How I Prepared For Taking My Dog On A Plane + Everything I Packed For Her
My dog and I have been on three plane rides.
The first was from Charlotte to New York. The second was from New York to Oslo, Norway. The third was first class from Oslo, Norway to Miami, Florida. That last one was really long. If you can afford a first class ticket, and you’re flying with an animal, it is definitely worth the extra leg room. The bottomless Bloody Mary’s don’t hurt either. I was a ball of stress trying to learn how to bring her with me, but I’m now pretty confident when it comes to flying with my dog. I spent many hours learning what to do before these flights. Now that we have these flights under our belt, I have experience that I’m here to share with you. There’s more than just how to get your dog on the plane. It’s also a priority to plan for the worst and hope for the best while in flight.
*This is only information about flying with a dog, not customs information. Please check custom regulations before booking a ticket.
*I legitimately qualify for an emotional support animal. I have had some scary mental health experiences at home and abroad. It’s not okay to scam the system, and when people do, it hurts people like me. In the United States, it is possible to bring a service dog, emotional support dog, or very small lap dog that is a pet into the cabin of a plane.
*Each airline and country has its own rules regarding pets, service animals, and emotional support animals, so make sure you look up the rules before purchasing a ticket. I personally flew using American Airlines and Norwegian Air.
*Only long snouted cats and dogs can fly. Dogs and cats like Pugs, Bulldogs, Pekingese, Boston Terriers, Shih Tzu, Persians, Exotic Shorthairs, and Himalayans should NEVER fly. Those with flat faces, brachycephalic dogs and cats, experience heightened respiratory problems while in the air. It’s not an official rule, unfortunately, but animals with short snouts can and will die in the air. They have a hard time breathing and suffocate. I won’t link to any articles of tragedies from negligent animal owners, but if you don’t take my word for it, look it up for yourself. Don’t put your animals life in danger. Consider driving, taking a boat, or not going at all.
I rescued my dog, Ava, on impulse in middle of nowhere West Virginia, and the adventure began.
It was love at first sight. I had to have her. However, actually taking her home was much less romantic. She jumped out of my car window at the pound right after I rescued her. Not cool, Ava. For a year, she would puke every single time she rode in the car. It was rough. However, I worked with her, and she got a lot better. I took her training seriously, and our trust in each other grew. I eventually trusted her enough to bring her on a plane. I did a lot of googling. I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I considered buying doggy chill pills but ultimately decided against it. A vet recommended basic Benadryl for long flights. (The dosage is 1mg for each pound of dog).
Know your dog. Trust yourself.
Once I was 100% sure Ava would be accompanying me to Norway, I received almost nothing but hateful responses from people that thought I was being cruel to my animal by bringing her along. Don’t listen to anyone but yourself. You are the one that knows your dog.
I have absolutely no regrets. Not only did I have an amazing time, she had an amazing time. I brought her because we are sharing life. I legally own her, but she is not treated as a possession. She enjoys being around me, and I enjoy being around her.
Her time on this Earth is limited, and I will long outlive her. Basically, if I can’t bring my dog, I’m not going. I may take very short trips without her as an exception.
When I made the decision to spend three months in Norway, I knew right away that I would do whatever I needed to do to bring her.
For anyone thinking of bringing their dog on a plane, be honest to yourself about your animal. Ask yourself some questions:
1. How does my dog react in new situations?
My dog is all about me. If something freaks her out, she just wants to be pressed up against me. This works in my favor. If you’re dog tries to get away or displays aggressive behavior, that’s not appropriate airport behavior.
2. Does my dog pee when scared?
I am fortunate enough to have a dog that doesn’t pee from excitement or submissive behavior. However, if your dog submissively pees, in-cabin air travel may not be appropriate.
3. If I am bringing my dog as a service animal or emotional support animal, are they actually trained to perform a task or provide support?
This is a big one. Don’t discredit individuals that have spent countless hours and potentially thousands of dollars on dog training by bringing a poorly trained dog.
4. How long can my dog hold his/her pee and bowel movements?
Ava can hold her pee for a long time, however, I knew that because of hold long the flight was, there was a possibility of having an accident. I brought a pee pad with me. I presented it to her before we got on the plane, she sat on it during the plane, and I presented it to her after the flight. 16 hours from first getting to the airport, we were outside and she held her pee the entire time to pee on a bush. I was seriously impressed. Either way, I was prepared for an accident, because, well, they’re accidents.
5. What would happen if your dog was somehow injured on the plane? If a lot of turbulence OCCURRED, this could happen. How would the dog react? Would they be able to remain calm?
I Keep my seat belt buckled the entirety of all flights. Turbulence can be a bitch. Have you ever seen a video of passengers literally smacking the ceiling of a plane? I have, and I’ll keep my seat belt buckled. I knew that something bad could happen to Ava if this kind of turbulence occurred during our flights. I weighed the risk. I knew that is was highly unlikely for this to happen. I also have seen her in discomfort and pain before. She doesn’t get testy. She let me dig into her skin to pull a tick. Twice. I’ve taken care of her stitches after surgery. She’s calm, so, I knew that in the rare chance she smacked the ceiling of the airplane, she wouldn’t cause unnecessary trouble. This is something to keep in mind when deciding if your dog can handle air travel.
6. What will you do when you have to go to the bathroom?
I basically held my pee the entire plane ride. Then, when I did finally get up to pee, Ava was sleeping and just stayed in her spot. I was lucky. This technically isn’t allowed. Since I have an emotional support/service dog, she’s supposed to accompany me to the bathroom. However, there’s hardly enough room for me to even get my pants past my knees in those tiny bathrooms, so there wasn’t a chance in hell I was going to try to fit her in with me. The appropriate thing to do would be to train her to sit outside of the bathroom door and wait for me. We’re working on it. Next time.
7. What happens if your dog gets sick and starts throwing up?
Ava has a bad habit of puking. She has a sensitive stomach. I believe she was malnourished early in life and it screwed with her gut bacteria/microbiome. She tolerates me sticking a bag under her head before she pukes, so I brought a plastic bag to do just that if she started throwing up.
8. Is your dog trained well enough to sit between your legs the ENTIRE flight?
This was a tough one. Once I learned that Ava had to sit between my feet during the flight, I spent some time getting her used to sitting down right between my feet when we were in a new place. She wasn’t perfect at this. The rules are that no part of her can be in the isle. This was difficult once we were on the plane. The domestic plane was an especially tight squeeze, but she ultimately did sit under my feet, and it worked out. Spring for the first class ticket if you can, and request the seat in the front row for extra room for your dog.
9. Does your dog bark or growl?
Ava doesn’t bark. I had her for almost an entire year before I heard her bark. Maybe she doesn’t have anything to say? Whatever the reason, this is very convenient. Something has to be a really big deal for her to bark or growl. Usually, she’ll just let out one loud bark. Barking and growling on a plane is a big no. Consider a muzzle, or spending some time reasserting your dominance to control barking and growling.
10. What would happen if someone tried to grab your animal? How would they react?
People are really wild when it comes to touching a dog they don’t know. Why would you do that? If you are training your animal to travel, be in public places, or be a form of service dog, don’t allow anyone to touch them. Allowing people to pet your dog trains your dog to seek attention from other people in public places, and that’s a really bad habit. I know your dog is an angel, and they probably wouldn’t hurt a fly, but just say no. Ava doesn’t walk up to strangers, but they still are out of line and walk up to her. She has been grabbed by people and even startled when she wasn’t paying attention. She jumps a little bit and moves to the other side of me. Then, I very sternly tell whoever touched her that are putting themselves in danger, and they should always ask to touch a dog. I’m not nice about it, because I don’t take kindly to people startling my dog. I talk to Ava while we are in situations where she has to be still and behave. I think this calms her down.
11. Is there any situation he/she would bite?
If there is ANY situation that would provoke your dog to bite or even growl, leave them at home. If you don’t want to leave them at home, invest in a professional dog trainer.
12. When it’s time to get off the plane, would your dog be patient enough to sit between your legs while everyone gets up to get their luggage and eventually walk calmly off?
Ava and I struggled with this, but she does listen to me. One the first flight, she waited patiently up until people near us started to get up, and then she had had enough and moved into the isle. I apologized to the people she cut off, grabbed my things, and exited the plane. I learned my lesson for the second flight. I sat still, had Ava sit still, and I waited until almost everyone was off of the plane before I started to grab my things.
13. How would your dog react when food is being served?
Ava is very food motivated, but she isn’t that interested during travel. I make sure not to allow her to stick her nose near anyone eating in regular life, so she knows that’s not okay on a plane. Train your dog to be on their best behavior at home, and they will be on their best behavior everywhere else.
14. If you are intending on bring your dog into the cabin of the plane with you, the airline gives you a terrible time and says you must put them in the cargo hold, what would you do?
I knew that this could happen. Traveling with her was probably the most stressful thing I have ever done, because of the all unpredictable variables. I was prepared to turn around, eat my lost money, and not take my trip or leave at a later date. She is my priority.
15. Unfortunately, it’s up to the discretion of pretty much every single person that works at the airport whether or not your dog will be able to get on the plane. What is your Plan B if they deny you and your animal?
This goes along with the previous question. Where is your destination? Perhaps intend to arrive a few days earlier than you need to in your destination to be prepared if you have to leave the airport, get a new ticket, and regroup.
16. If you are traveling to another country and the customs agent doesn’t let you through, are you prepared to turn around and head back immediately or quarantine your animal?
This almost happened when I got to Norway. I had all of her paperwork with me, and the customs vet told me I was missing a paper. My ears started to ring, and I almost passed out. I sat down and started digging through my backpack. A few minutes later, she laughed and said it was just stuck to another piece of paper. It was a really big, “Oh, shit. My dog almost died over a piece of paper that we had the entire time.“ The risk is real, y’all. Because I had a first class return ticket, I had the luxury of changing my flight date without any fees. If something had happened, I would have been able to hop on a plane and turn right back around.
Yeah, that’s a lot to think about.
I know. I felt really overwhelmed when I first started looking into everything I had to do and everything I would need to bring. While deciding what to bring, I asked myself a few more questions.
17. What kind of climate will I be bringing Ava into?
I was going to Norway in summer. It’s a really enjoyable time of year. However, if I had been going to Norway in winter, I would’ve considered bringing dog shoes to protect her feet.
18. Do I have enough room in my backpack to bring her things, or does she need her own backpack?
My backpack was amazingly perfectly packed with everything I would need for three months abroad. So, her stuff would definitely not fit in mine. She has a backpack for hiking. I used that one in the airport and while traveling in general. The good thing about using her backpack as well is that her backpack is not weighed. I was able to put heavy things like food in hers without going over the weight limit. The backpack below is the exact backpack Ava wears. It is super sturdy, and the handle on top is really useful. It’s not a perfect fit for her very broad, bony shoulder blades, but it is padded enough to fit well despite her odd shape.
19. How much of her food should I bring?
This was a tough one. I had a limited amount of space, Ava has a very sensitive stomach, and I knew I wouldn’t find the dog food I use in Norway. I opted for a gallon resealable bag full of food that I put in her backpack.
20.Should I bring a dog toy?
I didn’t bring a dog toy, because that’s bulky and seemed unnecessary. She may have enjoyed it, but it wasn’t practical for the trip I was taking.
21. What do I need if she has to use the bathroom in the airport or on the plane?
This one was hard. She only has accidents if she really, really has to go, and I wouldn’t be mad if that happened even though it’s not okay. I decided to hope for the best and plan for the worst. I brought plastic grocery bags to catch puke and during every single flight she sat on a pee pad. Just incase.
22. What do I need if she pukes?
Ava is not a fan of car rides. She still pukes sometimes, and I do give her Benadryl for long car trips. I knew it was a possibly that she would get sick on the plane. However, I believe that much of her car sickness is in her own head. I think she psychs herself out from previous bad experiences. My theory turned out to be true, because she wasn’t the slightest bit queasy from the plane. She seemed completely unbothered while taking off and landing. Honestly, she exceeded my wildest expectations. This goes back to knowing your dog and being honest with yourself. Please train your dog well, and don’t take a dog that isn’t ready or will never be ready.
What I ultimately brought on the plane for her:
*Plastic water bowl
*Plastic grocery bag
*Important immigration documents/vet records
Don’t risk the safety of your dog by leaving your documents in your checked baggage. It was be an absolute disaster to lose them. My dog would have been put to sleep had I arrived in Norway with no documents, and that wasn’t not something I would ever risk. Keep track of them with your life.
A note about leashes.
You can NOT have a retractable leash in an airport. As well as being not allowed, you will draw attention to yourself and look like someone scamming the system. Use a 6 foot leash.
The backpack that I use has a handle for keeping your dog right next to you, however, if you are using a regular harness or a different backpack, I recommend either a leash with a built in lead or a clip on lead rope. It’s basically an incredibly short leash for situations where you’ll want your dog very close. I bought my leash from an old man that sewed it by hand in the mountains of Virginia. I unfortunately can’t link to his creations. However, I linked to a leash below that’s sturdy, 6ft long, and it has two built in handles. The perfect travel leash.
Weigh the risks.
Know your dog.
Be honest with how well your dog is trained.
Make your dog your first priority.
Check rules and regulations. Don’t assume. Check everything.
Prepare for the worst. Plan for the best.
With proper planning, paperwork, lots of training, and a little luck, you’ll be flying high.
In the end, Ava has now been to more countries than 58% of human Americans. (According to a 2018 Forbes article about passports). She’s a cultured lady. She never puked or peed on the plane which is more than I can say for myself. When I was her age, I really made a mess of a little two seater plane after getting violently sick the entire ride. She really is the best. The TSA agents praised me for having such a well-behaved dog. I never experienced any issues at the border. It went well. With proper planning, paperwork, lots of training, and a little luck, you’ll be flying high. If you take your dog on a plane or have any other tips, I’d love to hear about them. Happy travels!