Flying with a dog or live animal seems kinda messy these days. You may have heard about the recent fiascos involving pets, courtesy of United Airlines. These nightmare stories are certainly terrifying, but the fact is that people fly with their dogs all the time—both in cargo and in cabin, and most of the time everyone arrives safely. However, these horror stories do little to assuage our fears of putting our pets in the hands of those whom we do not trust. We are all left wondering whether it is safe to fly with a dog.
Sora has accompanied us on several domestic and cross-continental flights, both in cabin as an emotional support animal and in cargo for international air transport over the past several years, always without any serious issues. We do believe that it is safe to fly with your dog or service animal, as long as you do your research and necessary preparation beforehand.
It’s a bit like driving. Driving is far less safe than flying (as in you’d have to fly every day for 19 thousand years to succumb to a fatal accident in a plane), but since we do it every single day, it’s more comfortable for us.
Is Flying with a Dog Safe: The Numbers
Whether in cabin (with a seat in the front or below a seat) or in cargo, air travel with a dog is stressful and worrisome, but like most bad news we hear, it’s the small percentage of the reality. Animals travel by air all the time. Shelters transport animals to and from shelters across the country, and even the world. In 2018, the United States Department of Transportation reported 0.79 deaths or injuries per 10,000 animals on US carriers. This number is down from 0.92 in 2017 (click images below to enlarge).
Of those incidents over the two years, you can see that United accounted for the most of any airline with 54 total occurrences, far more than any other airline (the airline just announced suspension of pets in cargo hold to reassess their standards). Compared to Alaska, which transported nearly as many animals during that span with just six incidents, United seems to have some ‘splaining to do.
Major airlines have been required to file pet incident reports since 2005, but it has only been since 2015 that they have had to report the total number of animals traveling on flights. I was unable to find reports from international airlines, unfortunately.
Know your Dog
Airlines report that many incidents with pets occur out of their hands while traveling as cargo, such as injury to themselves in their pet carrier due to anxiety.
It is your responsibility to know your dog and determine what it can handle. If your dog is prone to anxiety and fearful, flying might not be the best option.
Your dog is probably OK to fly if she:
- Has few tendencies toward anxiety.
- Feels comfortable with new places and different experiences.
- Is OK being on her own for multiple hours at a time.
- Does not react to other people or dogs.
- Knows her kennel is a safe space well before flying.
Reconsider flying (and finding a pet sitter) if your dog:
- Suffers from separation anxiety or claustrophobia.
- Is destructive when left alone.
- Is a snub-nosed breed like a pug, Boston terrier, or boxer, as they can have respiratory issues.
Click here for our list of recommended dog kennels for flying.
Talk to Your Vet before Flying with a Pet
Before hitting the skies with your pet, schedule a visit with her vet and ask and/or confirm the following:
- Whether your pet in good physical condition to fly
- Does my pet have the required documents to fly?
The answer differs for domestic versus international fights.
- Your dog is microchipped.
- Make sure that your dog is up to date on rabies, flea and tick, and heartworm medications.
- Fill any prescriptions your dog requires and ensure that you have plenty extra in case of emergency or delay.
- How you can keep your dog calm during the flight. Tranquilizers are not recommended as they can interfere with a dog’s ability to control body heat. Instead, consider something like CBD oil or treats (and be sure to check regulations about flying with CBD oil), calming drops, or a thunder jacket.
For a comprehensive overview on how to fly internationally with a dog, read our blog post on the matter.
Choosing a Pet Safe Airline
If your dog is over 20lbs, you will likely have to put your dog in the cargo hold, ask the following questions of your airline before booking the flight:
Is the cargo area climate-controlled?
Depending on your destination and the time of year you plan to travel, book your flight based on the temperature. Most airlines will not transport a dog in temperatures exceeding 85F degrees or below 45F. Plan a late or early arrival to avoid complications with weather.
Is the cargo area separate from the baggage area?
If this is not the case, then find another airline or confirm that the baggage area is climate-controlled. Often times, there is no need to control the temperature of the baggage, and this could be bad news for your dog.
What are your check-in procedures?
These should be handled at the airline’s cargo facility. This means that you bring your kenneled dog to the cargo facility, accompanied by an airline staff member. Confirm that your dog is tracked throughout each stage of the journey.
Do you follow a “last on, first off policy?”
This means that pets are given priority over other baggage and are never left sitting on the tarmac where is can be hot or cold and really scary to the pet.
Are all of your transport vehicles temperature-controlled?
Just like the cargo area, you want to make sure that your dog can fit comfortably throughout the process, including transportation to the plane itself.
Do you have staff members specifically trained in handling pets as cargo?
Some airlines, like Alaska have pet travel programs that include staff trained to work with animals.
Do you take my dog out for potty/walk/food and watering during a layover?
Some airlines, like Lufthansa take pets to a special area where they give them a break to go potty, have a bit of food and watering.
Once you’re at the airport, tell every single person you encounter who works with the airline that you have your pet on board in cargo.
Before you board, ask if you can watch your dog be loaded onto the plane so that you know that she has made it safely. Confirm that she is on board when you change flights as well.
Tell the flight attendants and captain, if you see him, that you have a dog in the cargo area so that they know to control the temperature and pressure as needed.
See our full list of questions to ask before traveling with a large dog in cargo.
General Tips on Safety
Make sure that all of your contact information is up to date, in the case that your pet is lost, the microchip scan will display correct details.
Label your pet’s collar or harness and the kennel with your phone number, email, and destination address.
Consider using a quick-release or martingale collar, in the event that your pet becomes anxious or scared.
All right, so going back to our original question: Is flying with a dog safe? Yes, we think that the majority of the time it is. If you do your part to ensure the safety of your pet and assess whether or not he or she is a good candidate for flying, then we believe that flying with a dog does not have to result in death or injury.
Do your homework, ask all the questions, and then ask them again, even if you’re flying with service animals.
We’ve found the American Veterinary Medical Association to be a great resource for general frequently asked questions.
Some helpful articles are: