Whole Dog Journal's Blog April 21, 2014

Flying with a Carry-On Dog

Posted at 04:20PM - Comments: (10)

So, I’m flying this week with a small dog, a carry-on dog, in the cabin. I’m transporting my daughter-in-law’s dog from her previous home in Boston to her new home here in California. When she moved here, she flew with an 18-month-old, extremely active boy, and that seemed like enough with which to burden a young mother flying otherwise alone. Her dog has been languishing for a few months with her parents, waiting for someone in the family to fly with, in the passenger cabin. I don’t recommend flying a dog as cargo except when there is absolutely no other choice, and only under specific conditions.

Why? Everything I know about flying dogs appears in the May issue.

Unfortunately, one of the things I learned when researching this issue is that there is no such thing as “airline-approved’ carriers for small dogs. Or rather, I learned that the phrase does not, in reality, mean what all of us think it means. The popular understanding of the phrase is “If I buy this ‘airline-approved’ carrier, I will be able to carry my small dog on the plane (with proper reservations/booking, of course).”

In reality, “airline-approved” tends to mean, “Some airline allowed someone sometime to carry a dog in this bag on board, but don’t count on this happening when YOU check in for a flight with YOUR dog on any given day.”

The airline agent manning the front counter for your flight are the ones who decide whether or not your carrier is “approved” for that flight. And the person’s approval not only varies by individual, by the airline she or he works for, but also by the specific model of airplane (or airplanes, if you have a multi-leg flight) used in your itinerary.

This is primarily because there is a great deal of variation in the size of the bag that can fit under the seat of various airplanes.

But airline agents are also the ones who will look at your bag to make sure that it is in good condition and can securely contain your dog (if it looks too flimsy, torn, or the zippers don’t close tightly, they can reject it, and your dog, from that flight). They also are empowered to (and charged with) making certain that your dog is in a carrier of an appropriate size – that you haven’t stuffed a too-large dog into a too-small bag. Your dog is supposed to be able to stand, turn around, and lie down comfortably in the bag. Puppies who are younger than 8 weeks are not supposed to be carried (or shipped) on airplanes, either, and ostensibly, the front counter personnel can ask for verification that the puppy is of sufficient legal age to travel.

Some agents have great judgment and experience at this job, and some do not. Some may allow a too-young puppy or too-large dog stuffed into a hot, uncomfortable crate onboard, and some may stop a perfectly appropriately crated dog in a perfectly good and appropriate carrier from flying.

The article that appears in the May issue discusses how you can stack the deck in your favor, to make as certain as you can that you and your dog will be appropriately prepared for acceptance onto the flight.

But I’m curious: How many of you have flown on commercial flights carrying your small dog? Have you ever been prevented from carrying your dog on board? If so, why? And how did you solve the problem? And if you’ve never had a problem with the front counter agents, tell us your secret!

 

Comments (10)

Does anyone know if you can purchase a seat for your dog?! I have a 21-lb Sheltie who could never fit under a seat, and I would be more than willing to buy her a passenger ticket and buckle her in next to me! (in a crate of course...) Is this allowed anywhere that you know of?

Posted by: jllewis | April 26, 2014 12:40 PM    Report this comment

My 11 lbs. dog flew with us as an in-cabin pet, internationally, for 10 yrs. We flew Continental most of the time -- no one ever checked either the bag or the dog. Once US Customs waved us through -- even when our custom declaration clearly said "live animal - dog." Sometimes we were greatly delayed in US Customs although I always had duplicate copies of necessary documents and knew and followed the rules to the letter. We flew Delta once -- they did check the dog and carrier very carefully. Then ON THE FLIGHT, a flight attendant asked me to take Maggie out because she "just loved dogs" (taking them out during the flight is a big no-no). Worst experience was American. Long long very stressful story, but we showed up at the gate and they said no in-cabin pets on this flight. I had reservations, a reservation confirmation number for Maggie and the names and dates of 6 agents I had spoken with re. various schedule changes, reconfirming the dog each time. They said they would make an exception and put my dog in cargo -- even though it was during the embargo period when the temperatures were too high to fly (90's and heading to Miami in the summer). I nixed that and ultimately the gate manager asked the pilot to allow my dog as long as I would be "discreet." We had to be re-routed on the return flight, at my expense, even though it was American's oversight. I filed a complaint with American to no avail. I will never ever fly them again, even without a dog.

Posted by: azogal | April 25, 2014 3:23 PM    Report this comment

People who use Service Dogs should have medical ID to prove medical condition as well as proof that the dog has gone through training. After all, if a person needs a service dog, that person should have no problem justifying it.

Posted by: islander | April 23, 2014 9:36 AM    Report this comment

I flew to pick up my 8 week old puppy. No one ever checked her paperwork at check in. They did look at her in her crate. The difficult part for me was getting her crate to fit under the seat on one leg of the flight. Luckily, I could slide the crate into the foot space in front of the seat and then angle her soft sided crate under the seat. When we got off the flight, we waited until everyone else was off the flight so I could wriggle the crate back out into the aisle. Airlines will list the dimensions of the under seat space but the does not necessarily reflect the dimensions of the entrance to that space.

Posted by: Entlemom | April 22, 2014 2:52 PM    Report this comment

I got some wonderful advice from a Southwest Airlines agent when I was flying my bloodhound puppy across the country. She suggested I put her & her carrier in a wheelchair and that worked great with a 20 pound puppy! I was able to wheel her up to the the door of the plane & they had one waiting for me when I disembarked.

Posted by: claudiarose | April 22, 2014 1:40 PM    Report this comment

The only problem I had bringing my puppy home in-cabin was that the TSA personnel didn't want to quit holding him and put him back in the carrier so we could board! We flew Delta on a direct flight with a medium-size sherpa carrier that came with with Delta insignia (purchased from Amazon) and had no problems at check-in or boarding. In the process of researching flying with pet in cabin, I did discover that my first-class ticket didn't give the puppy any more room than a coach seat--the under-seat areas are identical on many flights. The difference can be that the aisle under-seats on some planes are narrower than the under-seat areas for the middle and window seats. First-class did get us the larger under-seat area for an aisle seat, so we were both as comfortable as possible on a full flight. And, by the way, he made his first (and likely his last) flight like he was an experienced traveler.

Posted by: tinydcr | April 22, 2014 12:44 PM    Report this comment

I agree that people falsely claiming to have a "service" dog is wrong. Although sometimes, you wouldn't know by looking at someone that they even have a disability. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Epilepsy, etc., definitely don't have any outward indicators. (Not to mention deafness or being blind, I don't mean to disregard ANY other disability!!) But I agree, I think it's wrong that just anyone can buy a service dog vest online - even Amazon has them. I've never flown with a dog, but I have flown with my cockatiel! He even earned his "wings" thanks to the pilot.

Posted by: KimberlyO | April 22, 2014 10:31 AM    Report this comment

I've flown many times in the last 10 years with a small Shetland Sheepdog in cabin. The most important thing imo is to be sure your dog is comfortable in the bag you choose and that you do not select a bag that is questionable in size by the airline. The dog can be a pretty tight fit if they appear to be happy in the bag. My current Sheltie is 14" and 14 lbs. I train my dogs to launch into the bag head first, turn around, and lie down all in one swift motion and with all paws and head inside the bag when they stop. I use a clicker to do this. The rule for most airlines is that the dog must be able to fit inside and turn around in the bag. I have only had to demonstrate this once for an agent, however, it ended the debate immediately. It's also helpful when going through security to have a trained dog that enters a bag willingly. I also leave the old flight tags on the bag. If the bag is questioned, I point to the tags and say "this bag has flown many times on an ". Make it clear you know as much or more about the space on the craft than the agent does. I fly my dog in a size L sturdibag (although I'm not sure they are still on the market). The XL is really too large for many aircraft. And be aware there is often more space under the middle seat. It's not ideal for you, but who is more important?

Posted by: sheltiett | April 22, 2014 9:45 AM    Report this comment

I've flown many times in the last 10 years with a small Shetland Sheepdog in cabin. The most important thing imo is to be sure your dog is comfortable in the bag you choose and that you do not select a bag that is questionable in size by the airline. The dog can be a pretty tight fit if they appear to be happy in the bag. My current Sheltie is 14" and 14 lbs. I train my dogs to launch into the bag head first, turn around, and lie down all in one swift motion and with all paws and head inside the bag when they stop. I use a clicker to do this. The rule for most airlines is that the dog must be able to fit inside and turn around in the bag. I have only had to demonstrate this once for an agent, however, it ended the debate immediately. It's also helpful when going through security to have a trained dog that enters a bag willingly. I also leave the old flight tags on the bag. If the bag is questioned, I point to the tags and say "this bag has flown many times on an ". Make it clear you know as much or more about the space on the craft than the agent does. I fly my dog in a size L sturdibag (although I'm not sure they are still on the market). The XL is really too large for many aircraft. And be aware there is often more space under the middle seat. It's not ideal for you, but who is more important?

Posted by: sheltiett | April 22, 2014 9:45 AM    Report this comment

A real problem I have seen in working at Dulles Airport is people falsely claiming their dogs are service animals. One woman I talked to in the parking shuttle claimed her little bichon was a hearing dog because it "barks when people come to the door". She knew she was in the wrong because I told her about my daughter's legitimate service dog and she laughed. She was not hearing impaired, nor was the dog specifically task-trained, so she was breaking federal law (the ADA). It seems many in the dog show world are buying "service dog" vests online so their dogs can ride in the cabin with them...very illegal and morally wrong. The handler has to be disabled and the dog specifically task trained. PLEASE do not cheat the system. You make it harder for people with disabilities who truly depend on their dogs, and if something happens and you cannot prove your disability or the dog's training to a judge you will face fines and be liable for any damages.

Posted by: carinae | April 21, 2014 8:41 PM    Report this comment

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