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Tips For Long Flights With Your Pets

Published on: April 27, 2022  |  Author: Starwood Pet Travel

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Just as it is for people, taking a very long flight with pets requires a bit more planning than a short-hop flight. These tips will help you avoid overlooking something important. 

  • Talk to your vet as soon as you know you’ll be traveling. You want to be sure your pet is physically fit for a long flight and meets all the requirements for the airline and destination country.
  • Book early. Airlines limit the number of pets allowed in the cabin and in cargo, so waiting too long could mean an undesired change in your plans.
  • Ask about check-in timing. If your pet will be in the cabin with you, consider checking in earlier than you normally would, then heading to the pet relief area for some last-minute exercise. A tired pet is more relaxed. If your pet is traveling as cargo, consider arriving as late as allowed so your dog or cat spends the least amount of elapsed time in their kennel. Do arrive at the cargo terminal early enough to give your pet the same last-minute exercise and relief.
  • Your pet should be so familiar with their travel carrier that it seems normal to them to be moving around in it. If the kennel is new, get it well in advance so your pet can explore it, and take some progressively longer practice trips via car to get them used to traveling in the kennel.
  • Adult dogs and cats easily make it through the night without having to relieve themselves, so your pet should also be OK on most very long flights. Regardless, you’ll have to line their carrier with something absorbent - a Dry Fur pad works nicely under your pet’s own crate pad or thin blanket.
  • It is not recommended to feed pets less than 2 hours prior to departure for domestic US flights, or less than 4 hours prior to departure for international flights. You should feed your pet a small amount on the day of departure in order to avoid an upset stomach. Pets tend to travel better on a relatively empty stomach anyway.
  • Do not tranquilize your pet. Sedatives can interfere with their ability to maintain balance and can also cause cardiac and respiratory issues when in the air at high altitudes. This can be dangerous for your pet and cause additional confusion and stress. The best way to help your pet with their travels is to acclimate them to the kennel as early as possible and send along something that smells familiar to them (a think blanket, t-shirt or towel).

In-cabin travel

While in-cabin pet travel can have benefits and sounds like a better idea, you might want to re-think this plan, if you’re looking at a long flight or an itinerary that includes several long flights. Here’s why:

Even the most even-tempered pet can become restive and whiny cooped up in a carrier under the seat in front of you for several hours. You can reach in to pet them, but you cannot remove them from the kennel while on the flight. If your pet has an accident or becomes agitated, you and those sitting near you will not be happy.

Layover times and huge, multi-terminal airports guarantee long hikes. Your tiny dog can walk on leash, but few cats cooperate on leash. That means you’ll have to carry your kitty the entire time. Your 13-pound cat doesn’t seem heavy now, but they will feel like a 25-pound sack of potatoes after a while. Also, will you have enough time on layovers to locate the interim airport’s pet relief area, get there and then make it to your next flight?

Aside from other considerations, carrying on a pet replaces your carry-on bag. Will your purse or other “personal item” hold everything you want with you on that long flight?

Here are some tips for in-cabin pet travel:

  • Teach your pet to use pee pads and carry a couple with you to use in the airport restroom if necessary. Carry a couple of poop bags, too.
  • Carry a few small treats or snacks to reward good behavior or distract your anxious pet.
  • Bring along a catnip mouse or other small toy to keep your pet amused.
  • Carry a small bottle of water (or get one from the flight crew) and use a collapsible cup or waterproof pet camping dish to offer a little water during the flight to keep your pet hydrated.
  • Don’t forget your pet’s leash or required paperwork.

Travel as cargo

When pet's travel as cargo, you can send a bag with a few servings of dry food attached to the top of their kennel.  This will be used if they have a layover or if there are extreme flight delays. Keep in mind that the airline will not accept a brand new 20 lb bag of dog food, so you should only send 2-3 servings. Not all airlines will allow wet food pouches or cans so it's best to stick to a ziplock baggie with dry food. Food should not be placed inside the travel kennel at check in so your pet does not have an upset stomach.

Consider filling the kennel water dish half-way with water and freezing it the night before your pet's departure.  That way the next day it can be topped off with water and last a bit longer. Do keep in mind that airport staff will top off water bowls prior to being loaded onto the plane and pets who are transiting are always offered fresh water during their layover.

Please understand that not all airlines or destinations allow pet owners to book or check in their pet as cargo themselves.  Sometimes it is required that you hire a professional pet transport company to book the flight and check them in. In this case, the pet transport company will take care of prepping your pet's kennel and providing a potty break to dogs prior to check in. Do note that in these cases, you will not be able to accompany your pet at check in and must leave it to the pros.

It’s always a good idea to consult an animal transport professional about your pet’s travel plans. The longer the flight and/or the more complex the itinerary, the more sense it makes to leave the arrangements to experts. They can handle all or part of the details, saving you tremendous time and frustration before and during your pet’s journey.

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Starwood Animal Transport has rebranded to Starwood Pet Travel. We are still the same great company with the best team, just now with a slightly different name.