What happens when you want to see the world but can’t bear to leave Fido at home? You do what we did: lots of research, mistakes, and pay lots of money. Read on to share our experiences and learn from our mistakes. (Not that this presumes you are taking your pup on the plane with you. I have no experience with shipping a dog via cargo)
We started by doing a shorter trial run to Portland. My in-laws live there and we thought this would be a good opportunity to see how they would do in their carriers, through security and so on. It would also give us some good first-hand experience in going through all the procedures since we knew we were planning on taking them with us to Italy. After following most of the suggestions found online regarding not feeding them several hours before the flight, giving them something that smells familiar in the carrier, leaving the carriers out & getting them used to being inside during car rides, we were ready to take off.
First of all, taking a dog can be expensive. Be prepared to pay the extra fees as well as deal with the dog counting as your personal item; if you’re a light packer you’re good, but if not, it may mean having to check an extra bag. Just food for thought. The fees seem to be about the same for each airline, around $100 per dog, one-way. In our case, more expensive than the Southwest ticket for ourselves #eyeroll
Speaking of Southwest, they were perfectly helpful to us & our animal companions. They tagged the carrier and just reminded us to keep the dogs inside the whole flight. Otherwise, no issues whatsoever.
Security from the human side was the same except for the fact that you don’t go through the 360 hands-over-head x-ray machine. You go through the old faithful one since you have to carry your dog through with you. The empty carrier goes through on the belt like everything else. I recommend just carrying the leash with you (collars can stay on) just so its easier to keep control of the dog should they wiggle free somehow. After clearing the metal detectors we had our hands swabbed and the swab scanned to see if there were any harmful chemicals hidden on the dog & once cleared, we were done. Very easy.
On the plane, the carriers must stay under the seat and for some taller readers this may pose a problem. Since we aren’t cursed with height, the carriers we have (Amazon Basics, Medium) will slide either underneath with them facing out or you can tuck it sideways. We found sideways to be more comfortable for us and the dogs but if you do have longer legs, having them lengthwise (tucked all the way under on one side) may be more comfortable for you.
Flight concluded, we evaluated the differences for the long flight & some of the things we learned. Since we were still in the US, no customs issues or anything else other than getting the rental car & having some fun.
There’s a lot more to go through in this instance, although the basic principles are the same – make the reservation with the airline after you’ve purchased your tickets, don’t feed them within 3 hours or so before the flight, take them out through security, etc.
Here’s some other things to consider:
Breaks – This may mean that you don’t get to do a non-stop flight but getting them out to stretch & run after several hours is a good idea & good for you too. If you do choose to do the long haul flight, we’ve heard of folks taking the carrier into the restroom to let the pup stretch but our flight attendants likely would have frowned upon that so use at your own risk
Water – Based off a tip found online, we asked the flight attendant for a cup of ice & put that whole thing in the carrier. This way, as it melted, they could remain hydrated but not have access to a whole bunch all at once.
Temperature – Plane temps can vary quite a bit as we all probably know. Down there on the floor, the temps can be even different. In our case, it was warm for the first flight but pretty cool on the second one (daytime vs. evening) so we partially covered the carrier with one of the airline blankets. Not so much to block airflow of course, but enough to provide a little insulation. This was in addition to the blanket that was already inside.
Requirements – biggest deal ever!!! Please quadruple check all the requirements for the country you are visiting. I messed up & it was quite a costly mistake. Timelines for getting things done are non-negotiable so you will absolutely need to be perfect on your timing.
Learning Point: coming into Italy, a dog will need to have a 15-digit microchip, current rabies given after the microchip and a minimum 21 day incubation after the rabies before entering the country. Even if the dog is current since it’s primary as a pup, this must be done. We were short on the days and no amount of bargaining, pleading or explaining helped; no health certificate can be issued by your veterinarian. Speaking of make sure your vet is accredited and you get your health certificate notarized by the the proper authority. In Italy’s case, this meant within 10 days of arrival and, for us, a several hour drive away from home. As you can see, lots and lots and lots of planning and prep is needed to make this as smooth as possible for both of you.
(Interestingly, we had more issues in Canada going through customs than our final destination, Italy. But your mileage may vary)
So bottom line is that with lots of planning and prep, it can be very smooth to engage in air travel with your beloved four-legged friend. If you have any tips or thoughts, please share in the comments below.