Flying is stressful enough these days with all the security hassles and baggage limits and $5 bottles of tap water, so the thought of bringing a dog along for the ride may seem an obvious non-starter. That assumption, it turns out, is misguided. The hows and whys depend on a few crucial factors – your destination, travel time, and the size of your dog, for instance – but in most cases bringing Fido on your next vacay is almost always doable.
Curiously, the regulatory guidelines for pet travel in the U.S. are headed by the USDA – you know the good people in charge of our food supply – but individual airlines and the FAA have additional rules and guidelines, as do all the other countries in the world. So before booking a ticket anywhere, see what requirements may exist in whatever country you're traveling to, and then check those of any airlines you consider, to make sure your ducks are in a row, as it were. For instance, the U.K.makes you jump through hoops to bring in a dog of any type except pre-registered service animals (it's possible, but insanely complicated), and most carriers limit the total number of animals allowed on board at a time.
Within the U.S, travelers can fly anywhere with a pet without a hitch except Hawaii; since rabies has been eradicated there, cats and dogs have to go through a months' long process and meet stringent requirements or risk being quarantined for up to 120 days. Obviously there are fees, usually from $100 to $200 depending on the size, and many airlines require you to carry your pet's health records with you. Larger dogs, generally over 20 pounds have to fly in cargo with most major carriers (excepting service dogs). And carriers all have the right of refusal if there are too many dogs on board already, or if your pup exhibits aggressive behavior. And while your lap dog may be allowed on board instead of being checked with cargo, few airlines anymore allow you to remove your pup from its carrier during the flight, though some airlines will at least let you soothe your dog by placing the carrier in your lap.
Many airlines restrict specific breeds from traveling, thanks to the false image of them being inherently aggressive, such as pit bulls or Rottweilers. It is not just the big scary dogs that are banned or discouraged from flying, though; brachycephalic dogs, or ones with smushed faces like French Bulldogs or Pugs, aren't supposed to fly because of their tendency to develop upper respiratory issues due to the change of altitude. (You may be able to get an exemption letter from your vet stating your pooch is in good health, though.)
International flights are usually trickier (and pets aren't even allowed on most long-haul flights anyway). Canada and many European countries allow the majority of dogs to fly without major restrictions (assuming you carry up-to-date records, and minus breeds deemed dangerous); however, many South American countries ban pet travel outright or may require that animals remain in quarantine for long periods. You'll also likely need to bring your vet records to the airport in advance of your flight to get a stamp of approval from the international carrier or your dog will be turned away when checking in. Some countries even require that your pet be microchipped.
If your dog is allowed to fly in-cabin, be sure to purchase a carrier case that meets federal and your airline standards – many manufacturers falsely advertise that their bags are pre-approved, which doesn't exist. The only hard measurement to go on is that your carrier be no larger than 19 inches long by 13 wide by 19 high (some wiggle room is allowed for slightly larger soft or collapsible bags though). Argo bags, although expensive, are great cases that maximize comfort and ensure your dog boards the plane with you.
Larger dogs end up in a cargo hold that is climate-controlled and safe, but typically require a special crate that can be locked down for safety and can be stressful for your pet. Noise is often an issue, so consider MuttMuffs to help cancel out the engine noise so your dog doesn't develop any phobias after traveling. Food and snacks are a must when flying with your pet, and be sure to properly hydrate the dog before boarding. Most importantly, resist the temptation to give your dog a sedative – they can actually prove fatal when flying. Finally, add a piece of clothing with your scent on it to his or her crate. This will create a sense of familiarity and reduce the stress levels of your travel companion.
MensJournal.com contributor Taylor McKenna is the head trainer and a co-founder of The Confident Dog in Brooklyn, New York.