Here comes the first article involving Zulu, our newest addition!
When picking her up, we needed to take a flight home. Since I had never had a small dog, I had no experience flying with one in the cabin and was anxious to find as much information as possible. After our successful flight, I wanted to summarize our experiences to help others prepare.
First, let's talk about booking the flight as the most important item on the list. I will not detail the rules because every airline has different ones on the dog's age, weight, size, and even the documentation needed. There are also different rules for flying domestic or international at the same airlines.
However, the basic rules will be the same: the dog needs to fit under the seat in front of you and stay in the carrier during the flight and even at the airport (unless using the pet relief area). When dogs are flying cargo, they need to be able to stand up in the crate comfortably; but this is not a requirement for flying in the cabin. Of course, you still want to be sure your dog is comfy in the carrier, but it doesn't need to be oversized.
The most important thing is to look up potential flights and airports ahead of time and call them if the rules are unclear! Also, look up the vaccine requirements and vet papers you need for the specific trips because they can take time to arrange.
Booking in time is also essential because most flights only allow a set number of dogs on one plane simultaneously, so you want to be sure you have a spot. Most airlines require you to call to book the dog on the flight, so the easiest is to look up the flight details you choose, then contact them and secure both your and the dog's ticket by phone or via online chat if the airline offers that. This way, you will not end up in a situation where you purchased your ticket, but there is no room for your pup on that flight.
When packing for your trip, keep in mind that in most cases, the dog will count as your carry-on, so you will only have a personal item that needs to go up in the storage area. I was glad the dog carrier had a pocket, so I had an easier time storing some small items on hand during the flight. I also needed the carrier to fit in my backpack for the first flight so keep the packability of the bag in mind if you need to do the same.
I ended up bringing a collar and leash, a collapsible water bowl, non-too-smelly bully sticks, and some food in case it is needed. If possible, try to avoid giving food and water to the dog before/on the flight to prevent accidents and an upset stomach, but it's always good to prepare for everything. You can also bring a Kong or similar enrichment toy and individually packed small peanut butter or wet dog food if you have a long flight. I had a change of clothes for myself in case we ran into some serious accidents and also packed paper towels, individually packed wipes, a few puppy pads, and ziplock bags for the same reason. Luckily they were not needed, but it's better to be prepared for everything.
I also bought a few zip ties and tape in case Zulu chews through the carrier, and I need to fix it on the spot - although, luckily, she didn't do anything like that.
Unfortunately, I forgot who recommended it, but I loved the idea of getting a few Starbucks gift cards to hand out in case your pup ends up screaming all the way, ruining others’ trips. :D
Try to push out buying a carrier until you know which flight you will take, so you have the exact under-seat dimensions of that flight. Most airlines have the maximum dimensions on their website, but that will be a little smaller or bigger depending on the plane you will be on. When we booked, the agent confirmed that with us before finalizing the booking, and the dimensions were different from the website.
Choosing a soft-sided carrier allows you to push it under the seat even if the bag is a little bigger than the space, but there are limitations. Once the plane is up in the air, you can pull out the carrier and have it between your feet to give it more room and better airflow.
Besides the size, consider the weight of the carrier itself. Most airlines have a weight limit determined by the combined weight of the dog and the carrier, and sometimes they weight them when checking in.
Many recommended the Mr. Peanut's carriers and their Gold Series Expandable Carrier had all the features I didn't even know I needed! It impressed me how well-made and thought-through every detail of this carrier was. All the features made our trip a lot smoother and kept Zulu comfortable.
The inside has a leak-proof design and Faux Fleece Padding with a plywood base for weight support. There are two buckles to attach the carrier to the seat belt if used in the car and a loop that can be secured around the handle of your carry-on luggage to place the carrier on top of it. The top mesh can be opened to check on your pet or covered with a magnetic flap to protect the pet from the elements or create a more secluded area.
The coolest feature is that one side of the carrier can be expanded to give extra room for the pet while waiting or once on the plane, and all the other sides have a mesh window for ventilation. It can get hot on the plane, so you want to ensure the dog is not overheating in the bag.
Checking in at the airport was smooth; they didn't even look at Zulu's paperwork but checked the carrier. I needed to take the pup out of the carrier and go through security with her in hand.
I asked if I could board early with a pup, and they let me on the plane with the first group. It was much easier to pick out stuff from my backpack that we might need during the flight and place Zulu under the seat while no one else was there. She was half asleep by the time everyone else was boarding which was probably a lot less overwhelming. It would have been harder to settle for both of us if I had to balance all these on an already full flight.
Luckily we took an overnight flight, so Zulu was already very tired after a busy day. She slept through most of the flight besides the takeoff and landing! It felt great to be prepared for complications, but in the end, it went a lot smoother than expected. I think choosing an overnight flight and training her to be in the carrier beforehand played a huge role in the trip's success.