Lifestyle Travel

Flying With Dogs

April 11, 2016

If you’re like me, you are obsessed with your pets and want to take them everywhere with you. I mean, whenever we’re discussing camping trips and hiking trails I literally muse out loud “Yeah, Moose would love a trail like that!” as if my dog wouldn’t love ANY trail that we let her run free on.

That being said, not every trip is driveable, and sometimes you do have to fly your beloved fur-child. People with small dogs have it lucky: they can just put them in a carrier under their seat. My dogs are 65 lb. and 75 lb. – they’re not fitting under the seats at all.

When we found out we were moving from Anchorage to North Carolina, the first thing we did was come up with our ‘how do we get the dogs there safely?’ gameplan. Since we were using a uhaul to carry our stuff, putting them in the vehicle was a no-go. The floor of the uhaul truck would have been way too hot, and the cab would have been way too cramped.

So, we figured the best way for everyone involved was to fly them down (along with our guns and anything else that couldn’t be driven through Canada) when we came down to househunt. We are fortunate to have family living in the part of NC we were moving to, so we had someone to watch the dogs for the 3 weeks that we were back in Anchorage packing our things.

I’ve always heard the horror stories of flying pets: dogs not being taken care of, dogs getting put on the wrong flights, dogs dying. It scared me. So I did a lot of research before trusting my pets to any ole airline. So I am here to share my tips with you!

1.Research The Airline.

Flying from Alaska to the East Coast is a long haul. We knew we would be in the air for a while, and wanted to make sure that we were comfortable with where the dogs would be.

When looking at flights, check out the airlines pet policy. One airline we looked at would have shipped our dogs like cargo. Another wasn’t going to allow us to retrieve them on layovers. I spent a lot of time on the phone; calling different airlines, speaking to customer representatives, double- and triple-checking the regulations and rules to make sure I knew exactly what I was getting my dogs into.

We ended up going with Alaska Airlines. The Live Animals area on their planes was in the front of the plane using the same air system and cooling system as what the people use. They let us be with the dogs when we checked them in and while they were inspecting their crates. Most importantly, they let us pick them up during our 3 hour layover in Seattle to take them for a walk, get their breakfast, and spend general time with them.

2. Know What Crates You Can Use

Airlines are crazy specific on the specs of what the dogs travel crates must be. They have to be hard sided. Their has to be airflow on all 4 sides. It must be marked “LIVE ANIMAL.” They must have a waterbowl. It must be big enough for the animal to stand up and spin around. The screws and wingnuts holding the crate together must be metal.

Would you believe that no company out there makes something 100% compliant for pet airline travel? This crate was the best that we could find, and the only modifications we had to do was changing out the screws and wingnuts.

3. Prep Your Pets

Making sure your dogs have a safe and easy flight has more prep work than the actual flight. If you dog doesn’t already feel comfortable in a crate, make sure you get yours well in advance and have it in a common area of the house. Make them have positive connotations of the crate. We put ours in our living room for the 3 weeks leading up to The Trip (we also were very lucky to have dogs that already love their crates and view them as their ‘safe spot’) with toys inside.

I also filled up the water bowls that would be inside their crates so they could get used to that being a water source.

The more used to the crate you can get them, the less anxiety they’ll have.

4. Talk To Your Vet

Not only is it required for them to have a health certificate to travel, but it is wise to talk to your vet about your plans. Some breeds don’t fly well because of the way that they breathe. Some dogs just aren’t healthy enough. If you think your dog is going to be too anxious, your vet can give you a recommendation of any medicine they may take to make flying easier.

5. Carefully Consider Your Flights

Going from Anchorage to Charlotte, we knew it was going to be a long haul. We carefully debated the pros and cons of fewer long flights or several short flights.

The flight schedule we ended up having was a 1am flight out of Anchorage with a 3 hour layover in Seattle, finally getting to Atlanta around 4 in the afternoon the next day. The late flight gave us time to take the dogs on one long last hike before crating them near their normal bedtime. Our 3 hour layover happened at 6am, so we were able to take them out, walk them, feed them and give them a break before one final flight to Atlanta.

Once we got to Atlanta, I immediately took them out of the crates on their leashes and let them use the bathroom and relax. While Matt got our rental car, I broke down the crates so they wouldn’t take up too much space. We chose to have our destination be Atlanta with a long drive instead of another layover + flight.

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6. Pack Smart

When we were packing our carry on bags, the first thing we considered was “What do the dogs need?” We made sure we had their leashes, treats, spare water bowl, and an empty water bottle to fill.

7. Prep The Crate

For the crate, we froze their water dishes the night before so that the water would melt while they were in flight and wouldn’t splash everywhere.

We also put down puppy training pads in their crates so that if they did have an accident or spill water, it would be absorbed and we wouldn’t have smelly, wet animals. Luckily, we didn’t have any pee incidents, but it was great for when Moose knocked her water bowl off the crate door when we picked her up in Seattle.

8. Arrive Early & Relax

We arrived at the airport early to make sure we had enough time to get the dogs checked in and make sure everything was OK. We were able to hang with the dogs until they needed to send them back, but not being rushed at the check-in and having all of their paperwork handy made it to where we weren’t freaking out. Being in a new setting with so many noises and people has the potential to make your dog misbehave or have anxiety – if you’re calm and prepared it will make dealing with your dogs anxiety so much easier.

Overall,

traveling with an animal can be a really scary event. As long as you plan ahead and plan well, you can make it a lot more comfortable for everyone. Our experience was actually pleasant and neither of our dogs seemed bothered or upset by their travel.

There are so many great places that we would love to go and explore with the dogs – we are even considering taking Moose with us to do a 110km hike in Sweden next year.

What are your tips for traveling with pets?

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