Have you heard all the crazy stories about people traveling with their pets? Have you wondered if it’s even safe to bring your pet onboard? What about the crew? What do we really think? I’m going to attempt to give you an insider viewpoint. These wild stories range from someone trying to bring an emotional support peacock onboard, someone’s puppy being stowed in the overhead bin for the entire flight and subsequently dying, and the list goes on.
As crew members, we have to deal with passengers and their pets and complying with the rules as well as the passengers who want nothing to do with these animals or are allergic and trying to accommodate them. It can be a difficult situation.
I personally have had a “celebrity” in business class whose dog escaped out of it’s carrier, ran up to first class and pooped on my galley floor. Guess who picked up the poop? It wasn’t the owner. We almost made a landing in Denver to take them both of the plane. I have friends who have had emotional support kangaroos onboard, emotional support pigs and someone recently tried to bring a goat on the plane!
What are the classifications for pets onboard?
My airline designates 3 different catagories for pets.
1. Pets in the cabin— these animals must remain in their crate or carrier for the entire flight
2. Emotional Support— these animals are allowed out of their carrier or do not even need one to come onboard.
3. Service Animal— these animals are trained to aid a passenger with some kind of medical condition such as blindness, having seizures, etc.
We are absolutely aware of who has what type of pet and where they are sitting. We don’t like to be the animal police (at least I don’t) but it can be terribly disruptive when passengers don’t comply. I know someone who regularly sneaks her Pomeranian on (not on my airline) in a duffle bag. Rest assured, we know when you’re doing this too.
Your pet should be well behaved and trained. There have been stories of dogs biting other passengers and crew members. This is absolutely unacceptable on board an airplane!
What if I check my dog?
I thought about doing this when I moved from St. Louis to Los Angeles. My dog was 75 lbs and way too big to put in a carrier inside the cabin. I thought about trying to get him designated as an emotional support animal but as a flight atttendant, it just didn’t make sense. So I started asking some of my agent friends about their experiences with checked animals.
First off, there is an embargo (restriction on flying) during some summer and winter months. You don’t want your dog sitting on a hot or freezing tarmac in between flights or waiting for cargo to be loaded. Secondly, there is a special compartment that’s heated and pressurized for the animals but I have been on a plane where the captain has called back to tell me that we’ve lost the heat in there and that my galley floor would be extremely cold. The galley is located directly above this cargo department for the pets. He also reassured me that we didn’t have any pets in there that day.
The agents have also told me stories of pets getting lost, arriving dead, or frozen. None of these sounded like a chance I wanted to take with my dog who was a rescue and abused. So I decided to drive him across country and we had a great ride!
So what are the rules?
Obviously they are going to vary by each airline and I know some airlines are no longer accepting any animals because of many of the issues I listed above. Others are really cracking down on what types of animals they will allow and asking for certification from veterinarians as well as mental health professionals. Please check your airline’s website for detailed information on their policy.
You’ll definitely need a clean bill of health from your vet as you won’t want to do anything to jeopardize the health of your pet. If your dog is regularly taking medication he probably shouldn’t be traveling. (Exceptions would include heartworm and flea medication)
There are also many restrictions based on breed. Most dogs and some cats with any kind of snub nose or brachycephalic (broad and short) skull must follow certain rules. The pug I’m pictured with is a great example. These pets must only travel in the cabin. And there is a recent story about one of these dogs needing oxygen inflight. jetblue saves frenchie They are prone to respiratory problems.
Another thing to consider is the type of aircraft and whether you’ll be connecting. But most importantly what about your destination? Did you know there is a quarantine in Hawaii? hawaii/animal-quarantine-information Think ahead past the traveling part and be aware of what happens when you get there.
If you’re bringing your dog or cat onboard you’ll have to make sure the carrier fits underneath the seat (this can vary by aircraft) and that your pet can turn around inside it. Be sure to pack food and a bowl your pet can drink water out of. You can always ask us for water but check with your vet for food guidelines. Sometimes a full stomach can cause discomfort or bloating in the air.
If you do decide to check your pet, make sure he or she is ID’d and microchipped. Back in the day, we used to fly a plane where we had access to the pet cargo compartment from our lower lobe galley. Flight attendants would take the dogs out to play with and pet them. I don’t think any airlines are flying these planes anymore so this isn’t something you need to worry about but you do want to be able to locate or identify your pet if anything happens.
United has a new program called Pet Safe that looks really interesting.united.com/petsafe.With this plan pets can even travel separately alone. This may be a great option if you have to move overseas.
I’ve probably convinced you to get a dog sitter instead of dealing with the hassle but I always love to see pets onboard. Some days I like them better than the passengers 😉
jetblue saves frenchie
If you are taking a road trip with or without your pet, I’ve got a great energy bar I recommend. These are also great for the airplane or anytime you want a cup of coffee. These bars do not contain coffee but instead have natural caffeine from guarana and maca. It’s a great alternative when you don’t have access to coffee (stuck in a window seat) or a bathroom (you don’t want to slow down your road trip or you’re stuck in traffic on your morning commute)
This is a subject I’ve always wondered about, thanks Wendra! Such great insight from a professional who sees this all of the time…and who also has owned a pet. Thank you for answering so many questions I’ve always had about flying with an animal. And I agree, I sometimes (often?) like the animals better than the owners haha!
Thanks Carol! I get lots of questions about this! Always happy to clarify on whatever I know.