By Katie Rowan
Thousands of Americans took to the skies this past holiday season with a pet in tow. I also had the opportunity to take my dog across the country, learning the do’s and don’ts of air travel with a pet along the way. To help you prepare for a journey with your furry friend, here are my before, during, and after tips for a smooth and painless flight with your animal.
Before Your Trip
Contact your vet for a pre-travel check up. Once your pet is cleared for travel, make sure you get the necessary paperwork required by the airline and/or state you’re visiting (some states have strict import regulations so be sure to check the state government website in advance). Air travel is stressful for animals. Before your leave the vet’s office, asked about calming chews or other anxiety reducing measures.
Pre-order your pet’s food and have it delivered to your hotel or ready for pickup at the local pet store near your destination. Travel is stressful and the last thing you want to deal with is a pet with an upset stomach because you have to get a different food than what they eat at home. On my trip I discovered that the pet store at my destination only carried my dog’s food in a 50-pound bag. That was not practical for a seven-day trip, and I ended up having to get a different formula. Luckily for me, my pet did not have any adverse reaction to the new food, but I feel like I dodged a bullet. It is not worth the risk. Plan ahead and take the stress out of it. Tip: Pre-ordering will save you space in your luggage!
Research animal relief areas at any airports you are flying through. The last thing you want is an accident on the plane or at the airport. On my trip I discovered that the relief area in Chicago requires you to go back though security. That may not be an option for those with a shorter layover. To be safe consider bringing wee wee pads in the event that the relief area is not an option.
Packing list for your carry-on bag:
A portable bowl for food and water en route
Zippered bags of pet food-enough for two days (It is important that this is in the carry-on just in case of a luggage mishap with a checked bag.)
Your pet’s health paperwork from the vet
Something that smells like you that your pet would find comforting (This will be a familiar scent that reminds your pet of home. I brought a used pillowcase.)
Calming chews if you went in that direction
Treats for distraction if your pet gets agitated on the flight
Wee wee pads
Tip: As you arrive at the airport make sure your animal does its business before you go into the terminal.
During The Flight
It is best that you stay calm during the whole process. Animals feed off our emotions and if they pick up on your stress, there is greater likelihood of a less-than-smooth day of travel. Talk to your pet if they seem agitated. Takeoff will likely be the most stressful part of the flying experience as it is abrupt and sometimes bumpy. Distract your pet as best you can with either treats or the sound of your voice.
Once airborne, if your pet is calm, do not try to move them. Most airlines require pets to stay in kennels under the seat anyway, but don’t think that your pet can be the exception to the rule. If you feel the need to interact, bend down and reach into the kennel.
The hum of the engines should be calming and hopefully your animal is lulled to sleep for the duration of the flight.
At Your Destination
If your pet was well behaved on the flight, reward that good behavior as soon as you’ve arrived. Praise them and reinforce that you liked how they acted.
Hydrate. Once you are off the plane, find a spot to pull off and give your pet a bowl of water. Airplane cabins can be dry, hot, and stuffy. Make sure your animal gets plenty of water upon arrival to avoid dehydration.
If you pre-ordered your pet food, pick it up or ensure it arrived at the hotel.
Remember that before you start any of your family fun, make sure your pet has food, water, and has acclimated to its new vacation environment. Side note for those traveling with a dog: Never let your dog go off leash in an unfamiliar environment.
Recommendations For Non-Pet Owners
If you are one of the millions of Americans that will be traveling sans pet this year, remember that you too can play a role in the smooth travel of everyone, including someone’s furry friend, on your plane. If a flight attendant requests you move to accommodate another passenger, be open and kind. Some people will have allergies and need to be reseated. The more people on a flight who are respectful, the better the experience will be. Maybe you’ll have an aisle instead of a window seat. It’s OK. Those two or four hours of your life will fly by, pun intended. Most importantly, if you do encounter another traveler with a pet, ask before you interact with the animal.