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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.

Pet Carriers.

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.


Sherpa/Carrier Bag.

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!

Bathroom

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.

Check In

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.

Socialization

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!


Final Thoughts.

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.
 

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Maybe should be a sticky?
 

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This is so helpful as I am going to Windsor Colorado in January (about 1 hour north of Denver) to pick up our little man. I am flying there staying the night and then picking him up the following day then flying back home. I am SO excited!!
 

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One thing I did which turned out to be SUCH a great thing: I got to the airport in plenty of time to go through security. 90-120 minutes early. I went up to the security area and asked the agent sitting there what was the very latest I could come back and go through (once I went through, I knew I'd no longer be able to take Shala outside). It was a very quiet afternoon in Milwaukee and he said, you can come back as late as 15 minutes before your boarding. HUGE difference. I took Shala outside, we walked around the airport (with her in her carrier), took her outside again... Always worth checking first.

And yes - EVERYONE will want to pat your puppy. It's a really fun experience.
 

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GoldenRetrieverDaddy
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Hi Toby and Yogi's mom. First of all, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for this most useful post. I followed every little detail you had in here to the hilt. I flew with my 8 week old boy, Tucker, from Orlando to NJ. I want to add to you post, my own experience, in the hope that it will help somebody in the future.

After doing extensive online research, I decided to fly Jet Blue, because they are supposed to have the best small pet fly-in-cabin program. Unfortunately, even though everything else from check-in to security to boarding was smooth without any issues, I had a terrible experience with Jet Blue cabin crew. As you have rightly pointed out that some cabin crew go by the book, the ones on this flight did exactly that. They wanted me to zip up the carrier, completely, for the entire flight and my puppy was so claustrophobic in the Jet Blue pet carrier I had bought that he was barking and whining and struggling hard to get out of it. I requested the cabin crew to allow his head to be out so that he would calm down, but poor thing had an ordeal for about the first 30 mins of the flight.In the end, he broke the zipper of the Jet Blue carrier and was calm for the rest of his journey, because his head was out. The cabin crew on that flight was very rude and curt. Although, they were going by, I quote, "company policy", they were not at all humane and it made the journey so much more difficult. It was heart-breaking to see my boy in that difficult state.

Bottom line, although the Jet Blue pet carrier was the correct size to fit underneath their A320, it was definitely crammed and tight for an 8 week old, male golden retriever weighing around 12 lbs. I'm categorically advising readers to not go with their pet carrier if you are flying in Jet Blue. You will need a large Sherpa, but be prepared to face "by the book" unfriendly cabin crew attitude who will question the size if it does not fit underneath the seat. Also, bear in mind that you're co-passenger could be terrified of dogs as was the case when I flew.

Thank you again for your post.
Tucker's daddy
 

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Discussion Starter #10
I am sorry Tucker and you had a less than pleasant flying experience. Crews really can and do make the difference in many cases. Can you imagine how your pup would react in the cargo hold instead of the cabin? I still believe the worst cabin experience is better than the best cargo hold experience for these guys! Hopefully Tucker has brushed that unpleasant experience aside and is now happy and doing all things we love about puppies!

I also don't know what can be done for the passengers terrified of dogs, other than for the flight crew, if willing, to facilitate a seat exchange with someone who isn't terrified of an adorable Golden puppy. I suspect many people would love to sit next to a pup on a flight and would trade seats. Was your flight extremely packed? That might have a lot to do with the attitude of the crew and the unwillingness to try for a seat trade. Our flight wasn't at capacity fortunately so we were able to get an entire row to ourselves. There was a screaming baby in the front bulkhead and by the end of the flight I venture to guess those passengers would have gladly traded seats to sit next to the cute puppy!
 

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Pearl, Lila, Betty's mom
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You have me worried for picking up our pup now. I fly out at 4:25 from detroit and the pups are an hour or so away. Drive back, drop off rental car, get through security. Fortunately it will be 2 days after christmas but still busy. I was thinking I would want to be on the road back to detroit by noon, maybe 11. I am now leaning more towards 11 at the latest, sooner if possible. I arrive late the night before and am assuming at this time the soonest I can get to the breeders is 9 the next morning. What do you think?
 

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Pearl, Lila, Betty's mom
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Ugh, I just discovered that detroit is in the easten time zone, yukko! Maybe I should change my hotel plans and drive closer to the pups when I arrive. Arriving late at 11 pm is suddenly just 9 pm to me.
 

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Laura, you can always talk to the breeder and ask her what the earliest time is that you can come and pick up your girl the next morning. That is what I did with Ben, I asked and it was okay to pick him up at 8 AM to head straight to the airport.

Of course, we had a horrible experience with Delta as well - since they won't allow pups under 10 weeks in the cabin anymore and then they bitch about the medium Sherpa bag for even an 8 week old but a large Sherpa bag will not fit under the seat. I was also not allowed to let puppy's head stick out of the carrier, I had to put the carrier under the seat and leave it there.
I think they try to force people to put the pups into cargo. No thank you, I would rather drive two days by car than do that.
 

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Discussion Starter #15
I would try to get as close to your breeders as possible the night before, if it's at all possible. Ask your breeder if you can pick up early and then get to the airport as early as you can. While you might be spending time in the ladies' room with a piddle pad trying to get puppy to piddle before the flight, at least you've gotten through security and are at the airport. We actually waited for several hours before our flight, which was fine because we were able to meet more people.

I just cannot imagine flight crews not liking puppies, but obviously some don't. I've flown a number of flights with animals on board and in my experience the flight attendants have been very accomadating and excited. I know some airlines work with employee volunteers who actually fly puppies back to service dog training organizations, on their days off.
 

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Pearl, Lila, Betty's mom
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I am going to change my hotel. I should note to Lynn the need to be early and first that day. I think the airport has a pet relief area but I doubt I will want to go near it. Sticking with piddle pads would be safest as far as disease goes.
 

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Pearl, Lila, Betty's mom
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This is a great resource for flying with pups and they sell super soaking pee pads sized for sherpa bags, and they are unscented.

http://www.dryfur.com
 

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My daughter flew 9 week old Duncan from FL to NC on Delta. It was barely a 2 hour flight and they ended up landing early.
The breeder dropped him off just outside check-in. He was in a Sherpa and weighed close to 15lbs. Upon waiting for check-in, Duncan threw up in his bag. The breeder had just fed him a FULL lunch before the flight! (NOT recommended). The breeder also claimed he was car sick. I actually think that worked to my daughter's advantage, as Duncan's tank was empty from that point on. Check in was easy, she just had to present his medical certificate.
She said getting through security was ok, but a little overwhelming. She took him to the women's restroom in Tampa which was very big and even had a large diaper changing area. It was a deserted bathroom so she would take him out of the bag and let him walk around on the counter. Many people came over to see him at that time; he probably met close to 20 people! She gave him 3 drops of Bachs Rescue Remedy before the flight.

-IN THE CABIN-
The Delta flight attendant that was on the plane was very nice. He came over to pet Duncan and asked some basic questions. She was allowed to hold him in the Sherpa on her lap with his head sticking out until the plane started moving to take off. It was hard to cram the Sherpa under that little seat! Thankfully the person sitting next to her was very understanding and even helped her out. He whimpered slightly while under the seat in the bag, but no massive amounts of crying. When the plane was in the air, the friendly flight attendant let her take Duncan out of the bag and he sat on her lap. Duncan made NO noise when he was out of the bag, people in the surrounding seats had no idea there was a puppy in the cabin! He slept most of the flight but was extremely interested in shoving his face in between the seats in front of them! The air pressure didn't seem to bother him either. When the beverage cart came around she asked for a cup of ice. He really enjoyed licking the ice to keep hydrated. He had to go back under the seat for landing (with minimal whining), then they walked right off the plane.

Duncan was in the bag for 5 HOURS and did not pee or poop! She actually misplaced the pee pads so he only had the fuzzy bottom liner of the Sherpa.
Just one vomit accident at the beginning which Keri easily found a family bathroom to set him down and clean him up in. She was very excited/nervous, but in the end it was all worth it!
 

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Pearl, Lila, Betty's mom
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Glad it went well for you. Did they never ask the age of the pup? Their new policy requires it to be 10 weeks old. I am flying United because of this on friday, but would have preferred to use my Delta miles instead.
 
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