26 Things to Know Before Taking Your Pup on a Plane

“The Secret Life of a Service Dog in Training” by BrevisPhotography is licensed under CC BY 2.0

If you’re bringing your furry friend on a trip, you might worry about how they’ll handle the flight. But don’t fret! If you get ready ahead of time, your pup should do well. The trick is to keep your dog calm, and you play a big part in that by staying calm, too! Dogs sense your mood, so if you’re relaxed and not rushing around—your dog should be fine. Here’s what you should know before taking your pup on a plane.

Make sure your dog is okay to fly

white airplane taking off during daytime
Photo by Andrew Palmer on Unsplash

If your dog is too big to fit under a seat on the plane, you can’t bring it with you inside the cabin. Only small dogs that can fit in a carrier under the seat are allowed in the cabin. Also, your pup must be able to stand up and turn around comfortably in the crate. If your furry friend is too big for these rules—it can’t fly inside the cabin with you.

Check airline rules before booking

man in black jacket walking on sidewalk during daytime
Photo by shawnanggg on Unsplash

Many airlines let dogs come inside the cabin, but it’s best to double-check to be sure. Some smaller airlines, specific regional companies, and low-cost airlines might not allow non-service pups on board, even if they’re small enough to fit in a carry-on. Always make sure dogs are allowed on the airline you want to fly with. Then, look at their rules for bringing dogs on their planes.

Book your dog’s ticket too

white and brown long coat large dog
Photo by Pauline Loroy on Unsplash

It’s best to call and buy your ticket. When you book online, there’s usually no way to add your dog. But if there’s an option online, go for it! If not, call the airline to book your ticket directly with them. Let them know about your pup, and they’ll help you reserve a spot for your furry friend on the plane.

Get an approved carrier

shallow focus photography of people inside of passenger plane
Photo by Suhyeon Choi on Unsplash

To bring your pet on the plane, you’ll need an airline-approved carrier. Check for labels like “airline approved” or “air in-cabin approved” on the carrier tag. These are usually soft and meet airline requirements. You can find them online or in stores. Also, remember to note your pet’s weight and size when choosing the carrier.

Let your dog try the crate

dog laying on bed
Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

Get your dog familiar with the carrier by letting it spend time around it. Allow it to sniff and explore it well before your trip. Offer treats if your dog goes inside or play near it. Take short drives around the neighborhood with your pup and place the carrier on the floor to mimic the vibrations of a plane in flight. Doing this can help your furry friend feel less nervous when the flight takes off.

Vet checkup before flying

white and black short coated dog wearing white and black polka dot shirt
Photo by Karsten Winegeart on Unsplash

Ask your vet for a health certificate so your pup can fly. When you purchase your ticket, the airline will tell you what needs to be on the health certificate. Usually, it’s just a checkup to make sure your dog is healthy and doesn’t have any contagious illnesses. Make an appointment with your vet, tell them you’re flying with your pup—and provide them with the necessary paperwork to fill out and sign.

Ask the vet about calming options

shallow focus photography of brown puppy during daytime
Photo by Lydia Torrey on Unsplash

Not all dogs need sedatives, but they can be handy if your pup gets nervous. You know your furry friend best. If it tends to get anxious or restless when stressed, ask your vet about using sedatives for travel. Your vet might give you something to keep your dog calm during the flight. If they do, try it out a few days before your trip to see how your dog reacts.

Consider getting a calming collar or shirt

black and white short coated dog
Photo by Victor Grabarczyk on Unsplash

If your pup tends to get a bit anxious but your vet doesn’t suggest sedatives, consider getting a Thundershirt or a calming collar. A Thundershirt is like a cozy, snug sweater that helps keep your dog calm. Calming collars release pheromones to reduce anxiety. Now, here’s something to keep in mind: Don’t give your furry friend any over-the-counter anxiety medication without your vet’s approval.

Put tags on your dog and label their crate

shallow focus photo of short-coated white, brown, and black dog
Photo by Luke MacGillivray on Unsplash

Having your contact information on your pup and its carrier is important. This ensures that if something bad happens and you’re separated from your furry friend, people can get in touch with you. Attach all of your dog’s vaccine tags to their collar—and make sure your phone number and name are on at least one tag. Also, put a label on their crate just in case someone picks it up thinking it’s lost luggage.

Avoid feeding your dog on the day of the flight

Adult Brown and White Pembroke Welsh Corgi Near the Body of Water
Photo by muhannad alatawi on Pexels

Unless your flight is very late, waiting to feed your dog until after you land is best. This can help prevent your pup from feeling sick or throwing up during the flight. Plus, it reduces the chance of it needing to go potty mid-flight, which can be a hassle to deal with. Make sure to give it water regularly throughout the day, but limit it to a few hours before the flight.

Give your dog some exercise before the journey

brown puppy on green grass
Photo by Mia Anderson on Unsplash

A few hours before you leave, ensure your dog gets some exercise. Take it for a longer walk than usual, play fetch in the yard, or have a tug-of-war session with its favorite toy. Aim to tire it out just before heading to the airport. Dogs are usually calmer when tired, so if you time it well, your pup might even sleep through the flight happily!

Remember to bring your dog’s paperwork

selective focus photography of short-coated brown puppy facing right side
Photo by Berkay Gumustekin on Unsplash

Even if you don’t need a health certificate, bringing your dog’s vaccine records is a good idea. Before your flight, make copies of your dog’s latest vaccination records. You might not need them, but having proof that your pup is vaccinated can save you trouble if you encounter strict regulations or a thorough TSA agent.

Plan to arrive at the airport early to avoid rushing

man in black jacket walking on hallway
Photo by Maëva Vigier on Unsplash

Make sure to give yourself extra time to deal with any unexpected problems. Besides the hassle of going through security, it’s good to have time to give your dog a quick walk before going into the airport or after passing security. Arriving at least one hour earlier than you normally would if you were traveling alone also allows your dog to explore the airport and get used to the hustle and bustle. 

Take your dog to relieve themselves before boarding

medium short-coated white dog lying on green grass field
Photo by Angel Luciano on Unsplash

Even if your dog doesn’t usually need to go, offer it a chance before boarding. You can take it for a walk outside the airport near a hedge or look for an indoor pet relief area with fake grass inside the airport. Make sure they use the bathroom before you board—you won’t be able to let them out of the carrier on the plane. 

Keep your dog calm while waiting at the gate

brown and black long haired dachshund
Photo by Kojirou Sasaki on Unsplash

Airlines have the right to refuse boarding if a dog is misbehaving. If your dog is barking a lot, growling, or acting aggressively in its carrier, airline staff might not let you on the plane. Before and during boarding, give your dog gentle head scratches, try to calm it down, or offer them a chew toy. Even if your dog is a service animal, it’s important to reassure them and keep them calm at the gate.

Remember that accidents can happen, so be prepared

adultgolden retriever
Photo by John Price on Unsplash

If your pet isn’t comfortable in its kennel or gets very anxious, it might hurt itself during the flight. It could try to bite or scratch the kennel to escape, leading to cuts or scratches. That’s why it’s essential to be ready by having some medicines and first aid supplies for your dog. Make sure the medicines are recommended by a vet.

Look for pet relief areas at the airport

people sitting on chair inside building
Photo by Phil Mosley on Unsplash

Lots of airports have special areas for pets to relieve themselves. Whether you want to make sure your dog goes potty before your flight or during a layover, these stations are handy. They’re usually inside the airport and have fake grass. Some even have a pretend fire hydrant! Your dog will feel like its outside. Before your trip—call and check if your airport has a pet relief station so you can plan ahead.

Check how many dogs you’re allowed to bring

black and white long coated small dog
Photo by Sebastian Coman Travel on Unsplash

Do you have a bunch of dogs? That’s awesome! But depending on how many you have—you might have to decide which ones can come on the flight with you. Once again, call your airline before your flight to make sure you know how many pups you’re allowed to bring. Hopefully, there’s space for all your furry pals on the plane!

Be mindful of your dog’s weight

Shallow Focus Photography of White Dog's Paws
Photo by Engin Akyurt on Pexels

Apart from the number of dogs you’re bringing, you also need to consider their weight. Most airlines prefer smaller dogs, usually those under 20 pounds. If your pup is medium-sized or bigger, you might have to pay extra or not be allowed to bring it at all. To be safe, contact your airline well before your trip to learn the rules. It’ll make things easy when you arrive!

Keep your dog comfy in any weather

shallow focus photography of adult yellow Labrador retriever
Photo by Daniel Hering on Unsplash

Depending on your destination, airline, and your dog’s location during the trip—they might feel hot or cold. Some airlines have heaters or air conditioners to keep pets comfortable. To keep your pup from getting too cold, pack its kennel with warm blankets or even a shirt of yours. It’ll remind it of home and could make the trip easier for them.

Bring pee pads in case of accidents

adult chocolate Labrador retriever
Photo by James Barker on Unsplash

Hey, some flights can be very long. Even if your dog is great at holding it in, being in a stressful situation and a new place can make it forget its training. That’s why it’s a good idea to pack some pee-pee pads in their kennel. It’s much better than having your pup use their blankets as a bathroom!

Pack your dog’s essentials along with your own

a brown and white dog with a red bow on it's head
Photo by Edson Torres on Unsplash

Some of your pup’s stuff (like its favorite toys) might be in their kennel for the flight, but most of it should go in your luggage. This includes food and water bowls, their bed, grooming supplies, medications, sweaters, jackets—and any clothes they wear. You might have to pay extra for another bag or two, so it’s super important to keep that in mind.

Bring your dog’s favorite toys or blankets for comfort

short-coated brown and black dog in close-up photo
Photo by Lucie Helešicová on Unsplash

If your furry friend is getting ready for its first flight—it might feel a bit confused. Leaving home for a new adventure can be strange for it. That’s why it’s very helpful to bring along their favorite toys or cozy bed. These familiar things will help it feel comfortable in their new surroundings. And don’t forget its treats! They’ll make your dog feel even happier and more comfortable.

Take your dog to the bathroom as soon as you land

White and Red Plane Beside Clouds Low-angle Photography
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels

As soon as you land, take your dog outside so it can go to the bathroom. Even if it used pee pee pads in the kennel, it might need to go again—especially now that your dog is outside in a more familiar place. If you can’t get it outside right away because you’re waiting for your luggage, you can use the pet relief stations mentioned earlier.

Reward your dog after the flight

Person Touching Golden Retriever
Photo by Alice Castro on Pexels

Your dog did great on their first flight, handling it like a champ with only a few little messes. It could have been worse—they could have escaped or gotten hurt. Now’s the time to reward it for being so good. Hopefully, you packed its favorite treats like we mentioned earlier. If not, you might want to go grab some. Don’t forget to give it lots of head pats and belly rubs, too. Your dog totally deserves it!

Help your dog get used to the new place

close-up photography of adult brown and white border collie
Photo by Anna Dudkova on Unsplash

You’ll be getting used to your new place, especially if it’s somewhere you’ve never been before. But remember, your dog doesn’t know why you’re there. Take some extra time to help it adjust to the new spot. Whether you’re at the beach or somewhere else, take your pup for a walk. Let it sniff around your hotel room or rental home. Be patient with it—it needs to feel comfy, too, just like you do.