Tips, Suggestions and Ideas For Flying Puppy Home in the Cabin
Over the past few months I've received some Facebook and Forum messages asking me about our experience with flying our puppy home in the cabin. I wrote a lot of my suggestions and ideas down and thought I'd share them here in hopes it helps others who may be making flights home with their puppies.
My husband is an airline captain and was helpful with my questions because he was able to ask gate agents and flight attendants to get practical answers!
I'm sure others who have flown puppies may have other ideas and I encourage them to share them here!
Find Out Your Airline’s Requirements For Flying a Puppy In the Cabin.
Every airline has different requirements for flying a puppy in the cabin. For example, some require a health certificate issued within a specified time before the flight, some require the puppy be a minimum of 8 weeks old and some have maximum puppy weight restrictions. Most airlines list these requirements on their website. It is a good idea to find them, print them out, and take them with you, just in case there is a question about the policy when you are checking in to fly back with the puppy.
Be sure to note the size requirements for an approved pet carrier and make sure you purchase a carrier that meets these specifications (including size limitations) as all pet carriers must be stowed underneath the seat in front of you for take-off and landings and sometimes for the entire flight (depends on the flight crew). If you are flying more than one airline, then your pet carrier must comply with both airlines’ size requirements, especially if you are flying a part of the trip on a smaller commuter carrier. Some airlines sell approved pet carriers, but you can also purchase them online or at pet store retailers.
Considerations for Scheduling Flights and Travel to and From the Airport.
The goal of flying home with a puppy is to make it as efficient and fast as possible, with fewer flight legs and layovers. Be sure to consult flight schedules before you arrange with your breeder for a time to pick the puppy up. Direct flights are the best option, but not everyone can find a direct flight. Sometimes flight times can present issues. In our case, we traveled from Dallas to Northwest Pennsylvania via Cleveland. Our airline had two daily flights to Cleveland, one in the morning and one in the evening. We flew up the evening before and stayed at a hotel in the breeder’s city so that we could pick the puppy up early in the day and fly back that evening, minimizing the puppy’s time on the road. Our pick up time was 10 a.m. We spent at least an hour with the breeder, and we spent over three hours traveling back to the airport for our 7 p.m. flight, making frequent stops (off the highway for the puppy’s safety and health) to stretch our legs and eat lunch. We arrived at our home in Dallas at 11 p.m. the same night. It was a long day! If there are active parvo or other contagious infections in the area you will travel be sure to take breaks off the beaten path for your puppy’s health and safety. Be sure to wipe off puppy paws after potty stops.
Check around for other nearby airports before booking your flights. Check for direct or one-stop flight availabilities and think about the size of the airport and the ease of travel through them. In our experience, the smaller airports are easier for traveling with a puppy. For example, in our case we had three airports to choose from- Buffalo, Pittsburgh and Cleveland. There were no direct flights to Buffalo and a smaller commuter jet flew one of the legs. Pittsburgh had the same number of flights as Cleveland and was about the same distance to our breeder; however, it is a larger airport than Cleveland and getting through TSA screening could take much longer. Cleveland was the right choice for us.
When you obtain the pet carrier, take the bottom board out, wrap it several times with clear plastic wrap, and secure it with tape (it might stick on itself, which is fine). Over that, wrap 5 or more layers of piddle pads (I used human bed pads I bought for much less at the grocery store). Make sure the piddle pads are not treated with a scent to encourage a dog to go potty. Scented piddle pads are better for the airport waiting areas/bathrooms to encourage the puppy to relieve itself before boarding. Tape each piddle pad on the back of the board so you can just untape and rip off one pad at a time if needed. Get a poop bag dispenser (with a roll of poop bags inside) and then buy a key ring or other clipping device and attach it to the pet carrier. Get some baby wipes or Wet Ones (not deemed a liquid for TSA requirements) and stash them in one of the carrier’s pockets, along with a Ziploc full of paper towels). You may also want to stuff a few grocery plastic bags in the pockets for disposal of used piddle pads. I put several piddle pads in a big Ziploc stuffed in the pockets to use at the airport restroom before boarding to give the puppy a last chance to potty before the flight. Put a small toy in the Sherpa for him too. I had a collapsible water dish too that I could use for food or water. I bought a specially designed pet water bottle with an attachment that a pet can use and packed it empty in my bag. You might want to carry a small bag of kibble just in case, but we didn’t feed him and he wasn’t hungry. I also made sure to bring a small collar and leash with a dog tag with our phone numbers on them. I got it made early so no name, just phone numbers. I also had a tag with my contact information attached to the Sherpa bag. We used piddle pads and a small blanket for the airport when we put him on the floor.
There is a possibility the puppy could become car sick on the drive back to the airport so if you can pack some towels it might be handy. If possible, do not check any of your personal luggage so you can leave the airport immediately to get home. The pet carrier counts as a carry on, so pack lightly if you can!
We took several bathroom breaks for him on the drive back to Cleveland. When we got to the rental car return area, we let him go in a small grassy area. I also took him in the restroom at the airport with a piddle pad.
Every airline is different with check in requirements. Since my husband is an airline employee, our travel is much different and we weren’t subject to the same check in requirements. You do need to take the puppy out of the carrier to go through security and that’s the worst part since you have to strip down too and it gets hectic. TSA did not want us to have a collar or leash on him so my husband held him going through. The TSA employees at Cleveland all seemed to love puppies and everyone wanted to say hi to him and pat him down! We let the agent at the gate know we had a puppy, since we are not pre-assigned seats, and she made sure we got a row in the back with a seat between us, right next to the flight attendant galley. That turned out to be a blessing because one of the flight attendants was married to a veterinarian and the other attendant loved dogs. We were allowed to place him on the floor between us for takeoff and landing- technically not in compliance with the rules, but we did not complain. Your flight crew will be the determining factor on what you can get by with on the flight. Some crews go by the books and others are more liberal. Once airborne they permitted us to put the carrier between us and they requested we unzip the top. By this time, our puppy was fast asleep. He didn’t make a peep until they served us sandwiches and then he wanted some and we got our first glimpse of those big puppy dog beggar eyes. He was so good on board, no barking, just a very sweet and tired puppy.
Airports, rental car returns, check in lines, TSA Security checkpoints, terminals and boarding areas are perfect places for new puppies to start early socialization. Our puppy met 65 people that day and enjoyed every minute of it! The goal breeders often mention is to introduce your puppy to as many different types of people as possible and the airport is bustling with different types of people. I held him and walked around with him in the terminal as we waited and people flocked over to see him. It was a good way to pass the time and get him started on a lifelong love of people. It also helped him to sleep through the flight home!
Enjoy the experience and do not forget to take a camera!
I have some photos of our flying experience in our puppy's thread- see the link with my signature.