Years back, one of Pinner’s cofounders, Sara Adams, was in line at the check-in counter at Miami International. She was heading to London, and had lot of luggage to check; one of these pieces was a crate containing her beloved cat, Thunder.
(Fun aside: there was this British fella standing behind her. Some wry chit chat turned into discussing seating arrangements, and before you know it, that’s how Sara met David, Pinner’s other founder. Cute story, right? Anyway, back to Thunder.)
This wasn’t Thunder’s first trans-Atlantic jaunt. This feline had a pet passport, and had even accumulated Pet Miles (with Virgin Atlantic, anyway). To this cat, catching a flight was old-hat.
Thing is, this goes against the grain of what even some experienced travelers believe: that toting your kitty or pooch through the sky is a pretty dire affair. At best, it’ll be stuffed in a dark luggage compartment; at worst, it’ll accidentally get diverted to SFO with your sundries and underwear. Right? Not quite.
Now, more than ever, pets are regarded as actual, literal members of the family, a fact that many major airlines have come to embrace. It’s not only doable, but actually pretty easy, to bring your pet along on holiday (why should you be the only one having fun?). Still, there are some rules to follow to make sure everyone has a smooth ride.
Almost every major airline has a pet policy, and most of them are pretty progressive (JetBlue, Delta, Virgin and KLM consistently hit the mark). But you’ve got to check ahead—it’s shocking how many people don’t, and are caught off-guard at the last minute. If you look around, airlines will have their rules and policies listed on their sites, and most have dedicated representatives who are available to answer any pet-related questions you have.
Play by the Rules
We all have that one friend who says, with a nod and a wink, that they were able to get their Jack Russell on board and keep it in their lap the whole time (for free), because they claimed it was an “emotional support animal.” While actual service dogs are still granted special privileges, it’s easy to see why some folks have tried to circumvent the system (to the dismay, no doubt, of people who actually need emotional support animals). So, airlines have been cracking down, and getting from NY to LA with Fido in your lap is, at least, going to cost you (around $95-$125).
Depending on the size of your pet, you’ll be able to carry it on (but keep it in a crate under your seat for the duration). Check ahead. If you’re packing a Golden Retriever, though, you’ll just have to bite the bullet and check it (around $200). But that’s okay, because…
It’s Not As Bad As It Sounds
Airlines are bound by the Animal Welfare Act, which means that when a pet is checked, it’s kept in an illuminated, pressure- and temperature-controlled cabin. On some flights, the pilot has eyes on the animals with a dedicated camera, and if you ask nicely, a baggage handler can even text you a picture of your furry friend, all strapped in and ready for take-off.
Plot Your Course
A lot of airports have places where you can take your dog to go potty. Sometimes, it’s pretty low-key—you’ll have to take the dog outside the airport, which means extra time going through TSA (give yourself a good layover). But some airports are worth booking your seats around—JFK in New York? They have a dedicated pet bathroom in Terminal 4, complete with Astroturf and red fire hydrants. And when it’s completed, the ARK at JFK is going to be a one-of-a-kind “animal terminal” complete with veterinary care, daycare facilities, swimming areas, grooming centers, you name it—for everything from hamsters to horses.
Some of us swear by crate training. But if your animal has never gotten used to being put into a box, it’s not all bad. Before your trip, take some time to get Fido used to a new crate, and make him comfortable with it. Treat it like a fun experience, and give him some incentives, just like you would any other training lesson.
Countdown to Liftoff
Depending on the length of your trip, plan accordingly. It’s best to fast your pet for six hours before a flight, so he’s not trying to hold it in the whole time. For longer flights, though, you can’t make them suffer, so tape a bottle of water to the crate, and keep a bowl inside (a must). Handlers will rarely open the crate, so make things accessable.
Also, Leave things that could be dangerous, like leashes (no collars either), out of the crate, but give your animal his favorite toy so he feels a little closer to home. And of course, make sure you keep some positive body language going when you hand your pet over to the airline. Bawling your eyes out might give him the impression that something’s wrong. It’ll be fine.
Heck, you could always just charter a flight, and crack open a bottle of Dom. Water for the dog. (We’ll talk about NetJets later, promise.)