by Soojin Um
Staff Writer

The holiday travel season is upon us. Air travel has been crazy since Thanksgiving and will continue to be so right up to Christmas Eve, and even Christmas Day. Many people are also traveling with their dogs. Not even 30 years ago, dogs weren’t allowed pretty much anywhere, but now we see them in grocery stores, banks, malls, and even restaurants. However, the one place we don’t really see them is on airplanes.

Federal law pretty much allows airlines to dictate their own policies when it comes to dogs and air travel. Service dogs are, of course, exempt from rules and bans (though there may be size restrictions). Also, some emotional support dogs are allowed onto airplanes. However, just about in all other cases, dogs face stiff regulations on being able to board a flight. Why is that?
A lot of it has to do with public health issues. There are a lot of people with pet allergies, and in an enclosed space with recycled air, such as airliners, it could pose potential discomfort and health risks for people on board. That’s not even taking into consideration risk of dog bites, dogs being aggressive towards each other, and the need to answer the call of nature. As much as we all love our canine companions, we can also understand where the airlines, and the general public, are coming from.

However, some people want to take their dogs with them on a trip. There are also times where air travel for dogs is unavoidable. Relocating for a job or family reasons is a common thing. If the relocation is to the other side of the country, or across an ocean, flying with a dog becomes necessary. Those who are able to (and want to) can make the drive from New York to L.A., but there are also a lot of people who don’t want to or can’t do that.
So, how do we fly with our dogs? There are several factors that must be considered. If you have a small dog, weighing under 20 pounds and able to fit into a dog carrier the size of an approved carry-on, it’s not too much of a hassle. There will be a fee, of course, and the amount varies depending on the airline. Most airlines also have a rule that says the dog must stay in the carrier and under the seat in front of you for the entire flight. For a short 2 hour hop, that shouldn’t be a big deal. If the flight is cross country, however, it can get a little uncomfortable for the dog. Another kicker is that most airlines only allow a certain number of dogs in the cabin. The number varies, but it’s usually around 4 to 6 dogs. If you’re trying to book a flight at the last minute, there’s a chance those spots can be taken up.

For medium to large size dogs, things get a lot trickier. First and foremost, airlines they will not allow them to travel in the cabin with you. As said earlier, service dogs can be an exception, but they are the only exception. For larger dogs, they have to travel as checked baggage or as cargo. That can sound distressing, but it occurs all the time, about half a million pets fly in cargo every year. Sadly, there have been several issues of pets being mishandled while flying cargo, even with airlines that have specific pet transport services. Pet parents should be careful when relying on the descriptions in the brochure. It pains us to write this, but there have been documented incidents of dogs arriving with severe medical issues, and sometimes even dead. However, it also needs to be pointed out that the ratio of any incident occurring during flights is 1 in 10,000. It may be small comfort to those that have faced a tragedy, but overall most pets fly with little or no incidents.
Dogs that must fly as checked baggage or cargo face another restriction, which is the time of year they can fly. Most airlines only allow them to fly in the spring and fall. This is for their safety, to avoid exposing animals to extreme temperatures out on the tarmac. As for inside the cargo hold itself, the U.S. Department of Transportation states that animals “must always be shipped in pressurized holds.” That’s good news for concerned pet parents, and one less thing to worry about.

Traveling with any pet, even just a 15-minute car ride to the park, can be taxing. Flying with a pet is exponentially more challenging. Sometimes it’s unavoidable: we can’t drive over an ocean, and maybe driving across country is not possible. In other times, however, we just want our furry friends to enjoy a vacation with us. Whatever the reason may be, if dogs must travel on a plane, we need to prepare and plan ahead of time. Do the research. Even then, there are still risks. At least, however, you will have a better idea of what’s involved and be able prepare for it. We sincerely hope and pray that everything will go smoothly without a single hitch.

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