September 9, 2019

Navigating SFO With Your Dog or Cat

Did you know San Francisco is one of the dog-friendliest cities in the country? It makes sense, then, that SFO would be a particularly pet-friendly airport. It's not the largest airport in the world and it's relatively easy to navigate. As you'd expect so close to Silicon Valley, SFO is technologically modern, too. It's a good place to fly in or out of, and it's even a nice spot for a layover. But what should you know about SFO if you're traveling with a pet?

Pet-Specific Rules at SFO

  • Over 40 major airlines fly in and out of SFO. Always, always, always check with your specific airline about regulations regarding documentation, carrier size, and specifications for in-cabin vs. under-plane travel before you fly.
  • According to SFO airport management, pet travelers should remain inside their carriers at all times unless in one of two designated pet relief stations. Most pets who are comfortable in their carriers simply stay in them throughout their airport experience.
  • Bring a leash in addition to your pet carrier. You may be asked by security or other personnel remove your pet from her carrier and you’ll need a leash to ensure she stays close by - unfamiliar noises and people can spook a pet!
  • If you're flying into SFO and your pet will be traveling in the cargo hold of your plane, you can wait for her carrier at baggage claim.
  • If you're flying, do you need a travel certificate for your dog? Do you need a travel certificate for your cat? (Hint: Click those links!)

The Best Times to Travel with a Pet Through SFO

All airports have peak times and slow times. Traveling with a pet is stressful enough, so we recommend trying to book your flight off-peak to avoid the hassles of crowd control. At SFO, that means flying in the morning, between 6:00 a.m. - 11:00 a.m., or anytime after 7pm. Bonus: Late flights may mean you and your pet are both so tired you get some in-flight rest! Summer, particularly August, is SFO's busiest travel season, so it's also a good idea to travel during other seasons if possible. [caption id="attachment_1540" align="aligncenter" width="620"]Photo Credit: East Bay Times Photo Credit: East Bay Times[/caption]

Security at SFO with a Pet

No one likes going through security, least of all your dog or cat. First and foremost, give yourself plenty of time; cabin-bound animals in carriers take extra time to screen. Just before you get to the metal detector machine, take your pet out of the carrier (but be sure to put her leash/collar through the X-ray tunnel.) TSA says it's fine for you to walk through the metal detector holding your pet, or on a leash for further wand screening if your pet is large in size. TSA will never ask to X-ray your pet. The particular agents on duty will decide the best way to proceed. Some ask pet owners to “walk” their on-leash animal through the metal detectors with them. Others opt to send everyone to secondary screening for a more comprehensive experience. If you have a preference, let the TSA agents know. Remember to be kind! Stay calm and don’t forget that airport security is there to keep everyone (including your pet) safe, even if that’s a bit inconvenient. If you have TSA Pre-check or Global Entry, the procedures will be the same.

Pet Relief Stations at SFO

San Francisco International has five designated pet relief stations: 3 pre-security and 2 post-security.  All relief areas have plenty of water and water bowls as well as poop bags and trash receptacles. All are open 24-hours a day and are handicap accessible. They're all fully fenced and landscaped. Here's a handy map of all the pet relief areas at SFO (although it leaves off the post-security spot at Terminal 3, at the entrance to gates 80-90.) SFO, like most major airports, maintains a general policy that dogs and cats remain in their carriers at all times unless outside the airport or in an official pet relief station. That said, it's not a rule that's always strictly enforced, particularly if your pet is quiet, well-behaved, and contained. Look for cues as to when it's appropriate to remove your pet from her carrier (such as when walking long distances between gates) and always follow on-site instructions from all airport personnel, especially if they ask you to carrier your pet. dog-with-vest

Meet the Wag Brigade!

At the end of 2013, SFO launched a delightfully-named program called the Wag Brigade. In conjunction with the San Francisco SPCA, SFO hosts a rotating contingent of dogs who've been certified by the Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) Program through the terminals. What's the point? To cheer up weary travelers, of course! Wag Brigade pups wear "Pet Me!" vests and you're welcome to play with them when you see them around - and don't forget to follow them on Instagram! Oh, did we mention that the Wag Brigade now also employs a therapy pig? How delightfully "San Francisco."

Ready for takeoff?

Before you fly anywhere with your dog or cat, it’s a good idea to have your vet perform a comprehensive evaluation. 

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