What to Expect Flying with a Pet

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Flying with a pet is stressful, for both of you. There are so many things that can and do go wrong, but that shouldn’t deter you from traveling with your pet. Being prepared and knowing what to expect can go a long way towards removing a lot of the stress.

Don’t have time to read now? Pin it to your travel board and come back to it later!

Booking your pet’s flight

Always call into the airline to book both your ticket and your pet’s ticket. While every airline has different rules in how many animals in the cabin they will allow, there is always a limit. If you choose to book your ticket online and then call in to find out that there is not enough pet space on that flight, you’re out that money. There is nothing they can do to help you out.

Some airlines allow you to pay for your pet on the day of travel, others expect payment at the time of booking.

Also when booking your seat, opt for the aisle. I don’t care how much you love that window seat, having the aisle is better for your pet because they get better ventilation when placed under the seat in front of you.

Hanging out before the flight

Before the flight

Purchase a carrier well in advance of your flight if you don’t already have an airline approved pet carrier. Give your pet the chance to explore their new kennel well before the day of travel. You don’t want their first time being in it to be at the airport. That will only stress them out more.

Checking in at the counter

Even if you have checked in online, you have to stop at the counter to pick up a tag for your carry on kennel. The tag identifies your bag as having a live animal inside and the various flights on your route in the unlikely event you are separated from your pet.

puppy sleeping during a layover

This probably won’t make me many friends, but people are stupid. It’s just a fact of life. It’s also a fact of life that many of the agents working the counters no longer know the rules of their employer or how to do their job. Unfortunately, it falls to the passenger to know the rules and where to find them in the event the agent tries to turn you away.

I have had an agent try to turn me away because my of age puppy was “too young.” The employee didn’t know the rules and likely didn’t want to do the extra paperwork associated with having a dog in cabin on the flight. Thankfully I am well versed in pet travel rules and was able to quickly pull it up on my phone and tell the woman she was wrong and she reluctantly allowed me to board the plane.

Make sure you know where to find the rules on the airline’s site in case you have to stand up for yourself.

Getting through security

Security… everyone’s favorite part of travel… Have you guys noticed how now you still have to take stuff out of your bag even with TSA Precheck at some airports? I paid to keep my crap in the bag..


Look at the size of this pups paw!

Once it’s your turn to go through security, you will be asked to remove your pet from its carrier and to hold it until your stuff can go into the scanning machine. After that, you will then be directed to the metal detector and asked to walk through while holding your pet. Then you have to wait just on the other side of the metal detector until a TSA agent can swab both of your hands, I’m guessing they’re looking for explosives residue, but I really don’t know for sure.

Also expect people to be like, “Look! A dog!” Pointing at you like they’ve never seen one before.

If you bring any sort of wet food and leave it in your bag, your bag will be searched. After the first time of dealing with the hassle of them pulling me aside to search my bag, I only bring dry kibble for flights now.

On the plane

Once on the plane, your pet is expected to stay zipped up in the kennel. Depending on the flight and your flight attendants, they may allow you to unzip it to give them some water during the flight. I have also had flight attendants get pretty upset with me for unzipping the carrier to give the pet water.

Offering water to a puppy mid-flight

Be cautious with whatever you choose to do. But keep in mind, the safety and well being of your pet always comes first ahead of any of the rules.

One time I was on a flight where I thought my puppy was dying. The plane was hotter than hot and when I reached down to check on it, it wasn’t moving. I was out of my seat and in the aisle so fast hauling the pup out of the kennel asking for ice water. Most of the flight attendants on that flight were okay and willing to help, but then there was the one that was like you can’t do that.

You are the biggest and only advocate for your pet. Do what you have to do to keep them safe.

During your layover

You are likely going to have a layover. Unless you live in a hub city. In that case, I envy you.

Most of the larger airports have pet relief areas now. Do some research before your trip to find out where in the airport they are located. Whenever I travel, they seem to be on the opposite side as my flights. I usually end up letting them out in a women’s restroom and laying a piddle pad on the floor. Do they use the pad? Nope. But it’s nice to have to mop it up when they pee as far away from the pad as possible.

Puppy drinking water in the pet relief area

You should also give your pet plenty of time to drink water during the layover. I choose not to feed them during this time in case they get motion sick. I don’t want to clean up or smell their vomit or poop. Other passengers don’t want to smell it. And they don’t want to hang out in the carrier covered in it for however many hours your flight is.

Another option if you want your pet to have a little bit of food is to offer it as treats throughout the day. Even still, don’t give them too much food for the same reasons listed in the paragraph above.

The next flight

You’ve both done one now and should know what to expect. Don’t be alarmed if you pet cries for the first little bit. I personally think it’s best to let them cry it out and not interfere. People might give you some dirty looks, but they should be minding their own business.

If your pet continues to carry on, consider spraying some Rescue Remedy in their mouth the get them to relax. It’s all natural and the equivalent to humans drinking chamomile tea before bed.

puppy chewing on kennel
Puppy chewing on kennel

Things to bring

I’ve written a whole other post on what you need to bring when traveling and you can read that here.

Have you flown with your pet before? Any other words of wisdom you would like to share?

Tell us in the comments below!

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