Flying With A Dog: 8 Steps to Flying Internationally with Your Pooch

Flying with a dog

“Can you give me advice on what to do when flying with a dog?”

My human and I have been asked this many, many times. Each time it happens, we realize that people are generally really overwhelmed at the thought of flying with a dog.

My human and I are in no way experts but we’ve gone on a couple of international flights and have learned along the way.

The biggest piece of advice that we can share with you is to take the time to do your homework and prepare.

If you are considering flying with fido: give yourself ample time to get things in order. There are many things that have to happen before you can even think about getting on a plane.

So, start 3-to-4 months prior to your trip to ensure you cross your T’s and dot all your I’s and avoid any crazy travel headaches (trust me, the headaches suck!).

Below are the 8 steps that my human does each time she flies with me internationally. We hope these help you feel a little less overwhelmed:

Step 1 – Learn the Difference Between Flying with a ‘Normal’ Dog, Flying with an Emotional Support Animal and Flying with a Service Dog

Here is a Quick Lesson:

>A Service Dog – is a type of assistance dog specifically trained to help people who have disabilities such as visual & hearing impairments, mental disorders, seizures, diabetes and mobility impairments. Service dogs do not pay to fly on planes.

>An Emotional Support Animal/Dog (ESA) – a dog that provides comfort and support for an individual suffering from mental and emotional conditions. An emotional support dog, unlike the service dog, isn’t required to perform any specific tasks for a disability. Service dogs do not pay to fly on planes.

>Normal Dog (and just as fabulous) – are the pooches that show you all the love in the world at home but that are NOT Service or ESA dogs. There is a fee to fly with ‘normal dogs’ whether it be in-cabin or in the cargo (belly of the plane).

Speaking of which, that is another question we get asked quite frequently: ‘Does Hami fly in the cabin with you?”

Yes, I most certainly do! I am an ESA dog so I normally fly at my humans feet in my airline approved carrying case. Not all dogs are allowed in the cabins of planes so you have to make sure you read the airlines rules & regulations very carefully.

My human recommends flying with your dog in cabin if possible and only going in-cargo if it is absolutely necessary (like you are moving countries and are not allowed in cabin). The cargo of planes can be very stressful on pets and there have been many injuries and even doggie deaths in the cargo.

Step 2 – Book Your Flight.

Make sure you visit your intended airlines’s website and read all the pet travel rules & regulations. We also recommend calling them before booking to ask what steps you need to take to be able to fly with your pet.

My human and I recommend flying American Airlines or any other US-based airline other than United Airlines (I mean, this pretty much speaks for itself). 

By law, US-based airlines have to permit Emotional Support & Service Animals in the cabin of the plane during flight but not all airlines allow ‘normal’ pets as companions in the cargo or in the cabin.

Non-US airlines do not have to follow the same rules & regulations and tend to be MUCH stricter on what they consider acceptable pets; especially if you are flying on non-us airlines in other countries. (Remind me to tell you about the time my human and I got kicked off of Ryan Air that one time we went to Spain. Yeah, that actually happened). 

When you book your flight, you need to let them know that you plan on flying with your dog and how you want to travel with them: as service, ESA or as a normal dog.

Step 3 – Visit Your Vet.

Every international country is different; they all have their own rules and restrictions. Most of them however, require that you enter the country with a clean bill of health from your licensed veterinary.

When I went to Spain and to Chile, I had to visit my vet to get a physical 10 days prior to our flight. During the physical, the vet signed a bunch of papers and told us that we had to take them to the United States Department of Agriculture to get it signed.

When you land at your destination, the people at immigration and customs, will ask to see these papers so make sure you have them handy!

Step 4 – Visit the USDA Office Nearest You.

Your vet will be able to give you the contact information and directions to the USDA office that is nearest to you.

I recommend making an appointment and going in person if you can (and if you are in a rush) if not, I believe they have an option to mail your paperwork in.

To see if the country you are visiting requires the USDA visit and stamp of approval, make sure you visit the Pet Travel website and talk it over with your vet.

flying with a dog

Step 5 – Airport Check-In.

Make sure you stop feeding your doggie 4 hours prior to your flight. This way, you do not have any accidents while on the flight. Also, make sure to walk your pet plenty before getting to the airport.

When it is time to check-in at the airport, make sure you take:
  • Your ESA paperwork if you have it (your doctors note)
  • The Vets paperwork
  • The USDA paperwork
  • An Approved Airline Carrier. I love my Sturdi Product Bag.
  • If you are flying LAN or TAM airlines, you need to have a muzzle…Crazy, i know.

I almost lost my flight to Chile because I did not have a muzzle with me. You don’t HAVE to put it on the dog, you just need to be able to show it when asked.

flying with a dog

Step 6 – The Flight.

Weeks before the flight, make sure you get your doggie used to their carrying case. They have to feel that it is safe and they need to like spending time in there.

I love my bag so much, I normally fall asleep the moment I get in it and then magically wake up in another country. Ta-da! It’s magic.

Tip: some flights can get really cold. Make sure you take an extra pet blanket just in case your pup gets chilly.

Step 7 – The Landing.

Once you land and get your checked bags, you will need to make your way through customs and security. They will ask you if you have something to declare, you should always answer yes.

They will then ask you for all the paperwork that you have so meticulously organized. If you have everything in order, they will just take the letters and let you go on your way.

Make extra copies of everything so you can keep a set when they take your originals.

TIP: If you are taking dog food with you, make sure that you leave the food in the original packaging.

When we flew into Chile, we didn’t do this and they made us throw away all my food. #Rude

flying with a dog
So glad my human takes me on her trips. If not, I would not have been able to enjoy these views of Ibiza.

Step 8 – Returning Home.

For the love of dog: when your vet signs your paperwork, make sure that they put ‘valid for a round-trip’.

When we got to Chile, they noticed that the paperwork said it was only valid for the flight there. We had to follow the same procedures in Chile to be able to return back home (visit a vet, visit their version of the USDA, etc).

The airport in Chile would not have let us board the plane and leave the country without these papers, even though, no one back home in the US asked us for them when we returned?.

We hope that this list has helped you get an idea of how to start planning for your next trip/adventure.

Some other really useful websites & articles on pet travel are:
  1. The US Department of Transportations Website
  2. The website, Pet Travel: You will find rules & restrictions for pet travel, by country – great place to start your search on what you need to travel abroad.
  3. My post about What To Pack for your Pet

Of course, if you have any comments or questions, please feel free to reach out in the comments below. I will have my publicist (aka: my human) get back to you as soon as possible.

xoxo, Hami

12 responses to “Flying With A Dog: 8 Steps to Flying Internationally with Your Pooch”

  1. How did you do ESA? I would love to travel to my country with my dog in cabin! Great article! Thanks..

  2. Thank you so much for this article! My boyfriend and I are planning to take a longer break from our jobs to travel a bit and leaving our Happy at home is definitely not an option! We’ve been wondering how to apporach this topic and your article most certainly helps with it!

    • ohhh – this makes us so so happy. we LOVE to help in anyway we can. if you happen to need anything else, or have any questions, feel free to let us know!! and, of course….have SOOOO much fun with your boyfriend and pooch on your travels. WHere are you planning on going?? 🙂

  3. Como le va Sir Hamilton buenisima toda la info, sobre que aerolineas evitar y estadisticas gracias!!!!

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