Is it Safe to Fly with a Dog?
Flying with a dog or live animal seems kinda messy these days. You may have heard about the recent fiascos involving pets, courtesy of United Airlines.
These nightmare stories are certainly terrifying, but the fact is that people fly with their dogs all the time—both in cargo and in cabin, and most of the time everyone arrives safely.
However, these horror stories do little to assuage our fears of putting our pets in the hands of those whom we do not trust. As pet owners, we are all left wondering whether it is safe to fly with a dog, even if we want to bring our pet with us on our journey.
Sora has accompanied us on several domestic and cross-continental flights (including through the European Union), both as a dog in cabin as an emotional support animal and in cargo for international air transport over the past several years, always without any serious issues.
We do believe that it is safe to fly with your dog or service animal / service dogs, as long as you do your research and necessary preparation beforehand.
It’s a bit like driving. Driving is far less safe than flying (as in you’d have to fly every day for 19 thousand years to succumb to a fatal accident in a plane), but since we do it every single day, it’s more comfortable for us.
Is Flying with a Dog Safe: The Numbers
Whether it is travel in the cabin (with a seat in the front or below a seat) or in cargo, air travel with a dog is stressful and worrisome, but like most bad news we hear, it’s the small percentage of the reality.
Animals travel by air all the time. It’s not uncommon for a humane society to transport animals to and from shelters across the country, and even the world.
In 2018, the United States Department of Transportation reported 0.79 deaths or injuries per 10,000 animals on US carriers. This number is down from 0.92 in 2017 (click images below to enlarge).
Of those incidents over the two years, you can see that United accounted for the most of any airline with 54 total occurrences, far more than any other airline (the airline just announced suspension of pets in cargo hold to reassess their standards).
Compared to Alaska, which transported nearly as many animals during that span with just six incidents, United seems to have some ‘splaining to do.
Major commercial airlines have been required to file pet incident reports since 2005, but it has only been since 2015 that they have had to report the total number of animals traveling on flights. I was unable to find reports from international airlines, unfortunately.
Know your Dog
Airlines report that many incidents with pets occur out of their hands while traveling as cargo, such as injury to themselves in their pet carrier due to anxiety.
It is your responsibility to know your dog and determine what it can handle. If your dog is prone to anxiety and fearful, flying might not be the best option. Maybe consider hiring a dog walker or pet sitter to take care of your pooch.
Your dog is probably OK to fly if she:
- Has few tendencies toward anxiety.
- Feels comfortable with new places and different experiences.
- Is OK being on her own for multiple hours at a time.
- Does not react to other people or dogs.
- Knows her kennel is a safe space well before flying.
Reconsider flying (and finding a pet sitter) if your dog:
- Suffers from separation anxiety or claustrophobia.
- Is destructive when left alone.
- Is a snub-nosed breed like a pug, Boston terrier, or boxer, as they can have respiratory issues.
Click here for our list of recommended dog kennels for flying.
Talk to Your Vet before Flying with a Pet
Before hitting the skies with your pet, schedule a visit with her vet and ask and/or confirm the following:
- Whether your pet in good physical condition to fly.
- Does my pet have the required documents to fly?
The answer differs for domestic versus international fights.
- Your dog is microchipped.
- Do you have an up-to-date health certificate?
- Make sure that your dog is up to date on rabies, flea and tick, and heartworm medications.
- Fill any prescriptions your dog requires and ensure that you have plenty extra in case of emergency or delay.
- How you can keep your dog calm during the flight. Tranquilizers are not recommended as they can interfere with a dog’s ability to control body heat. Instead, consider something like CBD oil or treats (and be sure to check regulations about flying with CBD oil), calming drops, or a thunder jacket.
For a comprehensive overview on how to fly internationally with a dog, read our blog post for a successful trip.
Choosing a Pet Safe Airline
If your dog is over 20lbs, you will likely have to put your dog in the cargo hold, ask the following questions of your airline before booking the flight:
Is the cargo area climate-controlled?
Depending on your destination and the time of year you plan to travel, book your flight based on the temperature.
Most airlines will not transport a dog in temperatures exceeding 85F degrees or below 45F. Plan a late or early arrival to avoid complications with weather.
Is the cargo area separate from the baggage area?
If this is not the case, then find another airline or confirm that the baggage area is climate-controlled.
Often times, there is no need to control the temperature of the baggage, and this could be bad news for your dog.
What are your check-in procedures?
These should be handled at the airline’s cargo facility. This means that you bring your kenneled dog to the cargo facility, accompanied by an airline staff member.
Confirm that your dog is tracked throughout each stage of the journey.
Do you follow a “last on, first off policy?”
This means that pets are given priority over other baggage and are never left sitting on the tarmac where is can be hot or cold and really scary to the pet.
Are all of your transport vehicles temperature-controlled?
Just like the cargo area, you want to make sure that your dog can fit comfortably throughout the process, including transportation to the plane itself.
Do you have staff members specifically trained in handling pets as cargo?
Some airlines, like Alaska have pet travel programs that include staff trained to work with animals.
Do you take my dog out for potty/walk/food and watering during a layover?
Some airlines, like Lufthansa take pets to a special area (they’re kind of like a pet friendly hotel if dogs were humans) where they give them a break to go potty, have a bit of food and watering.
Once you’re at the airport, tell every single person you encounter who works with the airline that you have your pet on board in cargo.
Before you board, ask if you can watch your dog be loaded onto the plane so that you know that she has made it safely. Confirm that she is on board when you change flights as well.
Tell the flight attendants and captain, if you see him, that you have a dog in the cargo area so that they know to control the temperature and pressure as needed.
See our full list of questions to ask before traveling with a large dog in cargo.
General Tips on Safety
Make sure that all of your contact information is up to date, in the case that your pet is lost, the microchip scan will display correct details.
Label your pet’s collar or harness and the kennel with your phone number, email, and destination address.
Consider using a quick-release or martingale collar, in the event that your pet becomes anxious or scared.
All right, so going back to our original question: Is flying with a dog safe? Yes, we think that the majority of the time it is.
If you do your part to ensure the safety of your pet and assess whether or not he or she is a good candidate for flying, then we believe that flying with a dog does not have to result in death or injury.
Do your homework, ask all the questions, and then ask them again, even if you’re flying with service animals.
We’ve found the American Veterinary Medical Association to be a great resource for general frequently asked questions.
What To Know Before Flying Your Dog in Airplane Cargo
A few weeks ago, I did a post on boarding your dogs while you go on vacation. But what if you need to travel WITH your larger dog and fly them in cargo?
Whether going on an extended vacation, or moving to a new place, sometimes they need to fly. These tips for flying a dog in cargo will help ease your worries!
Dog Travel Essentials
Research Available Options For Flying Your Dog
When we moved from Puerto Rico to Alaska, we were pretty limited on airlines that accept dogs in cargo. There were a few options to pick from, but most don’t have air conditioned cargo holds, where larger dogs have to go.
Planes without air conditioned cargo holds mean they can’t transport live animals on flights where the air temperature either at the departure or arrival airports can’t be above 85 degrees. Well, living in the Caribbean meant it was often hotter than that.
We couldn’t risk flight cancellations for the babies, as we were on a fairly tight schedule. In the end, we were limited to United Petsafe, and they did a great job with our babies.
They even kept me updated on the pups’ status when I reached to them out on social media. Luckily, many places have more options. Alaska Airlines has great feedback on flights, and they’re fairly affordable too!
How and When To Book Your Dog’s Cargo Flight
I suggest booking as far in advance as possible to ensure you get a spot on the plane for your pet. There are often limits to how many animals can be transported.
Booking as soon as you know your travel dates will help make sure you get the dates you need.
If it’s a very long flight, confirm with the airline if an overnight stay is needed.
With our move, our pack had to spend a night at the airport boarding facility in Chicago.
Important: If your dog does have an overnight stay, check to see if there are any holidays during those dates!
We’d booked their flight months in advance. A week before their trip, I got a call from United that they didn’t realize the airport boarding was closed for Memorial Day, which was the day the pups were supposed to be there.
On top of that, they didn’t have any spots on the flight the day before, and we were flying out the day after them.
We had to pick a new date a few days before we expected, and scramble to get all 3 dogs into the vet for the pre-flight health check (more on that later). It all worked out, but I was one stressed dog mom for sure!
What Should I Do Before My Dog Travels in Freight?
I recommend purchasing a travel appropriate crate as soon as you can. We kept ours in the living room and would occasionally drop treats inside to get them acclimated to it.
It wasn’t Ginger’s first trip (we brought her to PR with us) but she was definitely the most worried as she’s never been a fan of small spaces.
If your pup knows it’s a safe spot, it’ll make the flight easier. You definitely want to take accurate measurements of your dog and verify with the airlines on crate measurements.
Rico is our tall dude and even though he was only 45lb, he was a couple inches taller than our 70lb Ginger was. They wanted us to put him in the larger crate.
Luckily, because he was just at the height limit, they let it slide, which was good because he was settled in, anxious, and refused to leave his crate!
You also want to confirm flight requirements right away. Most require a health certificate from your vet dated within 10 days of travel. There are also some breed restrictions due to potential breathing problems, so be aware of that.
The airline had us put bottles with water inside, which were basically hamster bottles…good luck getting my not-so-intelligent pups to use that! We used containers similar to the ones above.
We put them underneath the water nozzle to catch the drips, and froze water in one so it would start to melt after they were inside and they could lick the ice water up.
The other was left empty for the airlines to put food in. We did a trial run with the bottle/container and it worked great!
Military Families – You Gotta Read This!
SPCA International’s Operation Military Pets is a fantastic resource in aiding military families keep their pets when facing a PCS to/from overseas.
They help by providing financial assistance for pet relocation costs. Trust me, I know how expensive it can be moving your pets.
Three large dogs flying from Puerto Rico to Alaska was not cheap! They’re so worth it, but UGH it was spendy! You can apply for financial assistance grants within 3 months of travel, but it does take awhile for acceptance notifications if you’re selected.
What to Do the Day of Travel
By the time the day of travel came, Roxy & Rico were more comfortable with their travel crates, and when it was time to drop them off at the airport, they went right in without hesitation. Ginge took a little prodding, but she did great!
Try not to stress, because that can cause them to feel anxious as well.
Giving drugs to your pet isn’t recommended, as that can cause issues with breathing. I swiped some lavender oil on their kennels to help relax them a bit.
Check with the airline on a recommended feeding schedule. Ours didn’t want them to have food within 4 hours of the flight in case they had tummy issues.
They had us pack ziploc bags of food and they taped it to the top of the kennel, along with their leash and collar. We signed paperwork, said a quick goodbye and see you soon, and they were off on their biggest adventure!
Pickup Time To Get Your Dog
Confirm when and where your pup is supposed to be picked up. It’s generally the cargo area of the airport and could be a few miles away from the passenger terminal.
When you go to open their crate, make sure you have an extra person available to help get them leashed up so they don’t run off out of fear. Flying is stressful!
If your travel schedule doesn’t allow for you to pick your dog up, a local boarding kennel may be able to help. Due to the last minute date change, we were no longer arriving the same day as our pups.
I was able to find an amazing kennel in Anchorage that was able to bring their van to the airport at 9:30pm to pick them up and keep them for a few days until we arrived.
They were nice enough to post pictures like the one below on Facebook for me, which you know I greatly appreciated!
Acclimate Your Dog to New Surroundings
The day we picked up the babies was the best day, as our family was together! We were lucky and had arranged our rental house and were able to walk the backyard to check for possible escape routes before picking up the pups.
We also tried to keep their world small for a few days and didn’t take them on car adventures until they knew we weren’t dropping them off at a scary airport again.
If we’d realized how great CBD oil would be for Rico, we definitely would’ve used that! Read up on the benefits of CBD oil here.
I’m pretty sure we spent the entire next day in our new house in a giant puppy pile! Give your pet lots of love and reassurance and they’ll adapt just fine!