Dog with sunglasses on and a travel ticket in his mouth sitting at the airport

How to safely fly with your pets

How to safely fly with your pets

Story by Bailey Gilliam

If you’re a dog or cat owner, you might have contemplated flying with your pet. While the idea of traveling in first class with your furry friend is appealing, it involves extensive preparation and serious considerations. Generally, flying with pets is discouraged unless absolutely necessary. Before booking a flight for your pet, conduct thorough research and prioritize their safety.

dog travel. Jack Russell Terrier is lying and playing in a suitcase. collect things

Is it worth the hassle?

Consider if the stress of flying is justified for both you and your pet. Air travel can be particularly taxing for elderly dogs, puppies and those with health or behavioral issues. The bustling environment, loud noises and changes in air pressure and temperature are just a few factors that can distress your pet. Furthermore, think about your destination; if your dog will be left alone in a hotel room for extended periods, or if the trip is short, it might be best to leave them at home. Consider alternatives like driving or hiring a pet sitter when possible.

Veterinary checkup

Regardless of requirements, it’s wise to visit your regular vet before flying.

“If you are flying with your pet, take it to your vet before the flight to ensure it is in good condition,” advised Brittany Bennington, shelter manager at Hilton Head Humane. “Also, bring all of your pet’s documentation with you on the flight.” Shelly Anchondo, clinic manager at Hilton Head Humane, recommends bringing extra copies of your pet’s health records in separate pieces of luggage to be extra safe.

Travelling with pet. Cute long haired dog near window in airplane

Go nonstop 

While it might seem beneficial to give your pet a break during a layover, it’s generally best to keep the overall travel time as short as possible.

“Whenever possible, book direct flights to keep the time your pet is contained to a minimum,” said Caitlyn Schake, executive director of Jasper Animal Rescue Mission. She also stressed the importance of a pre-trip visit to the vet. “Be sure to visit your vet ahead of time to ensure your pet is healthy enough to travel and has all required vaccinations.” 

Save me a seat

Conducting extensive research is essential when planning to fly with your pet, as airlines have varying policies regarding pet travel. “Do your research on the airline you choose,” urged Jennifer Taylor, director and founder of Renegade Paws Rescue in Savannah. “See how they transport dogs, and look extensively at the reviews.”

To ensure a safe flight for your pet, you might need to obtain an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) certification. Schake advises against putting pets in the cargo hold: “We recommend flying with your pet in the cabin with you,” she emphasized.

Additionally, consider seasonal weather conditions that could affect your travel. “When traveling with your pet, check with airlines for any restrictions such as time of year, as some months can be harder on pets than others due to temperatures,” Anchondo advised. This precaution can help you avoid exposing your pet to extreme weather that could compromise their safety and comfort.

ID is key

Ensuring your pet has proper identification is crucial when flying. “Our first tip for flying with your pet is to make sure your pet is wearing an ID tag with your contact information,” Schake said. Additionally, she recommends having your pet microchipped and ensuring the microchip is up-to-date with a current phone number and address.

Microchipping is strongly endorsed by local experts. “First thing: microchip your dog,” Taylor advised. She also suggested, “Have a tag on the collar with their name and your phone number, or write your name, your dog’s name and your phone number on the collar with a sharpie.” These steps are essential for ensuring your pet’s safety and quick recovery should you get separated.

Dog in the airport hall before the flight, near luggage suitcase baggage, concept of travelling moving with pets, small black dog sitting in the pet carrier before the trip at the terminal station

Carry-on essentials

Choose a secure, padded and ventilated carrier that fits comfortably under the seat. It’s crucial to acclimate your pet to the carrier well in advance of your trip to minimize stress on travel day. “Make sure the carrier you plan to carry your pet in has plenty of space and ventilation,” advised Caitlyn Schake. “Be sure to get your pet used to the carrier well before the trip so they are not stressed the day of travel. Make it a comfortable and relaxing place.”

Additionally, if your pet is prone to anxiety, consult your veterinarian well ahead of your departure. “If you have an anxious animal, check with your veterinarian for proper treatments and medications to help ease traveling with your pet,” recommended Anchondo.

small dog pomaranian spitz in a travel bag on board of plane, selective focus


On travel day, ensure you arrive at the airport well ahead of time to avoid feeling rushed or stressed. To prevent discomfort during the flight, it’s best to feed your dog about four hours before departure. “Give little or no food before any travel,” advises Franny Gerthoffer, executive director of Hilton Head Humane. Also, exercise your pet and allow them to relieve themselves before you head to the airport, and remember to line the carrier with an absorbent puppy pad.

Minimize exposure to stressful environments by keeping your pet away from large crowds and loud noises as much as possible. Avoid using sedatives unless specifically recommended by your veterinarian, as they can affect your pet’s ability to breathe at high altitudes. Always prioritize your pet’s safety: if your dog shows signs of extreme stress or difficulty, consider their well-being first and cancel your trip if necessary.


Upon arrival, take your dog for a long walk to familiarize them with the new environment. This helps them feel more at ease and able to understand that the same behavioral rules apply. “Give your dog a quiet place to adjust when you’ve reached your destination,” Gerthoffer said. Whether you’re staying in a dog-friendly luxury hotel or with friends, a bit of quiet time and a good rest will help your dog settle in. By the next day they should feel at home and ready for new adventures.

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