The first time we flew with Sora, we knew to ask a few important questions about flying with a large dog, but since then, we’ve learned there are several more that we need to ask before we book a flight with her.
Many of the questions listed below can be easily found in an airline’s pet policy page on their website, but others require calling the airline and asking directly. Getting the right answers to the following questions will help ensure the safest flight for your pet.
Related read: Flying with a Dog: Is it Safe?
Get the Answers to the Following Questions Before Flying with a Large Dog in Cargo
1. Do you have any breed restrictions?
Many airlines will refuse short and snub-nosed or strong-jawed breeds, like Boston Terriers, Pugs, and Pit Bulls, due to the fact that their nasal structure can cause shortness of breath under stress. Your dog still may be able to travel in the airline cabin, or with preparation, practice, and, in some cases, alternative methods, like pet relocation services. The airline should have a list of unaccepted breeds under their pet policy on their website, but here is a list of breeds most recently temporarily banned by United Airlines.
2. Are all of the cargo holds climate-controlled?
This includes not only the area where your pet will go during the flight itself, but also where your pet will wait before, during, and after the flight. Confirm that the transportation vehicle is climate-controlled, otherwise your pet could be at risk for waiting to load on a hot tarmac.
3. What is the outside temperature range in which you fly?
Most airlines enforce temperature restrictions with animals, and will not transport a dog in cargo in temperatures exceeding 85 degrees or below 45. Depending on your destination and the time of year you plan to travel, book your flight based on the temperature, planning a late or early arrival to avoid complications with the weather.
Know the weather of both your departure and arrival cities, and more importantly, know your dog. If she has a tendency to overheat or become cold easily, then you might have to find an alternative method.
4. 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 tagged and tracked throughout each stage of your flight.
Note: Always make certain that your dog’s contact information is up to date. This includes her ID tag and the information associated with her microchip. Write your name, phone number, home and destination address on something you can secure directly to the kennel.
5. 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.
6. Do you have staff members specifically trained in handling pets as cargo?
The more pet friendly airlines, like Alaska, have pet travel programs that include staff specifically trained to work with animals. Alaska also happens to have the best record out of all the major US airlines for transporting animals in terms number of incidents, making them one of the safest airlines to fly with a pet.
7. Do you take my dog out for potty/walk/food 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 water, and food. Ask if you should include food in your dog’s kennel in this case and how and where to secure it.
8. Can I visit my dog during a long layover to feed him/take him out?
Your airline may allow passengers to visit your dog during layovers of four hours or more. During this time, you should be allowed to take your dog out of their kennel, offer them food and water and take them to go to the bathroom.
9. Where do I pick up my dog after arrival?
Your dog will likely come out with oversized baggage, though Sora came out on the conveyor belt when we landed in Argentina, as it was a flat belt without the steep ramp that spits out baggage and sends it tumbling down. Ask before you land so you know where to wait for your pup.
10. What paperwork do you require in order for my dog to fly?
If you’re flying domestically within the United States, you’ll likely only need to show updated health certificate issued within 10 days of flying and proof of recent rabies vaccinations. Hawaii is a state that requires quarantine, so keep that in mind if you plan to travel there with your pup. You can get the correct documents from your veterinarian.
11. What paperwork is required for flying internationally with a dog?
For those traveling internationally with a dog, you will require not only paperwork, but also tests, and certified documents from the national health department. Read our detailed post about how to fly internationally with a dog, to learn all everything you need to know.
12. What are the kennel requirements?
Airlines have very specific requirements for kennels, depending on the size of your dog. Make sure to follow these guidelines exactly. They can refuse your dog if the kennel does not meet their guidelines.
Related: Read our Flying with a Dog Gear List to get your dog set up in their kennel.
Below is our quick read on how to pick the right kennel for your trip. For a more comprehensive look, read our Best Kennels For Flying post.
Questions to Ask Your Veterinarian Before Flying with a Large Dog
It is essential to visit your vet before your flight to determine that your pet is in good health and to obtain the required documents for flying.
1. Is my dog in good health to fly?
If your dog is older, a puppy, or has conditions like a heart murmur, she may not be fit enough to fly. Check with your vet before planning your trip and get the thumbs up from them first.
2. Should I sedate or tranquilize my pet?
Is is NOT recommended that you sedate your pet for a flight. Sedatives and tranquilizers can cause temperature regulation issues, which could be fatal to your pet. They also increase the risk of heart and respiratory problems.
The best way to prepare your pet for a flight is to get her used to her kennel well in advance. Make it a safe space for her so that when the time to fly comes, she feels less stressed and anxious about being in the kennel.
Related: Flying with a Dog: Is it Safe?
Transporting your dog as cargo is certainly a scary and stressful process, but it is safe most of the time. Do the work before booking your flight and ask these questions in order to find the best airline that fits your needs and assuages any fears you may have.