How to manage a long flight with a dog in cabin

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How to manage a long flight with a dog in cabin
How to manage a long flight with a dog in cabin

Most dog owners probably agree that their dog is family. And this is why dog parents also wanna take their fur babies on holiday. Thanks to today’s opportunities, this is usually perfectly feasible. Even for long distance traveling, it’s no problem to take your dog along on a flight. Having a small dog makes flying even easier because you’re usually allowed to take him in cabin.

Have you ever been flying with your pup before? If not, you’re probably wondering how it’s gonna be, right? I’m here to show you everything you need to think of when flying with your dog in cabin. I’m lying special emphasis on what to consider on a long flight with a dog in cabin.

With some preparation, a 10 hour flight should be perfectly possible for the average small dog. For longer flights it’s better to break up the journey with a stopover.

If you’re concerned about your dog’s safety, make sure to check out my article about the question “is it safe to fly with a dog in cabin?

1. Before the flight

Planning and preparation is essential if you’re flying with your pup. This can make the difference between your dog having an awful time and dreading his next experience in the air and him loving it and cosily snoozing it away. I’m usually not a big planner when it comes to traveling. But with a dog I recommend you start planning a few months (like 2 or 3) in advance.

Special requirements at destination

Not all destinations are suitable for dogs. Always check this as a first thing because obviously, the rest depends on it. First, look up if your dog has to be quarantined, like in Australia. I definitely wouldn’t recommend taking your dog on a 2 to 3 week vacation if he has to be quarantined for several days. Quarantine can be quite stressful, so I’d only do that to my dog if absolutely necessary, like if your relocating. Also, I’d definitely avoid high-risk rabies countries.

Further, check if your pup has gotten all necessary vaccinations and that you’ve got all the paperwork ready. This can take a few weeks, so always do it as early as possible.

Maximum flight duration

How long is a long flight? According to CNBC the longest flight route is operated by Singapore Airlines and takes about 19 hours!!! The longest nonstop flight I’ve been on so far took 14 hours and that was more than enough.

If you’re traveling with your dog, please be reasonable about the maximum duration of a flight. In my opinion, a good night’s sleep is a good indicator. When I’m sleeping in on the weekend, Baloo usually sleeps for about 10 hours. So that’s about the maximum that he can sleep and hold it. I think if he’s tired it should be ok to take a flight with the same maximum duration like a long night’s sleep. I definitely wouldn’t take a longer direct flight. In case you’re flying further, consider breaking up the journey with a stopover in the middle.

Bear in mind that a flight of 10 hours will mean that you’re in the airplane for at least 11 hours, including boarding and the waiting time after landing. Always think about that fact that your dog technically has to stay in his relatively small carrier during the whole flight! So even if he sleeps well for 10 hours at home in his bed it might be different in a small carrier. Make sure he loves his carrier before you leave. I’ll show you some crate training tips in a minute.

Check airline

Not every airline allows dogs in cabin, so always check them in advance. Most airlines allow small cats and dogs weighing up to around 20 lb including their carrier. They must stay in their carrier during the whole flight which has to fit under the seat in front of you. Here’s a list of 8 airlines that allow pets in cabin.

I recommend that you always call the airline to check their policy before you make a booking. Some airlines only allow a certain amount of pets in cabin per flight, so booking early is a good idea. Also, you have to notify your pet. The fee will either be paid in advance or has to be paid at the airport. So better check that there’s still space for your dog on that particular flight, before you make the booking.

The perfect carrier

This is a crucial part of the preparation for a long flight with a dog in cabin, or also for a shorter one.

I would dedicate a good amount of time to finding the perfect carrier for your pup. I recommend a soft-sided expandable carrier where you can sort of open one or two sides. This has the great advantage that your doggo will get much more space during the flight than in a non expandable carrier. The dimensions are usually very small, especially the height. Mostly it’s around 9″ x 13″ x 9″ (48 cm x 33 cm x 22 cm). Delta seems to be more friendly, allowing a carrier measuring 21″ x 15″ x 16″ (53 cm x 38 cm x 40 cm) .

Carrier/crate training

Crate training is absolutely essential as well! Your dog has to feel comfortable in this confined space where he will be flying in. In my experience, dogs will love their crates and carriers, if properly trained. They will even want to use them as a sleeping place when they don’t have to. A confined space will give a dog reassurance and comfort him. He feels safe in his little place so he can curl up and relax. That’s exactly what we’re looking for.

In the best case scenario, you can get your dog used to his crate during socialization. If this wasn’t possible it can also be trained later. You definitely wanna get him to love his carrier a few weeks to months prior to his flight.

Make sure to check out my complete article on crate training to learn more.

Pack the essentials

Make sure that you’re having everything that you need for your dog on the flight in your carry on luggage. Most importantly, I recommend taking a wee pad along. Personally, I’ve never used one of those for Baloo, because the longest flight we’ve been on was only about 2 hours. However, I think this is a great idea and a life saver for long flights with your dog. In case you feel like he has to go, you can take your pup to the bathroom and put the wee pad down so he can do his business. I also use a cue for him to go potty, so that might help in those situations.

Further I recommend taking one or two collapsible bowls that you can give him some water and maybe something to eat. And I’d also pack some treats or something to chew, just something that calms him down if he gets too excited.

The day of the flight

Another very important part comes on the day of the flight. You definitely wanna make sure that your pupper is tired enough to sleep during the whole flight, or at least a big part of it. So take an ultra long walk, Baloo would probably need 2 hours, play some games, let him sniff around, do whatever makes him reeeeaaally tired. Also, make sure you’ve packed all your doggy’s things. Check out my backpacking packing list for you and your dog so that you don’t forget anything.

2. At the airport

So you’ve done all the preparation, you and your sleepy pup are ready for the big adventure. Let’s go to step 2 and what to consider once you’re at the airport.

Planning enough time

With a dog, as with kids, you should plan more time than if you only go by yourself. This is especially important to think of if you usually only travel with carry on luggage (like me =)). With a pet you always have to go to the check in counter because they wanna check all the documents, check the dog’s and the crate’s size and weight and collect the fee.

Because dogs are so sensitive, it’s also very important that you don’t get stressed. An airport can be overwhelming in itself for a small dog. But if you’re nervous, he’s probably gonna get restless as well. And the last thing you want is to have a hyper dog under the seat in front of you. So take your time, let him explore his surroundings (will make him more tired) and relax.

Security check

Security is pretty straight forward. You have to take your doggo with you through the scanner. So you take off his leash and collar, then you take him on your arm and walk through the scanner. That’s it! No big deal at all.

Potty break

Usually, there should be an animal relief area for service dogs at every airport. Petfriendlytravel has a list for all the airports in the US. At some airports, the area will be inside, at others outside. It should be signaled but otherwise the airport staff will surely be helping you out.

3. On the flight

Ok, boarding completed, your all set and ready for take off. Once you’re on the airplane, your dog has to be in his carrier and stay there. The carrier has to placed under the seat in front of you and should technically stay there for the entire flight. However, I’m sure that no one’s gonna complain if you take the carrier between your legs between take off and landing. This way you can open the expandable part(s) of your carrier and let your dog stretch out.

His “seat” aka carrier

As mentioned before, choosing the right carrier is key. Remember that this is your pup’s “seat” for the whole flight. So you definitely wanna get something comfy. Always make sure it’s a ventilated carrier. Check on your pup if he’s doing ok. If he seems relaxed, don’t bother him anymore and let him nap. Once take off is over, open the expandable part(s).

Food and water

I would generally stay away from giving your dog any food during the flight. First, he might have to go potty soon afterwards. And second, he might feel nauseous due to his excitement and through up. If something to chew or some special treats help to calm him down, then you can still give him this.

Concerning water, this depends on your dog. How do you do it at night when you’re at home? If your pup always has free access to water and can still hold it through the whole night, I’d probably also offer him some during the flight. But pay attention, an excited dog usually drinks more due to his excitement. So measure it well. On the other hand you can always use your wee pad if you wish. In that case you can give your pup as much water as you like. For me personally, I’d rather only use the wee pad in an emergency. I would probably offer him a little water about half way through unless he’s really thirsty. If he’s begging for water, then so what, use the wee pad, that’s what it’s here for.

4. After the flight

At the airport

Alright, finally done and you’re ready to disembark. You’re doggo has hopefully slept through a good amount of the flight. If he has, he’s probably full of energy now and wants to finally run around again. And he’s definitely ready to go potty. Now bear in mind that it can take quite a while until you find a relief area. So I’d keep him in his carrier until you’re there. Otherwise, it’s probably gonna be equally smooth as at the airport for take off. You might have to show your dog’s papers at customs. If you’ve got everything properly researched, this shouldn’t be any issue. And that’s it, you made it!

At home/destination

I know, once you’re finally home or at your destination, you probably just wanna relax for a little bit. But I highly recommend that you immediately take a long walk with your doggo. Remember, he just spent an awful long time in quite a small carrier, so he’s ready to move! Also, this way you can end the whole flight experience with a positive activity which will most likely make the whole experience a positive one.

If you follow all the steps listed above, you and your dog should totally be ready to go on a long flight with your dog in cabin. Let me know about your experiences with flying with your dog!

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