Dog-Friendly Travel Tips for Vacationing with Your Pet
Travel is often about leaving the comforts of home behind, but there’s something irresistible about having Fluffy along for the ride. These days, more pet owners than ever—according to a recent study, the numbers have doubled since 2005—are opting to travel with their furry companions. Below is everything you ever wanted to know about dog-friendly travel, from choosing the right mode of transportation to securing the proper documents to staying in a pet-friendly hotel.
How to fly with your dog
Flying with your dog is no walk in the park, but with the right preparation and intel, you can streamline the process a great deal. There are a few key steps you’ll need to take: most importantly, find out whether your desired airline allows animals in the cabin. If cargo is the only option, use judgment to assess whether your pet is equipped to handle being alone inside the baggage compartment for hours at a time; sometimes, the emotional stress of being isolated below-deck defeats the purpose of having the animal join in the first place.
Second, plan on booking your pet separately by phone after you’ve already reserved your own seat on the plane. Every airline has a slightly different policy around this, but in general, the criteria are the same. To use JetBlue’s pet program, JetPaws, as an example: customers pay a non-refundable $100 pet fee (that’s $100 each way), they’re limited to one pet per person, the cat or dog must be at least eight weeks old, and must be able to fit inside a carrier of 17” length, 12.5” width and 8.5” height, or smaller, with a total weight limit of 20 pounds (as in, the carrier with the animal inside). Occasionally, you’ll see a dog entering the cabin without a carrier or kennel—this usually happens with service dogs, or when the owner has a doctor’s note confirming they require an emotional support animal.
In general, pet travel is subject to availability, so book well ahead, and try to avoid flying on holidays and weekends, when you might run into other owners—and their pets—trying to catch the same flight.
Earning points for traveling with your pet
Some airlines offer rewards programs for jet-setting pets. JetBlue passengers who fly with their furry friends earn 300 TrueBlue points on each flight. On Virgin Atlantic, animals actually earn their own points through the Flying Paws program. And through United’s PetSafe program, all animals that travel in the cargo hold earn their owners 500 MileagePlus miles for domestic flights and 1,000 miles on international routes.
How to prepare for your flight
Though many airlines welcome pets on international flights, it’s imperative to check the individual country’s vaccination laws before booking your trip. Things have gotten better—the U.K. and Hawaii used to impose long quarantine periods, but no longer do so—but never assume your dog or cat will be able to pass through foreign customs unchecked. For a comprehensive, up-to-date record of all the different requirements and laws, listed by country and by species, visit the USDA’s website.
To prepare for the trip, you’ll need to obtain a health certificate signed by a vet. (If you own a short-nosed dog breed, like a Boxer or Pug, keep in mind they can have breathing difficulties in the air, and some airlines will have nothing to do with them; this comprehensive FAQ by the AVMA offers some useful insight on the subject.)
For international flights, speak to your veterinarian to ensure you have all the necessary proof-of-health forms and inoculation records prior to leaving the country. Start looking into everything as soon as you know you’re traveling, since some of the vaccinations and forms can take time. For more resources on international pet travel, see this helpful document published by PetTravel.com.
Before traveling, you’ll need to purchase a well-ventilated crate with a secure latch. Be sure the crate has your name and address on it, along with the words “LIVE ANIMAL” clearly marked on the side, with arrows pointing up, and that the bottom is leak-proof. (Also, make sure your pet’s tags are up to date.) For extra guidance, this IATA document outlines all the federal regulations around crates.
(For an extra snazzy carrier, U-Pet’s cat-packs—with bubble viewing portholes—have been making the rounds on the internet lately; once you see the photo, you’ll understand why.)
Experts recommend doing practice runs—loading your pet into the crate, placing it in the car, and taking short drives—before the actual trip. As stressful as the travel experience can be for animals, being inside a familiar, comfortable crate can add to their all-important sense of safety.
As for meals: plan on withholding the pet’s food about six hours before flying—if he or she gets nervous around flying, this will help avoid vomiting or diarrhea. (If it’s a young pet, or a small breed, though, this isn’t recommended.) And if the pet is riding in cargo, be sure to include a clip-on container with extra water and food.
In the airport
All U.S. airports (and some major international ones) are equipped with some form of a pet relief area—designated grassy spaces where dogs can do their business before boarding. The quality of these facilities varies (the southwest has a particularly strong game, with Phoenix Sky Harbor, Reno-Tahoe International Airport and Denver International Airport all offering top-notch pet stations), though all serve essentially the same purpose. For more information, see this comprehensive list by DogJaunt.com.
Once you’ve checked in, just like with any other trip, you’ll have to pass through security with your furry friend. Here’s how it will go down: show up at the TSA checkpoint with your pet in the crate. Take the animal out of the crate (have a leash handy) so the crate can pass through the X-ray tunnel, and then walk or carry your pet through the metal detector. As one TSA blogger put it, “the checkpoint is a noisy environment that can cause your pet to flee at its first opportunity. This happens with humans occasionally as well.” (Alternatively, if your dog or cat is especially jumpy, you may ask to do the screening in a private room.)