Whole Dog Journal's Blog May 5, 2014

Flying with a carry-on dog: Postscript

Posted at 02:26PM - Comments: (11)

So, I flew across the country with a little dog. She did great, never made a peep! But there were a few little hitches – none of which turned out to be the ones I expected.

When I made the reservation for the dog (my daughter-in-law’s) on the flights (from Boston to Sacramento, through Atlanta, on Delta), the airline agent gave me the maximum dimensions for the carrier I could carry on those flights. I bought a Sherpa carrier that met those dimensions. Even so, I was concerned, because I have heard many accounts of carriers being turned away by the front counter agents when a traveler tried to check in for his or her flight with her carry-on dog – based on the bag’s size, or the apparent comfort of the dog within the carrier.

As it turned out, the front counter agent barely looked at the carrier, much less measured it, much less checked to see whether the dog I had inside was comfortable and able to stand and turn around – one of the few actual federal regulations regarding the appropriateness of carriers. So much for one of my biggest worries.

I was also concerned about the dog’s behavior, although there isn’t a whole lot I could have done to manage it beforehand. I had flown to the East Coast on business, and would be meeting the dog I was carrying with me for the first time just hours before our flight. I had brought the carrier with me – and though I could have ostensibly shipped the carrier to the family who had custody of the dog beforehand, asking them to put her in the carrier each day for a period of time, to get her used to traveling in it, without being present to make sure the experience didn’t traumatize the more than desensitize her, I decided to just take my chances and hope for the best. I did bring a Thundershirt with me, and after meeting Sadie, and seeing that she was, in fact, a bit nervous about being handed off to a total stranger, I put it on her. Those shirts (and, as an alternative, a TTouch “wrap”) do seem to work to calm anxious dogs, and Sadie was a total trooper. She never made a peep or whine in the carrier the whole trip.

The biggest issue I experienced on my trip was one I didn’t not anticipate at all. In all my travels, I have seen signs for “pet relief areas” at airports, but since I’ve never needed to use one, I never investigated these further. I found one outside the terminal at Boston’s Logan airport – a grungy, 10-foot square of space out on the curb, fenced with chain link. It was about half concrete, and half bedded with rubber shavings – and surrounded by people smoking their last cigarettes before they went into the terminal. I stood and breathed shallowly while hoping and praying Sadie would pee before I had to put her inside the crate for the next four or five hours, and thank goodness, after a bit of sniffing around, she did pee. I figured that when I changed planes in Atlanta, with more than an hour between flights, I would be able to take Sadie to another pet relief area, so she could again urinate before the last leg of our flight to Sacramento.

But no – it turned out that the only pet relief area at the airport in Atlanta is also out at the front curb – before security. I’d have to go OUT of the airport if I wanted her to be able to pee, and then go back through security – and since my flight was delayed leaving Boston, there was not enough time to consider such a thing. I asked several airport and airline employees: “Are you SURE there is no relief area for dogs in the terminal?” And they all said, no, the only one is outside – UNLESS that’s a service dog; there IS an area where you can take service dogs to go potty.

Well for crying out loud. I’m glad there is a service dog potty area, but I’m not going to lie about a non-service dog being a service dog. Now, if I had flown from Europe, say, and she had not had an opportunity to relieve herself for more like 8 or 10 hours . . . for her comfort and health, I may have been tempted to do so. What a ridiculous situation to put people in.

Trying to think as fast as possible, and not miss my flight, I carried Sadie into a handicapped stall in the women’s restroom, thinking maybe I could let her out of the bag and give her a pile of paper towels or toilet paper to pee on. I didn’t know whether or not she was paper-trained; it’s possible, lots of little dogs are. But I no sooner closed the door behind us in the stall when I heard an attendant rapping on the door: “Don’t you let that dog out in there!” she said sternly. “It’s against airport regulations and I will get security in here!” Ahem. So, apparently, I’m not the only one who has had this problem.

This issue is one of the reasons why Sleepypod, makers of the extremely luxe small-dog carrier pictured on page 23 of the current (May 2014) issue, sells something they call “Dryfur,” an absorbent disposable pad that can be placed in the bottom of a carrier, in case a dog is forced to relieve herself in the carrier (see http://sleepypod.com/dryfur). The pad is well-made; unlike something like a puppy pee-pad, if the dog does not relieve herself, it can be used again and again.

In addition to marketing its pet travel products, Sleepypod maintains a travel-related website (http://www.pettravelexperts.com/) and a Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/pettravelexperts), which is where I learned that at least one airport, Detroit Metro, installed a pet relief area recently right in the terminal. Awesome.

What sort of travel-related issues have you experienced flying with small dogs in the cabin? And are you aware of other airports with pet relief areas for carry-on dogs in the terminal?

Comments (11)

Loved this article.
I just had to go a different way to travel.
I bought my dogs a motorhome.
They loved it.

Posted by: madbeachdogs | May 17, 2014 7:19 PM    Report this comment

Hi we are at present trying to get our dog from South Africa to the UK while we have all the paperwork does anyone know an airline that would allow us to have her in the cabin with us, as this would suit all of us much better

Posted by: Sara27 | May 7, 2014 8:56 PM    Report this comment

Hi we are at present trying to get our dog from South Africa to the UK while we have all the paperwork does anyone know an airline that would allow us to have her in the cabin with us, as this would suit all of us much better

Posted by: Sara27 | May 7, 2014 8:56 PM    Report this comment

Minneapolis has an awesome dog potty area in the airport. I took my pup when we flwe there from Sacramento. We then flew on to Charolette NC. I flew Delta and had not issues. I saw many dogs out in the airport at Minneapolis. A chihuahua under a table in the food court and a french bulldog walking with its owner. There was even a golden to pet between flights. I had a great experience traveling with my 11 week old pup who is to be my next sar dog. To bad the article was here when we came home. LOL

Posted by: sarmalleymom | May 7, 2014 8:31 PM    Report this comment

If this is a problem, then what I would like to know what happens when it is a guide dog who are allowed in airports all over the world, and the custom dogs who sniff out illegal substance.
You are lucky to have permission to take your dog at all in the cabin, here in Australia there is nothing like that.
Then there is a dog of all sizes what do those do who have a beloved larger dog.

Posted by: Marcella Curtis | May 7, 2014 6:07 PM    Report this comment

I traveled to pick up my 8 week old puppy. No way was a pup going to make it for a total of 7 hours travel time. During our layover in Chicago, I also found a family bathroom. Took the pup out of her carrier and let her potty on a pee pad. Bundled the whole thing up, placed it in a ziplock bag and threw it away. It could not have smelled any worse than the diapers on the trash can.

Posted by: Entlemom | May 7, 2014 5:29 PM    Report this comment

My small dog flew many times with me internationally. Relief stations were always a problem, especially getting through all the security, getting the dog outside, in the allotted time. We nearly missed connecting flights! Maggie once used a miserable scrap of shrubbery (no grass) in Houston, in front of a giant window with lots of people on the other side. Awful. I always carried plastic bags and plenty of paper towels, pads, etc.

Another thing to be aware of is passing through TSA security. You have to take your dog out of the carrier, hold her in your arms and pass through the detector. The metal clip on the leash cannot go through the detector with you. Make sure to stash the leash in the carrier as the carrier must go through x-ray. Be very careful that you have your dog well in arms and that she will enter/exit the carrier safely. Then look for your shoes.

The security check can be chaotic as you are juggling your dog, your shoes, your boarding passes, passport and your other possessions traveling down the belt among a crush of people likewise desperate to not miss their international connection. I once saw an adorable puppy in a lovely expensive carrier travel down the belt and GO THROUGH the high power x-ray machine -- apparently his people were either distracted or detained.

Another tip. Always stash your original copies of health papers safely. Make duplicates to give out to officials in the event they accidentally keep it or put it down and you can't get their attention to reclaim your only copy (ask me how I know this).

I also printed a picture of myself with my dog saying something like: "Hi! My name is Maggie. This is a picture of me and my person. We are traveling together today and here is our itinerary" followed by flights and destinations, contact info for myself and other family members. I made multiple copies of this document and stashed a copy with my documents, in the carrier, and in my suitcase. You don't expect to be separated from your animal, but with international travel, sometimes the unexpected happens. You can also put a small luggage tag on your dog's collar with similar travel info in the event of separation.

Beware of bringing dog food! A few years ago, US Customs decided that dog food entering from another country represented a contamination risk (didn't matter where it was actually manufactured). So they pitched my carefully ziplocked baggie of kibble in the trash. That represented emergency rations for my dog since we were set to arrive midnight or later. Thereafter, I brought a can of food or the unopened sample bags of kibble you can get at high end pet boutiques. The key is, food needs to be unopened in the original packaging. Shortly thereafter, my international destination instituted the same policy of pitching dog food originating in the US.

I too chose a window seat so that Maggie was as undisturbed as possible. I brought a tee shirt for her since flights leaving the tropics were often heavily air conditioned and she chilled easily.

We had many adventures when traveling, but fortunately Maggie was a terrific traveler. She was unflappable, it all worked out and it was all worthwhile.

Posted by: Carolyn M | May 7, 2014 7:21 AM    Report this comment

You people should count your blessings.

Here (Australia) dogs may not be carried in the passenger secion of the planes, and on many flights there is no allowance for animals as cargo.

Then in many airposrts, even IF the dog is allowed to fly, it is not allowed in the passenger terminal, so must be left and collected at the 'cargo' terminal -- not always walking distnce from the passenger terminal!

(Which is why I always prefer to drive :-)

Posted by: Jenny H | May 6, 2014 7:05 PM    Report this comment

Newark airport pet relief area is a dangerous and filthy disgrace! There is broken glass all over it!db there should be regulations for relief areas. Thanks for all these hints! Helpful!

Posted by: BetsyK | May 6, 2014 10:59 AM    Report this comment

The potty area outside of security is not much help, so I carry pee pads with me and find one of those 'family bathrooms' (single room with a door that locks). I can let her out to stretch her legs, get a drink of water or a bite to eat, and pee on the pads. I also put a Service Dog vest on her if I need to to make a connection, so I can move quickly on leash (once missed a flight trying to lug a 15 lb dog in a Sherpa from one concourse to another). Of course, she is extremely well-trained, polite and quiet, unlike most of the children travelers.

Posted by: pvojtas | May 6, 2014 9:53 AM    Report this comment

I have flown dozens of times with a Pekingese. I always book a window seat as that way the dog bag can't get stepped on by another passenger. The bag tends to get a bit stuffy and warm, especially for a flat face dog, under the seat with little circulating air. I take a heavy duty ice bag and once through security, fill it with ice and put in the carrier. You can use a zip lock bag (double bag it!!) and them wrap a hand towel around it to absorb the condensation. I have found a cool, comfortable dog will settle quickly and snooze away. Never use a tranquilizer, the dog doesn't need it and it can be dangerous. I have pottied a dog many times in the handicap stall in the bathroom----do carry a few pee pads with you-----and I have never been stopped by anyone.

Posted by: dejavupekes | May 6, 2014 9:07 AM    Report this comment

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