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Taking Flight With Your Dog: A Comprehensive Guide to Canine Air Travel

man carrying dog

So, you’re gearing up for summer vacation; everything seems like it will be perfect: you booked your hotel, you are sizing up activities, and the ideal spot to go out to eat. There is one flaw in your plan, though, your pup may not be able to come! This does not have to be the case, and there are plenty of options for traveling with your dog. Here is some information about traveling by air with your pet. 

First, Is Your Dog A Service Dog? 

What does the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) consider a service animal? Well, for travel purposes, a service animal is a dog, regardless of breed, that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for someone with a disability, including psychiatric and mental disabilities. 

As of January 11, 2021, airlines are no longer obligated to accommodate emotional support animals (ESAs). ESAs are companion animals who help their owners cope with emotional and mental health challenges by providing comfort with their presence. Unlike service dogs, ESAs are not expected to perform specific tasks related to their owner’s condition, nor must they adhere to any behavior standards or training. 

A fully-trained service dog may fly in the cabin at no charge if they meet the requirements. To travel with a service animal, you must submit the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Service Animal Air Transportation Form attesting to the animal’s health, training, and behavior at least 48 hours before your flight. 

There is no definite weight limit for service dogs, but airlines can require that a service animal fit within the handler’s foot space or on the passenger’s lap. Under DOT’s rules, an airline cannot prohibit a service dog because it is a particular breed. It can, however, prohibit boarding if the service dog is acting aggressively or being disruptive. 

Typical requirements for service dogs include:  

  • The dog is leashed, clean, and well-behaved.
  • The dog has required documentation, including DOT’s Air Transportation Service Animal Training and Behavior Attestation Form. For flights scheduled to take 8 hours or more, DOT’s Service Animal Relief Attestation Form. Both forms more than 48 hours before the flight. 
  • The dog must not occupy an exit row
  • The dog should sit in the floor space in front of your assigned seat or within your ticked personal space and cannot extend into the aisles or the foot space of adjacent travelers. 

Can I Bring My Dog in the Cabin With Me? 

Each airline has specific policies and a set of requirements for pets traveling in the cabin. Their policies usually focus on regulations for carrier dimensions and the combined weight of the dog inside the kennel. There can be further specifications depending on the airline, including breed-specific regulations and a limited number of pet slots per plane. 

Most major U.S. airlines allow in-cabin dog travel. For regional airlines, you may have to call for more information. No matter what, it is best to contact your chosen airline to review their specifications and get a good understanding of the required documentation. Further, some airlines will only allow you to book a spot for your pup over the phone 14 days in advance – so it is best to call. 

Generally, requirements for in-cabin pets include: 

  • The dog must stay inside the carrier for the duration of the flight. 
  • The carrier must stay underneath the seat – whether the kennel may be soft-sided or hard-sided varies by airline. 
  • Many airlines require the combined weight of your pet and their kennel to be no more than 20 lbs, but this can vary by airline. 

So, is your pup heavier than 20 pounds and not a service dog? You may ask yourself, can I buy a ticket for my dog to fly in the seat next to me? Well, you cannot buy your pup a plane ticket. But, airline policies are constantly changing, so it is best to confirm your options for flying with your pup with the airline.  

What About Cargo? 

If your dog does not perform a life-saving function or weighs more than 20 pounds, your option is often for your dog to fly in cargo. 

Some airlines do not allow dogs to travel in cargo, such as Southwest, JetBlue, and Frontier airlines. Due to COVID-19, Delta and American airlines have restricted dog travel to only in-cabin pets. If you must travel with your pup in cargo, be sure to travel outside of times and airports where extreme temperatures are expected. 

The Humane Society of the United States generally recommends against traveling with your dog anywhere but the cabin. However, this is typically impossible for bigger dogs. If you must put your pet in cargo, know that airlines report proportionally few incidents with 39 injuries and deaths in nearly 507,000 animals transported in 2017. 

Using a dedicated pet shipping company is another way to go. The international pet and animal transportation association is a good resource for finding a list of professional pet shippers to ensure safe and humane transport. 

Other Considerations

No matter if your pup is traveling in-cabin, cargo, or as a service dog, here are some further considerations. 

Airlines can require a health certificate or certificate of veterinary inspection (CVI) from your vet. Some airlines require a health certificate within 14 days of travel, while others require the certificate to be obtained within ten days. Regardless, it is best to contact the airline to see if you need any other paperwork completed in addition to the CVI. 

Certain breeds of dogs with short-snouts are not allowed to fly on planes (not including service dogs) because of respiratory issues that may make it difficult for them to breathe. These breeds include bulldog, Boston Terriers, all kinds of Pugs, Boxer dogs, Shih-Tzus, Mastiffs, American Bully, Pit Bulls, American Staffordshire Terrier, and Pekingese. 

Starting July 14, 2021, the U.S. CDC has issued a temporary suspension of dogs, including service dogs, traveling to the U.S. from countries considered high-risk for dog rabies. 

Understanding your options, the airline’s policies, and required documentation are essential elements to deciding the best mode of transportation for your pup. If you do not want to fly with your pup, there are alternatives such as professional companies which operate on the ground. Remember to talk with your veterinarian before traveling with your pet to ensure your pup’s health and up-to-date vaccination status. 

The ElleVet Team
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