Flying With your Dog
By Patrick Shannahan

September 24th, 2013

The Finals are a few weeks away. For me, it would be nearly impossible to drive to the Finals. It would take three and a half days for me to drive one way, so I would be on the road for over a week in travel. The only way that I can attend a Final on the East Coast is for my dogs and I to fly.

Some people tell me they would never fly their dog. That is their choice, but I actually think flying the dogs will be far less stressful than being stuck in a car for a week. If my dog was extremely nervous, or sound sensitive, I might make some other plans. But for now, we are joining the frequent flyer club.

So here are a few suggestions for those of you who are thinking of flying with your dog.

  • Find out what airlines fly out of your airport. Not all airlines fly dogs as excess baggage. Some don’t fly dogs as excess baggage during the summer months. Others make you fly the dogs through air cargo.

  • Check out the cost. The range varies greatly. I have heard prices as low as $70 each way for excess baggage dog, to making you fly the dog as cargo (which would be very expensive.) Out of my airport, I have the choices of Delta, Alaska and United. I have tried to develop good relationships with my local representatives of Delta and Alaska so I know they will do everything they can to make my trip go smoothly.

  • When you make your reservation for yourself, call the airline and make a reservation for your dog as well. Most airlines only allow a certain number of dogs on a flight, so make sure your spot is reserved. Call the day you make your reservation as if the plane is full with other dogs, they can change your ticket for no cost to you. It costs nothing to make the dog reservation.

  • Go to the airlines website and find the requirements for travel as each can vary. Some require a health certificate while others do not. Some want the dog brought to the ticket counter, others may have you take it to the air cargo department. Find out how big of a crate would be required as you don’t want to get to the airport and have your dog rejected for having too small of a crate. You and I might know that he is fine in a small crate, but the airlines have guidelines for protecting the dogs, the owners and themselves.

  • The day of the flight, I usually feed very lightly. The dogs might not be able to get out of their kennels for a while, so I don’t need them flying with a full belly. When we get to our destination, I will give them a bigger meal.

  • Make sure your dog is comfortable in their crate with bedding and possibly a chew toy from home.

  • Arrive at the airport early. Nothing worse than being short on time trying to check in dogs. Most of the time, you will have to accompany the dogs through TSA and then go through security as well. Depending on the airport, I would arrive ½ hour to 1 hour earlier than normal.

  • After checking the dogs in and going through TSA, your trip is pretty normal until you get to your destination.

  • When I board a flight, I ask the person greeting me on the flight to please inform me when my dogs get on. I let them know where I am sitting. Most airlines have a tag system when they board the dogs, they tear off a small tag that says the dogs are on the flight and come and give it to you. Many times, the person in the back might just have to call the Captain of the plane to ask if they were loaded.

  • After arriving to your destination, go to the baggage area. Ask the airline baggage service desk where you should pick your dog up. I usually rent a small cart at this point to take my dog to my vehicle.

Let me say a few words about the airlines. They try to do the best job that they can. The employees many times give extra effort so we can fly our dogs. At times I hear of people making a huge fuss if things aren’t going their way with their flight or with the dogs travel. It is important to remember that the airline does not have to take dogs at all. They offer it as an additional service. They are not required to take our dogs. Let’s not make it so difficult for the airlines that they decide not to take dogs.

At the same time, I always let the airline know how much I appreciate them taking good care of the dogs. I might throw in a sentence like: “I am thankful you are helping me with the dogs. It is the reason I am flying your airline. If there were additional tickets purchased for family or friends, I would also mention that. Our dog community is a huge consumer for the airlines, and it is good to remind them of our purchasing power.

Flying a dog with you doesn’t have to be a scary event. With planning, it can really go smoothly and both you and the dogs will enjoy the trip. I look forward to flying with my dogs to the Nationals in a few weeks. They are experienced travelers, and it should make for a good trip.

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