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Is it Safe to Fly with a Dog?

Is it Safe to Fly with a Dog?

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. As pet owners, we are all left wondering whether it is safe to fly with a dog, even if we want to bring our pet with us on our journey.

Sora has accompanied us on several domestic and cross-continental flights (including through the European Union),  both as a dog 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 / service dogs, 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 it is travel in the 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. It’s not uncommon for a humane society to 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 commercial 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. Maybe consider hiring a dog walker or pet sitter to take care of your pooch.

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.

We hear all about the horror stories flying with a dog, and what we really want to know is whether it is safe to put our pets on a plane. Read on to learn more about the steps to take in order to keep your dog safe while 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.
  • Do you have an up-to-date health certificate?
  • 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 for a successful trip.

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 (they’re kind of like a pet friendly hotel if dogs were humans) 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.

We hear all about the horror stories flying with a dog, and what we really want to know is whether it is safe to put our pets on a plane. Read on to learn more about the steps to take in order to keep your dog safe while flying.

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.

More Information

We’ve found the American Veterinary Medical Association to be a great resource for general frequently asked questions.

Some helpful articles are:


The Ultimate Flying with a Dog Guide and Checklist
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We hear all about the horror stories flying with a dog, and what we really want to know is whether it is safe to put our pets on a plane. This guide helps you plan for and identify the safest options when flying with your dog.

We hear all about the horror stories flying with a dog, and what we really want to know is whether it is safe to put our pets on a plane. This guide helps you plan for and identify the safest options when flying with your dog.

Helida

Tuesday 2nd of February 2021

This information is so helpful! My puppy is 4 months now and I’m stressing out about what I’m going to do with him when I go visit my family in Europe in the summer. We stay for 3-4 weeks so it would be ideal if we could take him with us. We usually fly into Germany so maybe I can fly from NYC instead of DC to get him on an even shorter flight. Thank you for the great information!!

Jen Sotolongo

Tuesday 9th of February 2021

Lufthansa is a great airline for flying with pets, so you'll be in good hands if you go to Germany!

CBD

Thursday 13th of June 2019

nice info.Thanks for sharing

Andrea Harris

Wednesday 27th of February 2019

Good work. Yes, i got my esa letter a couple of months ago online from this website myesadoctor. I have taken my terrier on a couple of flights now and it has been great. Yes, it depends upon your pet as well but we tend to look at the negatives more than the positives. The negative cases get highlighted pretty often but that doesn’t reflect the whole picture. In my personal experience the travel has been pretty good and haven’t faced any troubles till now.

Dave Hoch

Wednesday 27th of February 2019

Thanks Andrea! I'm glad you were able to find a way to travel with your pupper. We decided to not bring Laila, our puppy, on our latest trip back to the USA from Spain as we didn't feel she was ready for such an adventure yet.

Nicole Hermosillo

Sunday 9th of September 2018

I will be getting an 8 week old puppy at the end of this month and I am planning on taking her with me to Mexico City for 3 weeks over winter break to visit my family. She'll be 5 months when we fly, german shepherd, and I'll be flying American airlines.

I am trying to figure out temperature wise, since I live in Raleigh NC. I can't tell for sure what temperatures we will be having so how do you plan accordingly? I have booked a flight that leaves in the afternoon from raleigh and gets in at 5 pm hoping to get better warmer weather along those hours of the day. Also, I have booked the shortest flight with one layover in Dallas. Would you say a 1 hour layover is enough when not having to go through immigration? How do I get my puppy used to being in her kennel for the 8 hour flight? Help?

Jen Sotolongo

Wednesday 12th of September 2018

Hi Nicole,

How exciting about your puppy! So, first you need to check to see if your dog will even be able to fly with you at five months. Usually airlines require that the dog is at least six months before flying. 5pm is usually the hottest time of the day, so you may also be in trouble there. If you can, change your flight to one that arrives early in the morning or late at night, when the sun has gone down.

Regarding the layover, I personally would book more time, at least two hours. One hour is cutting it close if your first flight is delayed.

Steven

Wednesday 18th of July 2018

Hey Jen. Moving to The Philippines in March of 2019 from Charlotte, NC. This whole moving with my dog is mind boggling. My dog Laddie, is a black lab about 85 lbs. No airline is interested having him in the cargo hold over 12 hours. Dog moving companies want $5,000. Aside from buying multiple connecting flights, I dunno what to do! HELP ME!

So frustrated.

Jen Sotolongo

Wednesday 18th of July 2018

The process certainly is mind boggling, as you put it! Let's see. I would look for flights with a connection in the west coast, including Canada. Have you tried calling the Asian airlines? They might be willing to hold a dog for over 12 hours. Sorry you're having such a difficult time finding something that will work! I know there is a solution out there!