**This guest post is by Allison Luxenberg, also known as The Austin Optimist, whose much-loved Rottweilers we’ve watched for years. We also want to mention that Delta now offers a GPS tracking device for pets on flights so human travelers can be aware of the location, temperature and condition of their pets during the journey. Read more here.**
Five years ago I flew my Rottweiler from Los Angeles to Florida for a dog show. I was so terrified; there was no amount of Bloody Mary at LAX to numb my fears. At the special animal check-in they had to scan my dog to make sure he was not smuggling in any drugs; treats were alright though. Then they sent him on his merry way, in his crate, down a conveyor belt into the cargo holding area. I lost it. I cried so much the attendant felt so bad she actually let me back in the area to see where he would stay until he boarded and let me meet the people who were handling him so I could tell them he was a nice boy and ask them to handle with care.
On top of the dog crate I taped a bag of dog cookies in a Ziploc bag and wrote a note that has his name and said “I am a nice dog, but please don’t open my gate so I can’t run away. You can give me a cookie though. Thank you.” When we landed the bag was empty. It probably didn’t hurt that I also had a bag full of $10 Starbucks cards with me and handed them to every person I saw had contact with my dog and taped 2 extra on his crate for people I couldn’t see.
When I boarded the plane the flight attendant came to my seat with a note that was signed off from the ground and said “Your dog is on board too.” Upon landing we headed to the oversized luggage area and between golf bags and skis, there was my dog in his crate and happier than ever to see me on the other side. Overall, even though I am very unlikely to fly my dogs again, the experience turned out to be alright.
If money is no option, there are private charter planes that can transport your pet in a much more comfortable way. However, if commercial airlines are your only option, below are some safety tips from the ASPCA.
1. Make an appointment with your pet’s veterinarian for a checkup, and make sure all vaccinations are up-to-date. Obtain a health certificate from your veterinarian dated within 10 days of departure. For travel outside of the continental United States, additional planning and health care requirements may be necessary. Contact the foreign office of the country you are traveling to for more information.
2. Make sure your pet has a microchip for identification and is wearing a collar and ID tag. The collar should also include destination information in case your pet escapes.
3. Book a direct flight whenever possible. This will decrease the chances that your pet is left on the tarmac during extreme weather conditions or mishandled by baggage personnel.
4. Purchase a USDA-approved shipping crate that is large enough for your pet to stand, sit and turn around in comfortably. Shipping crates can be purchased from many pet supply stores and airlines.
5. Write the words “Live Animal” in letters at least one inch tall on top of and at least one side of the crate. Use arrows to prominently indicate the upright position of the crate. On the top of the crate, write the name, address and telephone number of your pet’s destination point, and whether you will be accompanying him or if someone else is picking him up. Make sure that the door is securely closed, but not locked, so that airline personnel can open it in case of an emergency. Line the crate bottom with some type of bedding—shredded paper or towels—to absorb accidents.
6. Affix a current photograph of your pet to the top of the crate for identification purposes. Should your pet escape from the carrier, this could be a lifesaver. You should also carry a photograph of your pet.
7. The night before you leave, make sure you’ve frozen a small dish or tray of water for your pet. This way, it can’t spill during loading, and will melt by the time he’s thirsty. Tape a small pouch, preferably cloth, of dried food outside the crate. Airline personnel will be able to feed your pet in case he gets hungry on long-distance flights or a layover.
8. Tranquilizing your pet is generally not recommended, as it could hamper his breathing. Check with your veterinarian first.
9. Tell every airline employee you encounter, on the ground and in the air, that you are traveling with a pet in the cargo hold. This way, they’ll be ready if any additional considerations or attention is needed.
10. If the plane is delayed, or if you have any concerns about the welfare of your pet, insist that airline personnel check the animal whenever feasible. In certain situations, removing the animal from the cargo hold and deplaneing may be warranted.