We have flown with Hudson many times since he was a pup, both cross-country and on shorter, local flights. Throughout these trips, we have learned some tips and tricks along the way.
The Earlier, The Better
If you get your dog as a puppy, the earlier you get them on a flight, the better. When puppies do things at a young age, they are more likely to adjust quickly and not have as many fears of the unknown. We first flew to from NYC to LA with Hudson when he was 14 weeks old. He was so tiny back then and much lighter to tote around the airport.
Call Your Airline to Book & Be Prepared to Pay
Every airline has their own rules and regulations for pets in-cabin. Most airlines have a fee of around $100, allow pets under 20 pounds and restrict the number of pets per flight. When booking your flight, call your airline directly to book so you can confirm there is still space for your pet on that flight.
Consult Your Vet & Know Your Dog
Because Hudson was so young on our first flight and it was 6+hours, our vet recommended a prescription sedative. We have continued to use the meds for every flight, but he would most likely not need them anymore. Overall his temperament is calm and relaxed but for the sake of consistency, we still use them. Some airlines will ask for a certificate from your vet stating all their up-to-date vaccinations but we haven't ever brought anything extra aside from our regular paperwork. They have never requested to see the paperwork.
Shop for Must-Haves
Your dog will need to be in an airline-approved carrier that meet your airline's standards, be sure to check ahead of time. We love our Sherpa and it has been the only carrier we've needed in 5 years. Hudson uses the medium size which is smaller than their weight and height recommendations but he loves being cozied up in a tight ball when he's in there and didn't need the bigger size. A zippered pocket on the bag is essential for documents, treats and collapsable water bowl. You can also get a replacement liner for the bottom of the bag, a great option if you use the bag often.
Carrier // Lining // Collapsible Bowls
Introduce the Bag at Home First
Order the bag in advance of your flight so your dog can get used to it before the flight. They will be spending hours in there and it's best to have positive associations. Hudson loves his bag so much to the point that we have to be careful to not take it out of the closet when we aren't traveling or else he jumps right in and thinks he's headed on an adventure. To him the bag means he won't be left behind so is always ecstatic to see it.
Research Airports, both Departure & Arrival
Every airport has a different layout and location for their pet relief areas both before security and after. It's best to know where these places are ahead of time so you can plan extra time accordingly as they are not always in the most convenient spots. If the outside area is close to baggage claim, you can also head out there quickly after the flight to let your dog go before the bags arrive.
You will not be able to check-in online before if you are traveling with your pet. You must check-in at the counter when you arrive. Most airlines say that the pet needs to be 20 pounds or less, including the weight of the carrier. If you dog is close to 20 make sure you take out any excess toys and treats before they go on the scale. I can only recall one time where we actually had to put Hudson on the scale but better to be prepared. After you check in head out to the pet relief area and if your dog is fine off-leash in a fenced in area, let them run around and wear them out. It's also best if you take a long walk earlier that day. It's better to have a tired pup pre-flight. You don't want to go through security too early but be mindful of time while you are outside.
Getting Through Security
Unless your dog is a service animal, they must be in their carrier at all times. The only official exception to this rule is when you are going through security. Once you drop your items on the belt, you will have to take your dog out of the carrier and hold them as you walk through security. If you are traveling alone this can take some finagling but if you start to stress, so will your dog. Take your time and people behind you may just have to wait a little longer.
Find a Quiet Spot
Once you are through security, find a quiet spot near your gate away from other people. This is where we usually are the rule breakers of this process. Hudson never has accidents and he doesn't bark (unless you are at our front door) so we try to give him time to stretch his legs and be out of his bag before the flight. No one has ever said anything to us and I think it's mostly because emotional support animals don't need to be in a carrier so you will see dogs out and about in the airport. This is also when we give him his puppy sedative, the vet says about an hour before the flight. Be mindful that if you are alone you will have to tote your pup around everywhere with you. Always go for the handicap bathroom if possible!
Pet Relief Areas
Most terminals will have pet relief areas which are basically sad little rooms with some turf. Hudson hates these rooms and has never been able to go but for some dogs they are a good option. He can hold it for a long time thankfully! The only time I have run into an issue with this is when I had a 5+ hour delay at LAX for a red eye. They closed security after midnight and you wouldn't be able to get back into the terminal so I was stuck without an option for him to go to the bathroom. Luckily he slept most of time and made friends with all the other people waiting for our flight. Bonus points for this process if your dog is cute and friendly.
Board Early, If Possible
If you aren't in an early boarding group, try to hop on when they call for people who need more time or assistance. You have paid extra for your pet and do need some time to get them settled. Your carrier will have to stay at your feet so you won't have any space for another bag. All of your in-flight items will have to fit in the seat back pocket. Be prepared before boarding with all of those items together and be ready to put your bag in the overhead bin. I am usually an aisle seat fan but when we fly with Hudson, I prefer to be at the window. There are less distractions walking by throughout the flight and he is away from the action. Also, if there are other pets on board, it's best to keep some distance between them.
Once your dog is settled at your feet, open up the top of the bag or front, so you can see them from your seat but only do this if you know your dog won't jump out. On the floor, the temperature can range from cold to very warm. We usually bring a small towel or blanket for Hud in case it gets really cold. Check in on your pup often and make sure they are comfortable. Because of the meds, Hudson usually sleeps most of the time and is a great in flight buddy.
If you are flying alone, you never know who you end up sitting next to. Not everyone will be thrilled that there is a dog next to them but in our experience everyone has been nothing but nice and usually just comments how cute and well behaved he is. Some people don't even realize he has been there until we are de-planing and we let his head pop out of the bag.
Good Luck and have a safe flight!