by Sarah Ouano
This past month, I have logged countless minutes in an attempt to figure out the ins and outs of travelling with my beloved pup, Elphie,
and I can tell you that the past week of vacation with her has been worth every second of my pre-travel angst! If you’re a doting dog mom like me, I hope you’ll find my experience useful, and spare yourself undue stress. Read on for my stellar stowing strategies.
1. Airline policy: Obviously, every airline is different. Some don’t mind how you stow your pet purse, others require a checked crate, and still others demand an animal-free flight. The easiest way to navigate the airline jargon is to directly call your airline and get the low-down. In general, however, small animals are allowed in the cabin if they can comfortably fit into a medium-sized, duffle-type luggage with adequate ventilation (mesh walls). If your companion is larger than the average purse pooch, she will likely need to be checked into the cargo area of the plane, and in a hard-sided crate. Because most planes have a 5-pet maximum, the sooner you can reserve your pooch’s stowaway ticket, the better. You’ll also want to fully understand the cost of a doggy ticket—with Southwest, it’s $75 each way, and our Elphie counted as a carry-on, so no additional personal item for me. Southwest also restricts pet passage to the cabin only, so any pets that don’t fit in an under-the-seat soft carrier are denied passage.
2. Bag selection: Almost all of the major airlines produce their own branded carriers—hello, supplemental sales!—but because we couldn’t deny our girl the finest accommodations, we sprang for a luxury ride with a Dog Whisperer carrier. With its padded but sturdy base, ample but discreet ventilation, wide and padded shoulder strap, and attractive chocolate brown exterior with turquoise piping, even Elphie seemed excited to travel by duffel. None of the fellow passengers or flight crew even knew our pup tagged along, as our bag was inconspicuous and our dog, perfectly (and quietly!) content in it. This was certainly for the better, as we wanted to keep our girl as calm as possible during an otherwise stressful time.
3. Piddle-proofing: Every airport I have visited has boasted an “Animal Relief Area,” and while these are certainly helpful, give yourself some extra time to take advantage of it. There were two issues I have encountered with these relief areas. In the first place, they are outdoors, so you have to visit before you go through security. In the second, every other animal relieves himself in the same area, so exciting scents abound! Give your dog time to sniff and be sniffed, as it will help ease the travel anxiety. You won’t be sorry you did.
4. To sedate or not to sedate? Good question. Some of my clients have come to me for advice on natural ways to ease pet anxiety at home and when traveling and, just like their human counterparts, every animal is different! Some don’t need any medication at all, just a little bit of “practice traveling” (i.e. being in their carrier for a few minutes every day, riding in the car frequently, walking through an outdoor mall, etc.). However, I understand the desire to calm pets (and people) with a penchant for whining and barking, for the comfort of everyone on board. To this, I say: Rescue Remedy for Pets by Bach Flower Essences is fabulous! We gave Elphie a few drops on her treats before going to the airport, and again before boarding the plane, and she was an absolute champion the entire time. Just be ready to book it to the next Animal Relief Area when you land, because 6 hours is a long time to hold it!
When booking travel with your canine companion or feline friend, it’s always helpful to get the how-to skinny from the professionals, and I hope my experience can shed some light on this daunting topic. Until we meet again, happy tails to you!