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.
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
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.
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.
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.”
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 pre registered 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.
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.
Having our dog back in Canada with us is wonderful!
Have you had any experience flying with a dog? Please share your tips by commenting on this post.