Plan – 5 Tips for Flying with Your Dog

A Jack Russell Terrier ready for the flight

Last Updated on January 18, 2021:

In the last few years, airlines have been adapting their policies to make it easier for humans to travel with their dogs in the cabin as opposed to the cargo hold. In this post, we share 5 tips to help you fly safely and seamlessly with your beloved canine companion in the cabin with you.

1. Talk to your vet:

We recommend speaking to your vet about air travel with your dog at least 6 months prior to your trip if it is the first flight. Your vet has your dog’s medical history and can share some additional tips relating to your dog’s health while inflight. Most importantly, your dog will be able to assess whether or not you should fly with your dog.

Did you know that short-nosed dogs are banned from flying because they have trouble breathing and these respiratory issues worsen at higher altitudes? In 2018, a 10-month old French bulldog died on a United Airlines flight after the flight attendant placed his carrier in an overhead bin.

Pug on a plane from SEA - Seattle to AUS - Austin on Alaska Airlines
A Pug on a plane from SEA – Seattle to AUS – Austin on Alaska Airlines. Pugs are a breed of short-nosed dogs

In addition, your vet can help assess if your dog has any other medical issues that may affect their ability to fly. Your vet can also provide you with medical documentation required by customs and immigration as required and make sure your dog’s vaccines are up-to-date. In some cases, you will need to go to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency or equivalent agency to get forms filled out to enter another country with your pet.

Your vet can also prescribe sedatives and other calming medication for your dog, like CBD oil to make the journey easier. It is recommended to test how your dog reacts to any medications and supplements a couple of times prior to the flight as you don’t want to encounter a negative reaction during the flight.

2. Check airline and customs and immigration policies before booking:

Most, if not all airlines have a pet policy but that doesn’t mean that each airline will have the same policy. In late 2020, some airlines have banned emotional support animals due to many people abusing the system to have their pets fly for free with them. You can still fly with your pet but you will need to disclose you are flying with a pet when making yourservation and pay a fee of around $100 (depending on the airline). So far, Alaska, American, Delta, United and Frontier have announced emotional support animals will no longer fly for free.

Some airlines are known to be more pet-friendly than others due to the services they offer, lower fees, and even bonus miles for flying with your dog. For example, JetBlue is renowned for their “JetPaws” program which offers TrueBlue points, Petiquette guide, a carrier bag-tag to simplify the security and boarding process, and a shop with compliant pet carriers and other travel products.

JetBlue's pet carrier that fits under the seat on their flights
JetBlue’s pet carrier that fits under the seat on their flights

One airline policy that seems to cause people the most problem is that in some cases, your dog needs to be able to stand, turn around and lie down in the carrier under the seat in front of you. If an airline representative inspects your carrier and this is not possible, your dog will be denied check-in.

Air Canada's Pet Policy for flying with a dog
Air Canada’s Pet Policy for flying with a dog

Source: Air Canada

WetJet’s pet policy also places restrictions on flights that are codeshare, dogs under the age of 8 weeks will not be accepted, and loss of enjoyment or companionship are not compensable.

WestJet's Pet Policy for flying with a dog
WestJet’s Pet Policy for flying with a dog


Each country has different requirements and so if you are travelling internationally, make sure to find out the rules. For example, Canadians traveling into the USA with a dog, the dog must appear to be healthy and depending which country they are coming from, they need a valid rabies vaccination certificate. Source: CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

3. Crate train your dog:

This may be effective or not and dogs that are crate trained as puppies don’t usually feel the same shock of being in a crate. If your dog is used to being in a crate or carrier, it will make the whole process a lot easier. Happy Tail Travel has some tips on how to create train dogs on their website.

Puppy on WestJet
A dog who should be in his carrier on a WestJet flight…he’s cute though, so it’s ok, or is it?

4. Pack and prepare:

Finding pet supplies at airports is a lot more difficult than any other type of good you may forget, so be prepared with your essentials. Traveling with a dog will also use up more of your carry-on baggage allocation and so you may need to check a bag with additional supplies; make sure to have enough supplies for a few days in your carry-on. Some people swear by DryFur pads in case of accidents and advise lining the inside of the carrier and having some extras for the airport and taxi ride.

Some people also don’t feed their dog before the flight and let them drink less water too. If possible, take your dog for a long walk before the flight.

One thing to note is that each aircraft is different and so your carrier may fit under the seat on one flight but not the other. Some airports to sell pet carriers for last minute emergencies though.

5. Familiarize yourself with the airport:

When you travel with a dog, you cannot check-in online, so be prepared to check-in at a counter. Depending on the airport, the flight, and the airline, you can wait quite some time and this will add some stress to your plans.

During the security screening process, you need to remove your dog from the carrier and carrier it thought the metal detector while the carrier goes through the x-ray machine. It is important to have your dog on a leash in case it squirms and gets away. There have been situations where dogs have run away, as well as cats and it can be stressful to run after them to get them back (in one case, it took an airport 1.5 hours to find a cat who ran away).

Some airports also have pet friendly areas. For example, YVR – Vancouver International Airport has a pet relief area near gate 76 and 77 for US departures. YYZ – Toronto International Airport also has Pet Zones in Terminal 1 and 3. DEN – Denver International Airport has private restrooms for pets in each of their concourses. Google before departure!

If you have lounge access, look up the rules to see if you can bring your dog in with you. I can confirm that yes, you can bring your dog into Air Canada’s Maple Leaf Lounges as long as you follow some basic rules.

Final Thoughts:

We don’t travel with a dog but know people who do and see first-hand how challenging it is. The biggest mistake people do is not researching enough and then have their plans affected during the check-in process; if you are not complaint to the airlines policies, you and your dog will not be allowed to board. Also, policies change over time so it is best to check them often to avoid problems.

While airlines and airports are adapting and becoming more pet-friendly, it is not a pet-free for all and pet owners need to be mindful of how their presence and pet, in this case dog, affects others. Some people also have allergies to dogs, some are scared of them, and some avoid them for religious reasons. I personally love dogs but have to limit my exposure and contact due to an allergy that now requires me to carry an Epipen. From what people have told me, how Flight Attendants assist is based on the individual and at minimum, you should expect they will follow the standard policies of the airline.

Patience, respect, and awareness help everyone when travelling and so this should also be the same when planning to fly with your dog. Do your research, get organized, and do your best to enjoy the journey with your dog, understanding that some flights are easier to deal with and some dogs are just easier to travel with.

Have you ever flown with a dog? If so, how did things go? Are there any tips you would like to add?

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