Often when we plan vacations they include air travel, and sometimes that involves making arrangements to have your canine companion accompany you. Flying with your pet may sound daunting, but with good planning and careful attention to detail it can be a smooth, calm experience that will see both of you arrive at your destination relaxed and ready for that long-awaited holiday.
One of the most important aspects of flying with your pet is to ensure that he has an appropriate-sized crate in which he is comfortable.
Crate training, done correctly, is a simple and painless process that will ensure that your canine buddy feels secure and unstressed during the flight, regardless of its length. It is wise to begin this process when your dog is younger and familiarize them at least a month ahead of your departure date.
Check the website of your airline to see what is required for you to travel with your pet. Most require that your dog has a crate that is large enough for him to stand up and turn around in. Soft-sided crates are generally acceptable for those animals small enough to be stored under an airline seat, but dogs travelling in the cargo hold must be shipped in an airline-approved hard-surface crate composed of heavy-duty plastic or metal. Some airlines count a carry-on pet as the first item towards your allowance baggage, so pay particular attention to that aspect. You will be levied an excess baggage charge, with varying rates depending on the airline.
Book your flight as far ahead as possible and make verbal contact with the airline to tell them that you will be travelling with your pet. A week ahead of your departure contact the airline again to ensure that the booking for your pet is confirmed.
Be aware that most airlines have ‘no fly’ periods during extreme heat or cold seasons. During warmer months try to book a flight early in the morning or in the evening, when things will be cooler. In colder periods try for a flight mid-day, when temperatures may be a little warmer.
Booking Your Trip
When booking, try to arrange for a direct flight to your destination. If that isn’t possible make sure that you (and your pet) have adequate time between flights to make it to your connection. For a pet being shipped as cargo, the airline’s personnel will be responsible for getting your pet to the next flight, but they still need time to get him to the appropriate terminal and loading bay. Some airlines will not allow any more than one connection if you are travelling with a pet, so be sure to verify this prior to booking.
Airlines have different protocols as far as health clearances are concerned. Many will require valid proof of vaccination for rabies and some will call for a health certificate from your veterinarian, often dated within a certain number of days of the flight.
For those pets who will travel in the cargo hold, there are some special considerations. Prior to the day of your flight, purchase brightly-coloured poster board (fluorescent is best). On one side, in big bold black print, put your dog’s name, your name, the address where he is supposed to end up and contact phone numbers. On the flip side, put the same information but with your home address (or wherever you are shipping your pet next). Get this laminated and tape it securely to the top of your pet’s crate, with your destination top-side up.
Ensure that any screws on the crate are tight – they tend to come undone with continued jostling. If your crate bottom attaches to the top with the use of clips, make sure you also use the optional screw holes to secure both sides. To keep your pet hydrated, purchase a small, flat-backed stainless steel bucket and a double-headed snap. Fill the bucket half-full and freeze it, allow to thaw slightly on the way to the airport and then clip it on the inside of the metal door grate just prior to shipping. This isn’t necessary during short-haul flights but should be a consideration during longer trips. It’s a good idea to check with your airline to see what types of water receptacles are acceptable.
Don’t feed your pet within four hours of your flight, and feed only a half-portion. Tranquilizers are generally not recommended when flying animals, but it is a good idea to ensure that your pet has a collar and an identification tag with his name and contact information on it. Put a blanket in the bottom of the crate or carrier and include a favourite toy or an item that has your scent on it, to help reassure your pet that you aren’t far away.
Make sure to be cognizant of check-in times – airlines often ask those travelling with pets to check in even earlier than usual. Once you get to the airport give your pet the opportunity to go ‘potty’ prior to him being transported to the loading bay.
When you check in at the boarding lounge be sure to let the airline personnel know that you are travelling with a pet, especially if it will travel in the cargo hold. Tell them you would like to board last to ensure that your pet is loaded on the plane (this is where the bright poster board comes in – if there are multiple dogs on the flight your crate will stand out from the others). If the airline insists that you board before you see your pet loaded, ask the stewardess politely to check with the ground crew and let you know when your buddy is on the plane.
Properly-prepared, you and your pet should enjoy an uneventful flight to your destination – happy trails!
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