Friday, February 8, 2013

Flying with your dog

A client asked how to prepare for flying home with her puppy from the breeder's - several states away. The trip includes four driving hours to her local airport, a three-hour nonstop flight, and a 90-minute drive from airport to breeder. The following tips can apply to anyone flying with a small dog as carry-on luggage (yes, that is what the airlines consider them).

Before you fly
Call the airlines to make your reservation. Tell them that you will be traveling with your puppy on the return flight and that he will be in a small, soft carrier that will fit under the seat in front of you (this makes him carry-on luggage). You may be asked how much he weighs. Ask the breeder this question prior to calling the airlines: "at the age I will be picking up my puppy, about how much will he weigh?".

You will be charged a fee by the airlines. Ask how much it is and when/where you pay it (usually when you check in at the airport with your puppy). Here is an example of the way it works: Delta's policy for pet travel. When planning your trip, check the current rules and regulations from the Transportation Security Administration. The TSA is in charge of security at airports in the U.S.

If possible, never fly United. Their customer service is horrible, delays happen all the time, and they apparently don't like dogs, including service dogs (and their handlers).

Things you will need for your puppy on the return flight
  • An approved carrier that will fit under the seat of an airplane 
  • A four-foot leash
  • A collar 
  • Clean-up materials: poop bags, wet wipes, and a few paper towels or a pee pad (absorbent like a disposable diaper)
  • A small amount of dry dog food from the breeder. You will only need this if there is a flight delay. I was once stuck at Dulles with a 10-week-old puppy for nine hours because of a cancellation.
  • A small cup for the puppy to drink water out of. Same as above. You won't want to water the puppy until you get off the plane at the end of your journey. Only offer water if there is a lengthy flight delay. 
  • If you DO get delayed and have to give your puppy water, make it bottled water. Tap water in the airport can cause tummy upset.
What you should do on your drive to the airport with your puppy
  • Safety first: when driving with your puppy, keep him in his carrier, belted in with a seat belt in case you have to stop quickly. You don't want him frightened and/or injured during his very first drive with you. Always remove leash and collar before putting a puppy or dog into any kind of enclosure to avoid choking hazards.
  • If puppy vocalizes, ignore him. Responding in any way will encourage more of the same. Even if puppy vocalizes in the car it is unlikely he will do so on the plane.
  • Stop about half an hour before you get to the airport to give your puppy a potty break. Pick a place dogs do not go. *Never take a very young puppy to an interstate's rest area for a potty break or anywhere near a pet store. Look for an office building, a church or other public building with grass near it - a place that dogs do not frequent. Why? Puppies, prior to their final vaccinations around 16 weeks, are susceptible to contagious diseases like parvovirus, spread through the feces of infected dogs. It's deadly, so keep puppy safe and stay away from places dogs frequent!*
  • If your puppy is not in his carrier, he should be on leash.
  • Assuming you have rented a car, getting from the rental car turn-in to the airport terminal can be a challenge. Depending on the airport, you may have to take a shuttle to get to the terminal. Even if you have packed light, you may have a roller bag, a backpack, and a puppy in a carrier. Give yourself plenty of time. Use elevators not escalators.
At the airport
  • Have your reservation information and identification easily accessible.
  • If you are traveling alone and have a roller bag, check it through to your final destination. Making your way through an airport with a dog carrier and a puppy is a balancing act. The less you have with you, the better. Consider a small backpack for essentials, leaving your hands free for puppy. Next best thing is an across-the-body bag of some sort, again leaving your hands free. If you are traveling with another adult, you can ask that person to handle the bags.
  • Know ahead of time (ask your airline) where to check in when you get to the airport. It will probably not be the standard check-in line, which means it should be shorter and less time consuming.
  • Next stop: security. Since you looked at the TSA website prior to your trip, you know the basics. 3-1-1 (maximum 3.4 oz. bottles; 1 quart, clear plastic, zip-top bag; 1 zip-top bag per passenger). This bag of liquids, as well as laptop computers have to come out of your bag and be placed in their own bins to go through the X-ray machine. Make sure you pack them in a way that they are easy to access. You will be balancing a puppy in a carrier, taking off your shoes (wear slip-ons to make this easier), coat, sweater, hat, clunky jewelry, etc. and putting them in bins to be X-rayed. Your pockets have to be empty of everything. When you are ready to walk through the metal detector, remove your puppy from his carrying case and send the case through the X-ray machine. Hold puppy in your arms and proceed through the metal detector. And smile. A happy person with a puppy can make a TSA agent's day. After you and your belongings have been scanned successfully, gather your things, put your puppy back in his carrier, and proceed to your gate. 
Below is a Lab puppy snoozing happily in the gate area, awaiting departure.

  • Boarding the plane is the easiest part. When the gate agent announces that people traveling with small children or anyone needing a little extra time can board first - proceed with ticket in hand, get your ticket scanned, and get on the plane. This will give you the opportunity to put your bag in the overhead bin and to tuck your puppy, in his carrier, under the seat in front of you, where he will remain for the duration of the flight. A flight attendant may ask if you need water for your puppy. Politely decline, since drinking water is directly connected to him urinating - which you want to avoid while in the air.
Arriving at your destination
  • Keep your puppy in his carrier or in your arms as you get off the plane and move through the terminal. Odds are that when those puppy paws hit the floor, sidewalk or grass, your puppy will squat to pee. Better that happen outside than inside. Know your airport. Where can you get puppy to - that is NOT a pet relief area if your puppy has not had all his vaccinations - where he can relieve himself. Try to make this a low-traffic area so your puppy isn't surrounded by strangers wanting to pet him. Get to this potty place as quickly as possible, put on puppy's leash and collar and set him on the ground. He will probably sniff, maybe bounce a little, and most likely pee and maybe even poop within a very few minutes. Clean up solid waste and dispose of it properly.
  • When puppy is finished, carry him either to the luggage carousel if you checked a bag or directly to your car if you have all of your belongings. You can put him back in his airline carrier or in a crate you have waiting for him for the ride home. Whichever you use, make certain it is solidly anchored to your car so the carrier or crate doesn't bounce around. 
  • Drive away from the airport and find a place where you can stop to give your puppy water and a little food, so he will be comfortable for the ride home. If you want to give him some exercise, you can find an appropriate place to take him out of the car on leash and play with him a bit. See *--* above for specifics about where NOT to take him.
Next stop, home.

Puppies tend to fly very well. They usually fall asleep before take-off and stay asleep until you land. Relax and enjoy your flight!

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