March 11, 2019

Is it Dangerous for Your Dog to Fly Under the Plane?

There’s been a lot of (distressing) news lately concerning dogs on airplanes. You know that it is completely unsafe for your dog to fly inside the overhead bin, but what about the cargo hold?

Is it really, truly safe for your dog to fly underneath the plane?

Knowledge can bring you peace of mind. Let’s break it down.

The Safest Place for Dogs on a Plane

The absolute safest place for your dog to fly is in the cabin with you. Every airline has its own set of regulations for cabin animals, and most require all pets to be in a carrier while on the plane. There are plenty of people who get their pets certified as “emotional support animals” to circumvent these rules, but airlines are cracking down. In general, small dogs (under 30 pounds) are more likely to be allowed in the cabin. If you have a medium-sized or large dog, you’ll want to plan for the cargo hold. Either way, contact the airline directly to find out specifics.

Your Dog’s Safety Under the Plane

Once you’ve determined that your dog will need to fly under the plane in the luggage hold, ask exactly what kind of carrier and/or travel documentation you need to bring with you. Most airlines require a hard-sided carrier and a collar with ID tags, as well as proper labeling on the carrier itself. The biggest safety hazards to dogs under the plane come from extreme temperatures and poor ventilation. Although most major commercial airlines actually have temperature-controlled cargo holds for the flight itself, they don’t activate when the plane is on the ground. You’ll want to ask yourself how “hardy” your dog is...can he handle a chilly wait under the plane? Does he panic when stressed? Are there already problems with breathing?

Brachycephalic dogs (i.e. bulldogs, Pekingese, etc.) should never fly, even in the cabin because their bodies are not equipped to handle the change in oxygen levels.

What can you do to keep your dog safe under the plane? Here’s a checklist:

  • Talk to your vet about your dog’s specific risk factors. Remember you do NOT want to “tranquilize” your dog before a flight as this can hinder his ability to self-regulate.
  • Book a direct flight when possible. Flights with layovers are more likely to run off schedule, trapping your dog in the cargo hold for longer than you planned.
  • Book a flight that won’t have as many temperatures extremes, i.e. an early-morning flight in the summer, or a late-afternoon flight in the wintertime.
  • Do not give your dog any food (and little water) for 4-6 hours before boarding the plane. This prevents accidents in the crate and can potentially reduce stress for your pet.
  • Take a photo of your pet and his carrier so the airline can easily identify it in the event the carrier is lost at some point.
  • When you board, tell the captain (or at least one flight attendant) that your dog is under the plane. You never know when that knowledge can help with their on-the-spot decision making process!

Hundreds of thousands of pets fly underneath the plane safely every single year. On average, only about two-dozen pet deaths occur on flights annually...that works out to about 1 incident (not necessarily death) for every 10,000 pets. Determining whether or not you feel comfortable stowing your pet in the cargo hold is an entirely personal decision. Know that airlines do their best to ensure pets are safely transported from A to B, and there are steps you can take to ensure safety, too.

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