What to expect when traveling with your dog on a long plane flight; in our case typically to France, Switzerland, or on our next trip to the UK and Brittany.
Checking In for your Flight
Make sure that you pack all of the necessary documents and your passport in your carry on, so you don’t forget them in the fray, and have them ready to whip out when you get to your airline arrivals counter. We suggest arriving at the counter 3 hours on the dog’s nose and head to the Special Service Counter if they have one open. Typically, an agent stands at the head of the cues and will direct you to where they want you to check in. Don’t check in online, it will do you no good. Most likely, the agent will call a supervisor who knows the requirements.
The only person that will check those USDA Pet Travel documents you worked so hard to get and paid for is at the airline counter on departure and return. We’ve never had anyone at a Passport Check ask for them. Don’t think you’ve wasted all that time and money though, as you won’t make it past the airline counter if these documents were not secured.
If and only if you’ve followed the rules to a T, they will gladly take your money ($200 each way at time of writing). A bit steep, but compared to boarding fees, pennies on the Euro. The airline agent will then hand you a green tag to sign, stating that you will not take your dog out of the carrier in the airport. If you have a stroller, they should take it for free. Wrap a few bungee cords on it, and make sure it is well tagged.
Before Heading Through Security Checkpoint
We wouldn’t recommend feeding your dog much or giving them a lot of water a few hours before the flight. If doable, try to get them to a familiar spot before heading to the airport to empty the ole bladder and bowels. Then before you go to the checkpoint, take them for a walk outside, hopefully away from the smoking section. Check the cue at the checkpoint to make sure you have left enough time to do so.
Going through security can be stressful on your dog, but more stressful on you. Take a deep breath before hitting that conveyor belt. You will have to take your dog’s collar or harness off and hold them, placing the bag and all else on the belt. Then they will ask you to walk through the x-ray with your dog. A good chance they will swipe the dog’s paws for explosives. In Germany, they made sure we put our dog back in the bag before clearing us.
Inside the Airport Terminal with your Dog
Once in the terminal, it’s up to you to risk taking them out and onto a leash. Nobody has ever said anything to us when we do and we see lots of dog owners do it, but it’s not a good idea within the walkway of a crowded airport to have them on the ground. Not only is there heavy foot traffic and people running to catch their flight, but lots of zombies hypnotized by X on their phones. Of course, if they have to use the Pet Relief stations, out of the bag they go. Those places can be disgusting, and your dog may not want to go near them, which is more reason to walk them outside beforehand.
The first thing we do when we get to the gate is to ask the gate attendant if it’s okay to board early. Usually, this is not a problem. If you’re going to give your dog something sleepy like Gabapentin, now is the time to gabby do it. Otherwise, we take the good boy and put him on our laps to calm him down. By now, we think the experience for Toby is like a walk in the park. He’s ready for a long nap. For this, we usually take the Red Eye.
Boarding the Plane with your Dog
You will have to keep your dog in the bag while boarding the plane. Once we get on the plane, we usually take him out and give him a breather until someone tells us otherwise. Book the two seats next to the window and keep your dog on the lap of the person by the window. This should be the one who registered him taking off, but you can switch if traveling in tandem. Try to shield them from all the people boarding, the coochy coos, the people who wished they’d taken their dog with them. Give Master a calming chew. He goes ballistic when a youngster says, “Oh, my Grandma has a little girl dog just like that.”
Ready for Blast Off
As the flight gets nearer to takeoff, you will have to put your dog in the bag. We get him into the bag from the top, then drop the treat onto the floor of the bag, and when he goes for it, zip! If he’s anxious, we can sneak our hand in and pet him, but in the beginning, he often tries to bull his way out. This is why it’s so important to bag train them. With treats. We’ve never done the best job of bag training, just saying.
As the plane takes off, give them something to chew to keep their ear pressure clear, like a rawhide free chicken chew. Chew chew. Good boy. Though a dog’s ears are not constructed like a humans, and they say it doesn’t pressurize so, it’s still not a bad idea and he thinks so too.
The Million Dollar Dog Bag Question
The million-dollar question is, do we keep Toby in the bag the whole 9 yards? We’re pleading the fifth. Some airline attendants have a soft spot, some don’t. Typically, heading from Europe to the US, soft spot. Heading to EU, not not. But they have a job to do and if your dog is very calm and sleeps on your lap under a blankey… right, the fifth. It gets a little tricky when they serve food and drinks. If they do ask you to get them back in the bag, get those treats ready!
What About Oopsies?
Probably your second question is, what happens if your dog can’t hold it. We’ve known some people to take their dogs into the stalls with a potty pad. Not a good idea to keep that potty pad in the bag pocket, as it might induce… potty in a bag. Hopefully, you packed paper towels and wipes. We’ve been oh so lucky and never had to use them.
Deboarding the Plane with your Dog
When getting off the plane, make sure your dog is not sitting under the overhead bins. People drop bags and that would not be a good start to your trip nor end of one. You might want to let people pass. We don’t. We want to get the heck off the plane and Toby does, too. That’s why we try to book a row as close as the Comfort + seats go. Of course, you can’t book the emergency row, but one or two back from it and you’re usually first to exit after First/Business Class.
Cruising through Customs
Once you get off the plane, you’ll want to find a Pet Relief station. It’s going to be a long line in Customs. As a US Citizen, there is no cruising through customs. Our experience, for worse or for worse, is that the US Citizens and others line is much longer than the EU Citizens line, and only one person is stationed there. We walk up with Toby in the backpack so that they never even see a dog. We have never been asked questions. Have the paperwork ready in case they do. If you are visiting several places, it’s better to just say you are going to the one and traveling a bit from there.
The Finish Line
After you grab your luggage, it’s usually just a matter of walking out to the main lobby and figuring out how to get to your car… unless, some of those other dogs come sniffing your luggage. The police are usually aware that the dogs may be smelling treats! Stage left, exit right, then take Fido for a walk, somewhere away from the chainsmokers. A nice band, but a bad habit.
Renting vs Leasing
If you’re staying more than 21 days, make sure you lease a car, not rent. Why? Insurance is included. The only downside is that meeting up with the leased car agent can be challenging. More on that to come. Congratulations! You’re ready to begin your adventure with Westie your bestie! Or some other kind of dog.
You can further Toby’s travels and enjoy more stories, travel information, and photographs through purchasing a print, bag, mug, and much more through our galleries within Fine Art America. May we suggest using the filters to target your interests via “Collections” (top left menu). Enjoy!