Although the Humane Society of the United States recommends that you do not transport your dog by air unless absolutely necessary, if you must travel this way when taking your dog on vacation with you, it is best to keep your dog on board with you if at all possible. Based on reports by pet owners, animals have been killed, injured or lost on commercial flights. The cargo area of a plane is not designed to support life, with poor ventilation, excessively hot or cold temperatures and scarcity of oxygen, and the cargo is handled roughly. Because of laws that have been passed in recent years, all American-based airlines are now required to report animal incidents that occur in the cargo areas of their planes, including injuries, deaths and losses of pets. Many airlines now have restrictions on accepting pets as cargo.
If you must travel by plane and want to take your dog with you, consider using a company whose primary business is to transport animals. If this is not feasible, your first decision is whether or not you can take him on board with you, which is your best option. If your dog is small, most airlines will allow you to take him on board for an additional fee. Call the airline well in advance of your flight to find out about this option as the number of animals allowed in the cabin area is limited.
There are several things you need to do before you begin making any arrangements to take your dog on vacation. First you need to make sure that your dog insurance covers any travel you may undertake. The majority of policies do but you can opt for extra coverage if it does not. That information will be in your policy documents. You will also need to be aware of the laws of the country to which you are heading because you may actually need to put your dog in quarantine in some countries. When you take your dog on vacation, this may be an issue, so the key is to avoid countries that have such policies.
Checking the policy of the individual airline for transporting your dog is also necessary. The vast majority of airlines will allow you to take your dog on vacation as long as you book it well in advance. However, you do need to contact the airline and ask about their rules and regulations concerning that to ensure that you do not arrive at the airport only to find that you can not take your dog with you. Some questions to ask when you contact the airline include:
- Does the airline allow small dogs in the cabin area of the plane?
- If that option is not available, does the airline have any restrictions on transporting your dog as cargo?
- Does the airline have any special requirements regarding pet health and immunization?
- Does the airline require a specific type of carrier? Most airlines will accept either soft-sided or hard-sided carriers but only certain brands of soft-sided carriers are accepted by certain airlines.
If it's necessary for your dog to travel in the cargo area of the plane, following these tips can increase the chances of a safe flight:
- Use direct flights to avoid mistakes that may occur during airline transfers and possible delays in removing your dog from the airplane.
- Always travel on the same airplane flight as your dog and ask if you can observe your dog being loaded and unloaded in the cargo hold.
- When you board the airplane, make the captain and at least one flight attendant aware that your dog is traveling in the cargo hold so that, perhaps, special precautions will be taken.
- Do not ever transport dogs with pug noses in cargo holds as these breeds have short nasal passages that make them vulnerable to oxygen deprivation and heat stroke.
- If you are traveling during temperature extremes such as summer or winter months, choose early morning or late evening flights in the summer and afternoon flights in the winter to better accommodate the temperature extremes.
- Make sure your dog has a collar that can not get caught in carrier doors and that there are two pieces of identification on the collar, one that is permanent with your name, home address and telephone number, and a temporary travel ID with the address and phone number where you or a contact person can be reached.
- A travel label that includes your name, permanent address and telephone number, final destination and where you or a contact person can be reached should be affixed to the carrier.
- Making sure that your dog's nails have been clipped will protect against them being caught in the carrier's door, holes or other crevices and causing injury to your dog.
- Make your dog familiar with the travel carrier at least a month before your flight to minimize stress during travel.
- If your dog requires tranquilizers, have your veterinarian prescribe them and make sure the vet knows they are for air travel.
- Not feeding your dog for 4 to 6 hours prior to air travel is recommended but small amounts of water can be given before the trip. It is advised to place ice cubes in the water tray that is attached to the inside of your dog's crate, if possible, as a full bowl of water will only spill and cause discomfort.
- It is not recommended to take your dog on vacation via plane during busy travel times such as holidays and the summer as the chances are greater for rough handling during these hectic times.
- It's a good idea to carry a current photograph of your dog so that, if your dog is lost during the trip, it will be easier for airline staff to search more efficiently.
- Upon arrival at your destination, examine your dog as soon as possible and, if anything seems amiss, take him immediately to a veterinarian and get the results of the examination in writing, including the date and time.
Obviously, the best choice of travel when taking your dog on vacation is by vehicle but air travel is doable if you follow the above recommendations.