What I Learned About Flying With a Dog

Posted in: Expat Hacks, Our Perspective, Our Travels

Flying with a dog wasn’t as easy as we thought it would be. Especially because our dog was too large to fit in the cabin with us.

dog-at-quito-airport-ecuador

Chica at the Quito airport

We recently moved from Ecuador (South America) back to Canada with our dog and it took a huge amount of planning! There were a lot of details to figure out.

We were traveling through 3 countries, each with their own regulations on pet travel. And then there were the airline regulations as well.

National flights (within the United States for example) may be pretty straight forward, but things can get complicated when you need to travel to another country.

These are the 3 major factors to consider:

  • Health regulations
  • Time of year
  • Flight/airport regulations

Health Regulations

When it came to flying with a dog we had to comply with country and airline health regulations.

This included vaccinations and the papers to prove the physical health of our pet. It also included the specifics on what kind of carrier was allowed and the other supplies needed to keep our dog comfortable during the flight.

flying-with-a-dog-vet-papers

In Cuenca getting the vet certificate

Some of the documentation we needed had time limits. In arranging our flights out of Ecuador one of the documents (vet certificate) had a 7 day expiration. And both of the government issued documents for national and international travel had a 48 hour expiration. Factoring this in to our plans shaped our travel itinerary.

We also had to get the papers translated into English for the US and Canadian airports we would travel through.

We had to check the type of carrier required by the airline we were thinking of flying with. The regulations were strict and needed to be met – or our pet could have been rejected causing us to have to reschedule our flights.

flying-with-a-dog-safe-carrier

Safe airline worthy carriers

Our carrier had to have ventilation on all 4 sides, metal hardware (including screws) the proper door enclosure, absorbent material, handles on the top and both sides, and food and water dishes. We had to make our own screws (we cut a threaded rod and bought washers and lock nuts) because it came with plastic and we couldn’t find the proper sized ones in Cuenca. We also had to label the carrier with “Live Animal” stickers in English and Spanish, use zip-ties on the 4 corners and include a pouch with food and identification/contact info.

Tip: Check the airline website well in advance of your desired travel time because it could take you longer than you think to locate an acceptable dog carrier in your area. At least that was our experience in Cuenca Ecuador.

If you can’t find one in your area you could order one on Amazon and have it shipped to you. You can also order a travel packet with the odds and ends needed (zip-ties, food pouch…) which could save a lot of running around.

Flying With a Dog: When?!

If your dog is too large to travel in the cabin with you, time of year matters!

This came as a surprise to us. We had to make sure that the location of each airport (5 altogether) along the way was neither too hot nor too cold for the dog. Many airline carriers have rules and will only accommodate flying with a dog during specific months to ensure the safety of your pet.

Tip: Don’t assume that you can just plan your flight for any time during the year, you need to do your homework well in advance.

We checked available flights and then went to the company website to make sure they carried pets. Then we had to check the window of time open for safe pet travel with each airline.

Because we were checking with more than one company (trying to find the best price) this became a headache, but was necessary because we didn’t want any major “surprises” getting in the way of our pet making the trip with us.

Flight/Airport Regulations for Pet Travel

Not all airline carriers carry pets. And there are some that do, but only on certain planes.

Because we were flying with a dog internationally we had a number of stopovers and needed to change planes. This could have created a problem because the flight we were landing on may have carried dogs, but the flight we were transferring to, may not have. We ran into that problem when looking into flights from our last stopover in the U.S. to our destination city in Canada.

Before we booked our flights we had to check each flight specifically to make sure that type of plane would accept our pet. To do this, we went to the airline website and checked the type and the number of each plane noted on our proposed itinerary. We realized that it was very important to read the “fine print.”

flying-with-a-dog-quito-airport

In the Quito airport

Then we had to figure out if we would need to pick up our pet during our stopover or not. At some stopovers we needed to get our pet, take her to the pet relief station, feed and water her, and give her some love and exercise. At others we didn’t. It was also helpful to check out maps of the airports (locating relief areas) we would be going through. This saved us time and confusion during our travel.

We also needed to check our dog earlier than normal luggage, so we had to allow extra time for that.

Start Planning Well In Advance Of Desired Travel Time

As you can see, when flying with a dog there was a lot to consider! We needed to plan well in advance, and be prepared for bumps along the way.

Tip: If possible, it’s best to go to the airport and talk with the airline to make sure your pet will be allowed on the flight.

We learned this the hard way. We had called the airline we were flying out of Cuenca with and preregistered our dog for the flight (a necessary step with all flights.) We were told everything was good to go.

When we called back a few days before the flight just to make sure (also an important step) we were told that someone else had taken our spot! This created some panic in our family. We decided it would be best go to the airport to make sure, it turned out everything was fine and our dog was still scheduled to make the flight.

dog-at-quito-airport-ecuador

The problem with calling the airlines was that their call centers are outsourced. This lead to confusion because, as we found out, the person on the other end didn’t know what they were talking about.

We were told the airline had changed their policy and no longer carried pets from Cuenca to Quito, which wasn’t true.

This kind of mix-up can be very frustrating when trying to make important travel plans because you think you are talking with informed employees, but you may not be. Check and double check everything.

The Path Of Least Resistance

In trying to tie all of these details together (including 4 flights) we found it best to fly with Delta for the majority of our flight. They had the most pet friendly flights, and it saved a lot of headaches. We didn’t have to worry as much about changing airlines (and meeting their different regulations) as we managed our pet, and our mountain of luggage.

It was more expensive to go that way, but peace of mind is worth a lot. And because we had so much luggage, traveling first class (a first for us) cost less than coach because of the higher luggage allowance. Our trip back took over 24 hours (including stopovers) and to have the extra leg room (Bryan is 6’3″) was pretty nice. It also meant we got off the flights quicker so we could get to the dog to take care of her. Using this trick saved us hundreds on our flights.

It was our first time flying with a dog and we were concerned about her. She did great, and it was well worth all the planing and headaches!

We got her the month after we moved to Ecuador. She shared everything with us over our 6 years there, leaving her behind didn’t feel like an option. Our daughter was 8 when we arrived in Ecuador, having to leave was hard enough, we didn’t want to leave her BFF behind.

flying-with-a-dog-part-of-our-family

When Chica was a baby

Having our dog back in Canada with us is wonderful!

flying-with-a-dog-worth-it

Our daughter with her Chica in Canada

flying-with-a-dog-back-in-canada

Bryan and Chicha on the coast in Canada

Have you had any experience flying with a dog? Please share your tips by commenting on this post.

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Meet the Author

Since moving to Ecuador in 2009, Dena and Bryan have made their living as bloggers. Dena is a partner at Storyteller Media, a content marketing company for Canadian travel brands. She is a contributor to Bryan Haines and is co-founder of Click Like This - a photo tutorial blog.

15 comments… add one
  • Zoe Jan 2, 2016, 9:57 am

    Hi there,

    I’m in Cuenca for the next five months and am seriously considering bringing a dog back to Canada with me at the end of May. I would adopt a dog from the Refugio del Mayor Amigo in Cuenca. My flight leaves from Guayaquil and arrives in New York, then I will drive up to Canada. I’m having trouble finding out what time of year is too hot to travel with animals – would you happen to know the answer to this? I am also wondering where you were able to find a proper crate in Cuenca? I’ve looked on Amazon and the shipping is about $700 so that is out of the question.

    Thank you for your help!
    Zoe

  • Susan Oct 22, 2015, 4:44 pm

    I am desperately seeking information on bringing my pet parrots to Ecuador with us from the US. To date, I have not found anyone who has successfully done this. If anyone has, would you please let me know how you did it? I would be eternally grateful. I know that I can bring them on either Delta or United, but I need to know how I can get them into Ecuador…what their laws and requirements are. I don’t read Spanish so cannot get help from Ecuador websites. Thank you for any help anyone can give me.

  • pat wood Jun 18, 2015, 6:19 pm

    Please be reminded service dogs fly with the disabled owner at no charge. NEVER describe the animal as a pet if you acquire a service animal vest, ect. . You have a working animal not a pet.
    As a disabled individual, a bulkhead seat is generally reserved. However, on a delta flight with a cast on my right leg, I did not get a bulkhead with several healthy people in those seats and hobbled to the rear of the plane with crutches, holding my 40 pound service dog.
    My casted leg faced the passenger next to me and there was no room for the animal.
    He sat on my lap for a 4 hour flight. The best part was when she opened a ham sandwich and he just stared at her. Again, this was animal friendly Delta.
    If your pet is small enough to fit under the seat infront of you in a Sherpa bag, there may be a pretty high charge, but you know where your animal is at all times

  • cindy Jun 16, 2015, 8:18 am

    I started looking into Ecuador about two yrs ago…about the time i started lookimg for a Borzoi pup to train as a service dog.(my last boy was a sd and have had tje beed for 35yrs) well….things neber go as planned,,,,,,i connected with a yr & a half old boy who knew life as a kennel dog with a doz other zoi!!!#! Had to start with leash training! Two yrs of training.,,,,with professional help all the way$!$!$$$$$ dealing with my ptsd and making myself go out ad about to get the hrs in for him.grrrrr,he became a social buttetfly,which helped me remember that i enjoyed the company of people. Amazing how many people had not seen a Borzoi. Good thing i have background in teaching…took focus off me and i enjoyed taking anout my zoi and his tasks as a sd(servive dog) bought a PET PASSPORT_had all the papetwork needed to take to vet
    Got his shots about 23 days before flying(must be at least 21 days)made apt for deworming and fea.tick preventive and health certificate 8 days befote traveling because 10days was sun and 9 was a holiday. Sent all four forms to usda. Got them back within days of travel.,..,,his paperwork was actually easier and more straight forward than ours! Cool did well at airport at Dulles(Wash,DC) and got onto flight and layed at our feet in bulkhead seating on AA with no problem. I was dozzing in and out but keeping an eye on him. As we were starting to decend he woke me winning loudly ….guessing his ears hurt.gave him his chewie a it later than should have, got off found pet relief station.,.,had about six hrs in Miami and got backon another AA flight.,,,,smooth flight..,no problem decending, we got off in GYE and you would have thought he wad a ROCK STAR with all the pictures! Jorge Lopez met us and took us to his place and ten on to Salinas. We have been here just over a week and can see it will be a challenge traveling within country with a large dog. Service Dog? What is that????? Oh well,,,quiet, well behaved. COMPANION!!!! we made it this far w will figure it out as we go. Say,,,,is he the only Borzoi in Ecuador?

  • Kiss Jun 15, 2015, 11:42 pm

    Hola,

    Moving to Cuenca this week, i noticed that since you no longer live in Ecuador, there is no classified.
    I am moving to a place that i will to purchase furniture (used) and some kitchen utensils, can you please give
    me some reference that i might be able to find some items.

    Gracias

  • George Jun 14, 2015, 6:41 am

    This was a really great story. Dog lovers are my favorite kind of people. Thanks for sharing this with everyone. George

  • Elfi Jun 13, 2015, 6:26 pm

    I moved from Madagascar where I had lived 11 years and had a company, to Nicaragua with my 2 medium-size adopted dogs. After having searched in the web for several weeks – like you: checking regulations, airlines, trajectories (via Paris CDG or Jo-Burg?) I was about to give up – it seemed to be Mission Impossible.
    But looking into the eyes of my 2 sweethearts who already had been suffering for several months, seeing my 3 employees come more and more seldom and all the furniture leave the house… I could really read in their eyes that they were thinking “and what will happen to us, now”?
    So I decided to have everything organized with 3(!) pet travel agents – one in Antananarivo, Madagascar who also booked the transport in manifest cargo (Jo-Burg ONLY permits manifest cargo – no pets as excess luggage!), 1 in Jo-Burg who brought them in transit thus avoiding quarantine (I would not have been able to organize this myself) and 1 in Atlanta.

    I rented a special minibus transport for the 650 km/12 hours on the road from the coast where I had lived to the capital.

    I flew with SAA to Jo-Burg and then with DELTA to Atlanta and further to Managua, but on the 15 hours transatlantic flight the crew has no access to the manifest cargo department since 9/11 – so if anything goes wrong…

    I did not see my cuties during these 4 days and was able to relax in the hotel, while the agents took care of everything. A quite expensive solution (it cost me more than my own flight over 15,000 km, but I flew economic. All the agents did a great job, they stayed in contact with each other and with me.

    I received the dogs at Managua airport, and this was the only time when I brought them through customs myself which was done in only 30 minutes, because they came as manifest cargo again with all the documents professionally prepared. And the airport staff in Managua was more than helpful with everything as well as the Best Western hotel at the airport, where I was allowed to bring them along.

    As I do not (hopefully!) move across half of the globe every year with 2 dogs, I am glad I choose this solution. Mainty, my 8 year-old female, managed everything very well and slept most of the time. Tarzan – a very dynamic male of 2 1/2 years, STOOD upright on the seat during the whole 12 hours on the road (at night – because the temperatures during that time of the year reach 35-40°C ). But in the first 2 weeks after arrival, he bit 4 people when on the leash and seemed really somewhat traumatized with all the big changes in his short life.

    Congrats for having everything organized yourself with 5 connection flights! As I had to organize so many things on my own – shutting down my company, clearing the house… in a country which has incredibly degraded since a putsch in 2009 and has become even dangerous – I was too stressed to take also care of all these procedures. As an example: They had been confirmed for manifest cargo 2 weeks before departure, but 2 minutes before departure, I was told they could only take 1 dog on board.

    Fortunately the VetClinic agent handled this situation – and suddenly it was no problem for the two…

    Now they are here with me and accustomed to the new house and environment, and all the stress is forgotten. I can really recommend to work with pet travel agents, when you have a complicated itinerary, transiting several countries.

  • Jacqueline Zaleski Mackenzie Jun 13, 2015, 3:16 pm

    We came into Ecuador with two dogs, 11 lbs and 9 lbs. Both are service dogs. Our costs were enormous as getting trained and registered as service dogs are hard enough challenges, but the medical need of adults also had to be verified with tests and medical referrals. Everything had to be in English and Spanish. Without the certification as service dogs, there is a limit of two dogs in the cabin per leg of any USA airline. Yes, I would do it again. However, like getting another visa in Ecuador, I sure would not want to have to.

  • Joi Jun 13, 2015, 12:36 pm

    That whole process scares me What if something doesn’t work out and your dog gets stuck somewhere without you, or they don’t let you get them for hours or days. I have had baggage sent to the wrong destination before…

    This was a major factor in my decision not to relocate to Ecuador after visiting there in 2011. Couldn’t take the chance that my dog would be harmed or traumatized in any way. Got the carrier, but just couldn’t do it. Now my dog is 12 years old, so after he’s gone I may rethink an international relocation. Next dog will be small enough to travel in the cabin with me.

  • peripatetic soul Jun 13, 2015, 11:17 am

    I’ve read some of the posts on transporting pets. I had a similar experiencing transporting two adopted cats from United Arab Emirates to the U.S. There is a fantastic website: expresspets.com that provides all the information you outlined in your post. You can find airline “pet division” phone numbers, information about third-party scammers, regulations by country for required immunizations and carriers, etc. It’s a lengthy process going from one country to the next regardless of where one may be headed. As for using a carrier with wheels, many airlines do not allow those (in response to a poster here) because they are dangerous and can topple over, causing damage to the pet. If you buy an airline approved crate, make sure it really does comply because some websites deliver false promises. As you mentioned, it’s always best to check directly with the airline which will ask the dimensions/weight of the crate as well as your beloved pet. There are some airlines (many American ones) that are NOT pet friendly. For those overseas in Europe or the M.E., KLM and Lufthansa are highly regarded and I recommend the latter from experience transporting my pets 15 hours. One important note I’d like to mention is about the “status” and “cost” of transporting pets. Many airlines require that the pet be transported via “cargo” status. Others such as KLM allow in cabin (based on size/wt restrictions) or as “checked baggage.” Please note that 1) whether your pet travels “cargo” or “checked baggage,” they are in the SAME holding area of the plane, and 2) cargo is thousands of dollars more. Checked baggage is often only $100-150, a substantial savings. When I got to D.C., instead of paying $1,000 to fly 45 minutes to Richmond, VA, I hired a pet transporter whom I met at the airport (I couldn’t accompany them for liability reasons). DC has pet friendly hotels for the overnight stop. As for LIVE ANIMAL stickers and travel packets, you don’t need to pay for those. Those too are available at expresspets.com. Best wishes for all our pets to arrive safely and not stressed.

  • Tamar Jun 13, 2015, 9:21 am

    Hallo everybody!
    Thank you for sharing your experience on that! We are going to Ecuador in 10 days and take our dogs with us. Both are to big for the cabin.
    We are coming from Germany and here is a small list of our preps:
    – Direct-non-stopp flight from Amsterdam to Quito: less than 12 hours (possible since they finished the new airport in Quito – yeah!!)
    – Booked in our two doggies with KLM looong before
    – bought Flight Kennels from Petmate (second hand – they are pricey, but tick all boxes! like yours) months before
    – box training with both dogs. one would immediatly sleep in her box, the other would not even enter. So a lot of Clickertraining was needed, step by step (first use half of the kennel, without the top! Make the box a special place where there is lots of treats); now she goes inside and lays down … well
    – make sure they have all required vaccinations – not easy, as there is hardly any information
    – next week go to Veterinäramt, get a “Certificado de Salud” (spanish included, Yeah!), have it “apostillado” next day (not older than 10 days)
    – the day before the flight see the Vet again for external/internal parasite treatment, registered in their pasport
    – have a photo of them, of me and them on my tablet – just in case
    – have copies of all documents/passports on the box and with myself (besides the original)
    – 10 hours before the flight no food, 4 hours no drink
    – fill up the box-bowls with icecubes and food
    – line the box with puppy nappy material
    Unlike some, who exercise their dogs before a lot, I rather prefer to destress them as much as possible. We do a lot – i mean a lot! – of relaxation, no stress, no hektik, no excitement.
    – I might give melatonin to both to help them sleep through or at least calm down.
    – first week in ecuador again: lots of sleep and minimal walks to adjust to the new environment.

    This is what we have done so far and what we will do if all works out well. I’m a bit worried, as one is a very timid dog – for her it will be stress – but the other will be just fine.

    Thanks also for sharing the pictures with us from Chica! She is certainly a very happy dog being with her family! Unfortunatly we will not meet in Ecuador! But it’s a small world, especially being no part of the world – so all the best to you guys! Saludos, tamar

    • Fiona Aug 27, 2015, 10:48 am

      Hi Tamar,
      I would love to hear how you got on with flying with your dogs. I am planning the same journey – Amsterdam to Quito with my dog early next year and would appreciate any feedback about the experience / KLM / arrival in Quito etc. Thank you for the feedback about the steps in preparation. You are absolutely correct; getting information about the process can be very difficult!

      • Tamar Aug 29, 2015, 5:47 pm

        Hi Fiona,

        very exciting to hear that you will take the same route. Now we are here in Ecuador and i can say we were very pleased with KLM and our dogs arrived safe and sound in Quito! A few things i would have done differently – mainly the water supply, using a bottle to provide more water – but by and large it all went well.

        If you do speak german I have a detailed report on my blog:
        If not, write me an email on mayamooncat@googlemail.com and am happy to help and answer all your questions!
        Many greetings from Ecuador!

  • Geneva Saint-Amour Jun 11, 2015, 1:22 pm

    I recently flew with Mango from Boston to Arizona. She weighs in at 12lbs and is quite small so I was able to take her in the cabin. I purchased a fantastic case (off Craigslist) that allowed her to turn, sit, lay down and see out the sides. But the best part was that it had wheels and it was a backpack. That was great for navigating the gates and hallways.
    It was pricey ($300 r/t) to have her on the plane. And it was worrisome when we had a tarmac delay that extended the “on-plane-time” from 4 hours to 6 hours. But Mango was a trooper and slept through most of it, tucked away in a carrier under the seat in front of me.
    I did not take her out on the plane (not allowed) but I did open the zipper and put my stocking foot inside. She laid her head on my foot for most of the flight. I also walked her EXTENSIVELY before we went through security- so she could go to the bathroom and so I could try to make her tired. I guess it worked.
    In summary, it was a learning experience for me and I would do it again if I needed to get a small dog between point A and point B.

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