Not every adventure is road trip friendly. If you like exploring and experiencing faraway lands, chances are, your pup does, too! Adventuring by air is relatively simple with small dogs, but what about your big buddy? There’s a little more preparation to be done but flying with a large dog can be done comfortably, safely, and relatively stress-free.
What To Do First
Before taking to the skies on your next adventure, there’s some prep to get done first. Your pre-trip booking checklist should include:
Crate training – Flying with a large breed dog will mean they need to spend some time crated in the cargo hold of the plane. Ideally, your dog will find their crate to be a safe, comfortable, and comforting place before you take to the skies. According to the American Kennel Club, dogs are natural den animals, and a dog crate mimics the dens they would take to in the wild. This doesn’t mean that kennel comfort will always come naturally straight away, but it does mean that it’s relatively simple to get your dog happily acclimated to enjoying a crate over time.
To get your dog comfortable with their crate if they’re not already, make sure you associate the crate with good things! Never use the crate as punishment, but a pleasant place they can go to get a little rest and relaxation. Using Kong toys or treats, give them something special to look forward to while in the crate. Make sure their crate is comfortable with a comfort pad or a favorite cuddly toy. The more you associate the crate with positivity, the easier your Fido will learn to love the time they spend resting in it. Having a safe space they enjoy will make the flight much more comfortable even with all of the new sounds, smells, and sights they’re experiencing.
Research your airlines – Before booking your flight, make sure to spend some time researching your prospective airlines. All airlines have different requirements, rules, and regulations when it comes to flying with a large dog, and you’ll want to make sure the one you choose is a good fit. For instance, Hawaiian Airlines has a maximum crate size of 48” L x 32” W x 35” H and 277 lbs, while Delta Airlines’ maximum is 32” L x 35” W x 48” H and 51 lbs. Petful.com offers a list of some of the most commonly used airlines in the United States and their dog passenger restrictions.
- Make advanced reservations – Often, airlines will only allow a certain number of dogs to fly on a particular flight. In order to fly with your dog, you may need to make advanced reservations particularly if you plan to fly around the holidays or any particularly busy season. Making a reservation for your dog will require an additional fee, which varies by airline. JetBlue, for instance, charges an additional $125 to book a dog reservation on a flight.
You’ve Booked Your Flight – Now What?
You found the perfect airline, they meet all your needs, and the reservations have been made – now what? Your first step should be investing in a safe travel-friendly crate if you don’t have one already. Make sure to check with your chosen airline to see their specific crating requirements. Alaska Airlines, for example, requires large dogs to be crated in an escape-proof crate with a metal grated door and plenty of air ventilation, and that crate cannot exceed 40” L x 27” W x 30” H in size. Our large sized Aluminum Dog Crate is an excellent example of a comfort crate that meets all Alaska Airlines guidelines.
If you’re investing in a new crate, make sure to take some time and get your dog acclimated to it before your flight. Even if they’re already crate trained, you don’t want their travel crate to be a brand-new environment on a day they’re already having so many new experiences!
Just like size requirements and fees, airlines will also have their own vet check requirements. While each airline is different, the general rule of thumb to follow from the US Department of Transportation for domestic flights is to have your dog fully checked within 10 days of your flight. Tell your vet that you’re planning to fly with your dog, and you’ll receive a certificate at the end of your appointment. This health certificate is typically valid for around 30 days and will be accepted for your return flight as well. If your trip is going to be longer than 30 days, make sure you have researched a veterinarian at your destination to provide a new health check before your flight home. If you plan to fly internationally with your dog, a bit more research is needed. Different destination countries will have different requirements along with the airlines taking you there.
Gearing Up For Your Flight
When you’re flying with a large dog, or any dog, you’ll need to prep the night before for a smooth flight the following day. You did all the research, you have the health certificate from your vet, you’ve found the perfect crate, and your bags are packed – what is there to do now?
If your dog is anxious or you’re not sure how they’ll handle the airport and flight experience, you may want to stop back by your vet in the days leading up to your flight. Your veterinarian can prescribe anti-anxiety medication or suggest homeopathic ways to keep your dog calm during your travels. According to Dr. Wailani Sung with PetMD, dogs may benefit from calming pheromones like Adaptil to put them at ease during a stressful travel day.
Additionally, your dog will be in the cargo hold in their crate for the duration of your flight, and if they experience motion sickness you don’t want them to have to be uncomfortable or feel unwell. If your dog has a history of motion sickness, your veterinarian may also prescribe anti-nausea or anti-motion sickness medication to ensure they’re able to rest comfortably.
On the day of your flight, you’ll probably want to fuel up yourself, but VCA Animal Hospitals suggests holding off on breakfast for your buddy. Begin withholding food from your dog starting at 12 hours before your flight; so, if you plan to fly at noon, you’ll want to begin your dog’s fast starting at midnight the night before. This can help to alleviate nausea and curb any inconvenient accidents that could happen while in the air. While withholding food is recommended, dogs should still be provided with plenty of fresh, clean water. Flying dehydrates humans, and it does the same for our dogs!
Before your flight, take care to prepare their crate. You want this environment to be as comforting and as comfortable as possible. A spill-proof water bottle for their crate, a potty pad just in case they have an accident, an old T-shirt or toy that smells like home, and comfort pad will ensure your dog is able to cozy up and calm down once you’re in the air. Before preparing your dog’s crate, make sure to check the guidelines of your specific airline to make sure all requirements are met, and rules are followed. Each airline will have their own specifications regarding what may (and may not) fly with dog passengers.
Before heading into the airport, give your dog a little time to sniff around, relieve themselves, and get acclimated to the environment. They’ll be in for a long day, and when you consider how many “potty breaks” you take, you’ll quickly see just how important their own potty break is! Make this a leisurely experience and allow them to take in the sounds and smells of the airport area. If rushing around causes you stress, it’s likely to cause your dog stress as well, so give yourself plenty of time for a relaxed airport arrival.
Before checking you and your dog in for your flight, make sure to label their crate. A taped sign that says “Live Animal: This Side Up” as well as identifying information stating their name, your name, and your address ensures a safer and more careful experience.
Is Flying With A Large Dog Safe?
Flying with a large dog is quite a bit different than flying with a small one. Small dogs can often fly right alongside their pet parents in the passenger cabin, while large dogs are kept crated and kept in the cargo hold. You’re not going to be sitting with your dog, you can’t see them, how can you know that it’s safe? According to the United States Department of Transportation, only 0.79 incidents occur per 10,000 animals flying in cargo with US carriers, or a rate of less than 0.008%. In other words – it’s extremely safe to fly with a large dog in the cargo hold of a commercial flight.
To ensure safety and comfort, it’s important to consider the length of your flight. According to Long Haul Trekkers, an online resource for adventure travel with dogs, your flight day should not exceed a maximum of 12 hours. This includes time spent loading onto and off of the plane. If your dog is checked in for the flight at 9 am, they should be out of their crate and able to stretch their legs by 9 pm or before.
When booking your flight, it’s important to opt for a straight flight instead of a layover. During a layover, you have more opportunities for mix-ups, and the last thing you want is your dog being loaded onto the wrong second leg.
Flying with a large dog is safe, it’s comfortable, and it opens the world up for you and your dog to have the most incredible life of adventures. With the right preparation, the right crate, and a little research, your journey has just begun!