight. Instead, save mealtime for when you’re back on solid ground with plenty of opportunities outdoors or in a litter box to relieve themselves afterward.
Book Your Seat Strategically
If you know that you are going to be flying in-cabin with your pet, take that into consideration when choosing your seat. When possible, book a window seat. And remember that your dog or cat will need to remain inside their carrier at all times and under the seat in front of you during both take-off and landing.
If your fellow passengers have to get up to go to the bathroom or simply want to stretch out their legs, having your pet closest to the window will prevent anyone from tripping over them or accidentally kicking their carrier. Flying can be a stressful enough experience without adding complex maneuvers to it.
Generally window seats also have a little more room under the seat in front of them than aisle seats, so that’s another reason to sit by the window with your pet.
Make Sure Your Pet is Comfortable in Crowds
If your pet is anxious or upset in noisy or crowded places, this is something that you should start to address in the weeks and months leading up to your flight. If you’re traveling with a cat that has never left your home or apartment, this is even more important! Slowly introduce more people and noise to your pet, allowing them to become comfortable with the hustle and bustle.
If you live close enough to the airport, you can even take your pet to the airport itself and take a walk through while walking past groups of people, listening to announcements over the PA system and even riding the escalator.
If that’s not an option – or even if it is – taking practice car rides is another way to help prepare both you and your pet for travel together.
If you have a pet that is overly stressed and the process of desensitizing isn’t working, reach out to your veterinarian to discuss the use of calming treats or a pheromone spray.
The more comfortable that your pet is moving through the airport in their carrier, the less stressed that they will be when you finally do board your plane and get settled. While you don’t want to be an the airport for hours and hours, building in a little time to decompress before boarding is also a good idea.
Pack A Chew Toy for Take-Off and Landing
If you have previously flown, then you know the feeling of the pressure changes and the experience of having your ears pop when taking off or landing. This is an experience that your pet will also feel at these times.
While we can’t have a discussion with our pets about how to use common tricks like yawning, we can help to relieve the discomfort by giving them a chew toy or a hard, chewy treat.
Flying with Brachycephalic Breeds
There are additional health concerns when it comes to flying with brachycephalic dogs or cats. In fact, many airlines have started to put restrictions on flying with these breeds.
Brachycephalic is defined as ‘short-headed’. This refers to breeds that have a shorter muzzle or nose or the appearance of a flattened face such as Pugs, Boston Terriers, Pekingese, Bulldogs, and Persian cats. The shape and structure of their heads, throats, nasal passages, and muzzles can have an impact on their ability to breathe, making them more susceptible to the changes in temperature and altitude that they will experience while flying.
While it is safer to fly with these pets in-cabin due to the fact that you can better control the environment and care for your pet, it is important to learn to recognize the warning signs of stress in your pet and how to address it. This includes louder or labored breathing, wheezing, gagging, choking, or vomiting among other signs.
If you are planning on flying with a Brachycephalic breed, it is recommended that you first make an appointment with your veterinarian for a full examination. This will allow your vet to identify any underlying issues that you may not be aware of. If they do determine that your pet is healthy enough to fly safely, they may also be able to recommend products to make their experience more comfortable.
Do you fly with your pet? If so, we would love to hear about how you prepare and what steps you take to keep your pet comfortable.
Feel free to share your pet airline travel tips in the comments!