I was recently contacted about some posts I made on an e-mail list about flying with dogs. I expanded on my posts and thought this would be a great practical article for our newsletter. If you have any questions, please contact me, I am always happy to help.
Mostly I have had good experiences in flying my dogs through the years. It just takes some additional planning and time. You will get through the experience just fine and wonder what the big deal was all about. Usually the ones who say how awful the experience is are the ones who really haven't flown or haven't had enough experience. Cargo holds of airplanes are pressurized and temperature controlled. Legislation and FAA regulations have made the shipping of live animals a little more difficult but certainly considerably safer.
Make sure you book your dogs’ tickets when you book yours and confirm them as you do yours. I also arrive far in advance of my flights. Check with the airlines as to when they want your dogs. During the summer I travel through the night when temperatures are lower. Obviously the opposite applies in the winter months. Often times you can’t get a non-stop flight and have to change planes. That is not the end of the world. Ask me and I will tell you the best places to change planes if you have to do that.
If you are traveling with a small dog, you are very lucky and you can put your pooch in a Sherpa bag. A Sherpa bag is a specially made flexible crate that is a piece of airline approved carry on luggage. You do not have to worry about any restrictions except your dog and crate must fit under the seat in front of you. You can also potty your dog between planes in a rest room on papers. I wouldn’t take a dog outside at an airport because you might run into delays getting back through security and miss your connection.
IMPORTANT Call the airline or ask your travel agent and make sure each aircraft can accommodate the dimensions of your crates. It is not funny when you have to change planes and your crates won’t fit through the cargo hatch of the commuter plane. The scramble for another flight or a rental car requires cases of Maalox.
I prefer to ship my dogs in Bob McKee crates or Vari Kennels because they can be knocked down to get onto a shuttle bus, taxi or into an economy rental car. I also take dolly wheels for my crates and bungee cords. The bungee cords come into play for holding down the trunk lid on a rental car or taxi when your crates are knocked down. Take extra crate screws and nuts. You always lose one or two crate screws and you want your dogs to be safe.
If I am traveling with more than one dog, I stack the crates on the dolly wheels and bungee them together to get them into and out of the airport. Trust me. You will thank me for having suggested taking dolly wheels on your trip. Getting into and through airports can be daunting. If the airline gives you a hard time about too many checked things, bungee cord the wheels onto the top of one of your crates. Then it counts as one item instead of two. Make sure the bungee hooks are pointed outward when attached to the crate. You don't want your dog to get an eye injury. Also carry enough dog food for a couple of days and bottled water, leashes, show lead, shampoo, etc., in carry on luggage. I call it meals on wheels because I use a roller board pull along suitcase. Once you get there you can buy what is necessary for the time you are there.
I have letters to the Captain of the airplanes and crate letters. Copies are below. Both letters are Word documents and can easily be changed to suit your needs. I make a letter to the Captain for each leg of the trip. When I board the plane, I ask a flight attendant to please give my letter to the Captain of the aircraft. I do make sure the dogs are on board. I have actually had announcements from the flight deck that my dogs are on board.
I put the crate letters in plastic covers to protect them from weather and duct tape them to the top of my crates. I also write the crate signs in large letters so the baggage handlers can easily read them. After 9/11 I use red/white/blue colors. I also have American flag stickers that I put on all four sides for the crates above the "windows" or where the screws are. It is especially important since I have Arab dogs (Afghan Hounds and Salukis). Don't forget to prepare extra letters and crate signs in case one of them gets spoiled. You also need to make some for the return trip and change the flight and destination details. I carry my letters in a brief case with other important papers. I take copies of my registration certificates and health certificates and good photos of my dogs in case something happens and my dogs get loose or lost. That has never happened to me in over 40 years. If your dog is microchipped, take copies of the numbers. The same applies for tattoo numbers.
I was asked if you could visit with your dog and potty him between flights. That won't happen in today's climate with security so high. It is best to put a grate or absorbent material in the bottom of the crate to keep your dog clean. Some of my friends use paper towels. I don't because my dogs eat paper and that can make them very sick. Put some toys in with them and something that smells like you. I would not put food in with them unless it is a very long trip. I start with ice cubes in the water pail. They melt and you have a good supply of water. If your dogs are not used to noise, start now with cranking up the TV. You can also put a cotton ball in each ear to deaden noise on the plane. I don't tranquilize dogs. It lowers their body temps and impedes their ability to brace themselves if there is turbulence. They can get knocked around and injured if they are tranquilized. According to studies, the biggest cause of injury to dogs during shipping, is due to the use of tranquilizers.
Please contact me with any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org . I have flown more miles than I can remember with dogs. I am happy to share some of my experiences and thoughts.
LETTER TO THE CAPTAIN
June 1, 2003
In the “belly” of the plane, United flight 706 and 75430, with a final destination of Lexington, KY, you have my precious, much-loved Kismet on his way to a dog show. He is a relaxed frequent flyer. I’d be much happier to have him riding up here with me (Pat Gilbert, Seat 29F ), but airline rules require that he be below.
I’ll be very happy when I see him at our destination. In the interim, could you please:
* Confirm for yourself that he is actually on board,
* if there is a particular “hold” where the atmosphere is better for live animals that he is in the right “hold” and not sharing space with dry ice, etc.
* So far as possible please monitor the atmosphere where Kismet is located.
You’ll make me feel a lot better and I’ll be able to relax and enjoy the flight when I know that you care and United cares.
Thank you for your consideration from Kismet and Pat.
Pat Gilbert, Seat 29F
CRATE LETTER (INCREASE SIZE OF FONT FOR YOUR CRATES)
HI MY NAME IS JAFEICA. THANK YOU FOR TAKING SUCH GOOD CARE OF ME. I AM A FREQUENT FLYER AND VERY COOL. I HAVE BEEN FED AND WATERED AND DON’T NEED ANYTHING UNTIL WE LAND.
I AM TRAVELLING WITH MY BEST FRIEND PAT GILBERT SEAT #22C THEN #26C TO SACRAMENTO AND MY BROTHER MAESTRO ON THIS DELTA #1647 TO SALT LAKE CITY CONNECTING TO DELTA #1587 LANDING IN SACRAMENTO.
PLEASE DO NOT OPEN MY CRATE. IF YOU HAVE TO IN AN EMERGENCY, PLEASE MAKE SURE YOU OPEN IT IN A CLOSED ROOM AND GET PAT BECAUSE I LOVE TO RUN AND YOU WON’T BE ABLE TO CATCH ME.