Dog Air Travel:
Make Sure Your Canine is Safe
in the Friendly Skies


For this Q&A on dog air travel, I had the pleasure to speak with Melanie Monteiro, dog safety expert and author of The Safe Dog Handbook: A Complete Guide to Protecting Your Pooch, Indoors and Out.

However, before we get into the Q&A, I want to say upfront that the best advice about dog air travel is -- don't ship your pet in cargo unless it is absolutely unavoidable.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), the Humane Society of the United States and the American Humane Association all advise against shipping your pet in cargo -- and with good reason. As Melanie will discuss below, there are many factors during dog air travel that can lead to loss, injury -- and even death -- of your precious pooch if he is shipped in the belly of a plane.

If you have absolutely no alternative form of getting your dog where you need to go, follow the dog air travel advice below by Melanie Monteiro. A lifelong dog lover, Melanie has been a puppy raiser for Canine Companions for Independence, the national organization that provides assistance dogs to people with disabilities. In her continued quest to help dogs lead safe, healthy lives, Melanie went on to earn certificates in canine nutrition and pet first aid. She currently teaches pet first aid and disaster response courses for the Emergency Care and Safety Institute to pet owners throughout Southern California. Melanie lives in Topanga, California with her husband, Mark, and Taiga, their six-year-old Lab.

Dog Air Travel Q&A

You state in your book, “The Safe Dog Handbook,” that a pet-friendly flight begins at the time of booking. Can you elaborate on this aspect of dog air travel?

dog air travel dog with passport

Booking a pet-friendly flight begins with a good deal of research if the dog must fly “below cabin.” Careful consideration must be given to the dog’s breed, health, age and disposition to determine whether flying is in their best interest.

Begin by checking the airline’s pet travel policies on their website. Many carriers have breed and weather restrictions designed for your dog’s own safety, which may force you to reconsider your travel plans. If you make it past this hurdle, the airline must also assure you that their below-cabin area for dogs will be climate-controlled and pressurized. If not—find another airline.

Look for a direct flight whenever possible, and choose a time that will help ensure your dog’s comfort and safety – for example, book an early morning or evening flight during warm summer months, and a mid-day flight during colder months.

Finally, review the airline’s policies (such as health certificate requirements, pre-flight feeding restrictions, check-in procedures etc.) to make sure you are willing and able to comply with all rules and regulations to prevent problems at the airport.

If, however, you have a small dog that passes muster to fly in the main cabin with you, congratulations! Your only real concern is to make sure he has a reservation.


I understand that the preparation of the dog’s crate is crucial to his traveling comfort and safety. What do you tell people on how to successfully prepare the crate for dog air travel?

You need to start with an airline-approved crate— which can vary with each airline — then its time to “Pimp Your Crate” to help draw special attention to the precious cargo inside! Use brightly colored paint pens or markers and write your dog’s name in big letters across the top. Write something like “I’m Lucy and I’m very friendly!” to help put the baggage handlers at ease. Next, type up instructions on a sheet of paper listing your name, flight number(s), cell phone, emergency contact numbers and final destination. Tape this to the top of the crate. If it will be a long flight, securely attach a small pack containing a baggie of kibble, small bottle of water, poop bags and leash to the back of the crate with duct tape in case of delay.

Prepare the inside of the crate by making sure there are sturdy water and (for longer flights) food dishes attached. Line the crate with a kennel pad or other soft bedding, and place an old shirt with your scent on it inside to help comfort your dog.

The day before the flight, fill the water dish 2/3 full and freeze it, then take it with you to the airport to place in the crate right before you check the dog in. Also prepare a couple of treat-stuffed Kongs or other durable treat-dispensing toys.


No matter how well prepared the crate is, the dog must still feel safe and secure in it. What should pet parents do to acclimate their dogs to their crate prior to the day of flight in order to cut down on the anxiety level associated with dog air travel?

If the dog is already comfortable being crated at home, practice lifting the crate with him in it (you’ll need someone to help you) and gently jostling it around, placing it in the car, and driving around. This will help prepare him for being lifted, loaded, and transported on the plane.

For puppies/dogs that have never been crated and you’re starting from scratch, there is one cardinal rule you must always follow: Never use the crate as punishment! A dog’s crate should always be a safe, happy haven.

To get started, be sure the crate is appropriately sized, which is large enough for the dog to stand up, turn around, and lay down in. Position it in an area of the house with a lot of activity, such as the kitchen, so that he still feels like part of the family, and place him favorite toy and an old shirt with your scent inside. Begin feeding all the dog’s meals inside the crate (leaving the door open). Sit on the floor next to the open crate and play with him, tossing his toys inside. Praise him whenever he enters the crate on his own. Allow him to sleep in the crate in your room at night (leaving the door open) if he chooses. Continue these exercises for several days or even longer until you feel he’s comfortable, then begin doing them with the crate door closed for short periods, building time as you progress.

When introduced properly, most dogs love their crate and think of it as a safe, cozy den. If you’re having trouble, consult a professional trainer, and do not travel with your dog until he’s comfortable.


What is your opinion on sedating dogs for dog air travel?

This is quite a controversial topic! The short answer, in my opinion, is that this decision should be made by a dogs’ own veterinarian on a case-by-case basis. Most agree that sedating a dog can jeopardize their safety by affecting their respiratory and/or cardiovascular function below cabin, as well as their ability to balance and maintain equilibrium when being jostled around. Others believe it’s not realistic to expect a dog to endure the stress of a flight without light sedation. A trusted vet can help determine what’s right for your dog based on his health, breed, age and circumstances of travel. Also keep in mind that some airlines will not accept sedated pets.


What, if any, health and medical certificates will the dog require during dog air travel?

Each airline has different requirements, which may vary based on your final destination. If a health certificate is not required, you should still bring copies of your dog’s rabies and other vaccines/titer records in case you’re asked. Being prepared will help prevent any unnecessary delays.


The safety of our canine companion is the primary concern of any caring pet parent. Can you share some specific safety tips for dog air travel?

Purchase a nylon snap-buckle or “breakaway” collar (I like the KeepSafe collar by Premier) and write your dog’s information and contact number right on the collar. Do not attach any tags or plan to use a chain or prong collar the day of the flight – these can get snagged on the wire door of the kennel, causing severe injury and even strangulation.

Trim your dog’s nails the day before you leave, to help prevent snags and give him better footing in his crate.

Bring a photo of you with your dog and keep it with you on the off chance the dog becomes lost, or you need to prove ownership.

Bring an extra leash and keep it in your purse or carry-on.

Have a back-up plan in place if, for any reason, your dog is refused at the airport due to a reservation snafu, extreme weather, etc.

Be sure your dog is well exercised the day of the flight to help release pent up energy and anxiety. Allow extra time in your schedule for him to hydrate and eliminate before entering the airport.

Be confident, calm and happy when you bid your crated dog farewell, and double-check the airline tags on his crate to make sure they’re accurate.

Before boarding your flight, inquire at the gate that the dog has been loaded safely onto the aircraft, and confirm where you’ll be picking him up at your final destination.


Airport personal are key in ensuring a safe, comfortable flight for our beloved dogs. Do you have any “insider” tricks for interacting with airline personnel and flight crews in order to make the dog traveler’s flight as pleasant as possible?

Suck up to everyone! Seriously, a smile, friendly attitude and good eye contact can go a long way towards making your concerns heard and motivating others to go out of their way for your dog. Of course, tipping goes a long way too – so be sure to tip the baggage handler who takes your dog (about $20 if you can afford it).

Now I’ll share a trick from a seasoned pilot for a major carrier: Bring two packets of goodies (such as a sealed box of chocolates wrapped in cellophane) on board, a few photos of your dog, and a note that says:

“Dear Captain: Please know that on this flight you are carrying the most precious cargo in the world—my beloved dog (insert name). Please confirm that he is on board and that his area is safely pressurized and climate controlled. He means the world to our family and we appreciate your kindness.”

Give one package of goodies to the flight crew to keep and ask your flight attendant to deliver the other package with the note and photo of your dog to the cockpit.

If you have time to chat with your flight attendant without disrupting her duties, ask her about any pets she has, and whether she has photos to share. Make yourself stand out in a positive way. That way if there are any delays or complications with the flight, your concerns for the well being of your dog may be addressed more quickly.


Small dogs, of course, can fly in the cabin. What special considerations should be given when carrying a dog on board an airplane?

dog air travel woman and dog on a plane

As you would with a larger dog flying below cabin, arrive at the airport early and give him a long walk to stretch his legs and relieve himself before heading inside. Adjust his feeding/watering schedule before the flight so that you do not anticipate him needing to eliminate for the duration of his journey, which may mean skipping a meal altogether. Do not feed him within two hours of departure.

If your little pooch is prone to anxiousness, consider a natural calming remedy such as Ultra-Calm Valerian cookies (available at Drs. Foster and Smith) or Rescue Remedy for pets (alcohol-free formula).


Are there particular breeds that require extra caution when flying, or that perhaps should not fly at all?

Yes! Any breed prone to breathing difficulties such as brachycephalic (short head, snub nose) breeds or those prone to stenotic nares (pinched nostrils) should not fly below cabin, as they are at risk for life-threatening heatstroke, respiratory and cardiovascular emergencies. These include the Pug, Pekingese, Shih Tzu, Boston Terrier, Bulldog, Boxer and Chow Chow. Luckily, some of these dogs are small enough to fly in the main cabin.

A major concern would also be with elderly dogs, dogs with heart or lung conditions, and dogs with extreme anxiety.

Understand that there may be instances (e.g., mechanical problems) when the air below cabin becomes compromised. This could potentially harm any dog, regardless or breed, age or state of health.


What final advice would you like to leave people with when it comes to dog air travel?

Don’t! Unless, of course, you really have to.


Fantastic Dog Air Travel Alternative: Pet Airways Pet-Only Airline

Pet Airways offers a great dog air travel alternative to getting your precious canine where he or she needs to go -- without the risks of flying them in cargo. Pet Airways is a "pet-only airline" (no people allowed except the staff!) that will fly your precious pooch in the cabin of a specially outfitted passenger plane complete with trained attendants to supervise his or her safety.

For more information on Pet Airways' dog air travel services, including pricing and a complete list of locations serviced, visit

the Pet Airways Web site.


Your furry friend is relying on you, so when it comes to dog air travel, please remember that the safest alternative is always to keep your pet off of a commercial airline carrier and out of cargo completely. There are far too many tragic losses that occur. Be sure that your pet is not one of them.

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