Flying With Our Dog In Cabin For The First Time - Tips & Experiences
Here's what it was like flying with our dog for the first time plus my top tips! Flying with a dog in cabin for the first time can be nerve wrecking but I promise, it's not as scary as it may seem.
We (read: I) adopted Mo in December last year, which means we are less than a year into our journey as dog parents. We didn't bring him for our trip to Greece in July for a few reasons; first of all we were only gone for 6 nights, and second of all we were attending a large family event Fri-Sun where I didn't feel it was appropriate to bring him along.
The solution: I flew my dad to Switzerland to look after him and housesit. Problem solved!
For our longer trip to Italy though I knew I wanted to bring Mo because I wanted him to get used to flying early on plus 14 days just seemed to long of a time span to be separated from him. My dream was always to have a dog small enough to hit the skies with!
If you want to read more about my experience traveling with a dog in Italy, I'll be writing up a separate blog post on this later, but for now I wanted to share my experiences and tips for flying with a dog in cabin specifically.
Top Tip For Flying With A Dog
Flying with a dog in cabin may seem like a daunting task if you've never done it before but rest assured it's not as dramatic as the images you may conjure up in your head beforehand.
The most important thing (besides ensuring that your dog is fit to travel, has his passport and shots and is good to go) is that you take a relaxed approach to flying with your dog! These little ones soak up so much of our energy, so if you're anxious and tense, chances are they will be too.
Second of all making a simple checklist beforehand is always handy. Mine looked somewhat like this.
Flying With A Dog 101 Checklist
This one is obvious... But make sure your dog is small enough to actually travel as a pet-in-cabin. The upper weight limit for the dog including carrier is 8kgs. The dog has to be able to stand upright in the carrier. If your dog is too big to fit comfortably in the carrier, abort mission!
Check destination country admission criteria (in this case for Italy it was a valid EU passport, a rabies shot and microchip)
Make a pre-departure vet appointment to boost rabies shot if needed and get any destination specific medications that may be needed plus supplements that may help calm down the dog (CBD drops etc, NOT sedatives)
Check airline criteria for pet-in-cabin before booking. Many airlines only allow 2-3 pets in cabin on any given flight. I called ahead to check that "pet slots" were available before actually booking our flights.
Make sure you have a soft-sided bag for your dog to fly in which fit the airline criteria and that he/she is comfortable with being in it
Check the airport regulations of both airports before leaving to make sure you know if the dog can walk freely (on leash, not in bag) in the airport area itself so you know in advance
Pack for your dog for the entire duration you'll be gone
Make sure you give your dog a loooong walk and plenty of exercise before take-off
Enjoy the experience! You get to see the world with your four-legged family member. It's SO awesome.
The Vet Visit Before Flying With Our Dog
I started planning for our trip with Mo on rather short notice, actually with less than a week to spare. I can't recommend this, but due to covid and general indecision we did not actually finalize our vacation plans until a week before.
As he had his rabies shot already I knew this wouldn't be needed, but I paid a visit to our wonderful vet anyways to get general advice for the trip.
I got some extra strong tick/flea drops for him as well as doggy CBD drops and Zylkene (a milk protein that has clinically proven calming properties) which I started giving him in advance as prescribed, and which I do believe calmed him down quite well. The pills were rather large for him, but thankfully he loved just licking the powder contents of the pills directly so this saved me some headaches 😂
With his rabies shot, microchip and EU passport all in good order, we were ready to fly.
Flying With Our Dog + Booking Flights & Preparing
We were flying with Swiss International Airlines as we live in Switzerland, and I already knew their policy regarding flying with a dog in cabin as I had researched this far in advance when I was buying Mo's first carrier/transporter.
I decided back then to simply buy the largest model available that fit the requirements of being max 117cm total (or 118cm... I forget). It is a simple duffle style bag with mesh sides that has both top and side openings. I actually saw another dog travel in the exact same model of bag on our return flight!
As soon as we knew our approximate departure / return dates I called the airline to check which specific departures were still possible to travel with a pet in cabin. Once I had these details we booked the flights, and then I simply called the airline again to book the pet-in-cabin slots which I paid for in the airport (around CHF 70 per leg).
As soon as I knew we were leaving in a week I took out his travel bag to get him used to it again. He never had any issues with it, but generally dislikes when you close it, so we had to practice this a few times. He is already used to coming with me pretty much anywhere by car and never complains but I was still a bit nervous for the flight!
What Size Dog Can Fly In Cabin?
For reference, Mo is a small Kleinspitz / large Pomeranian (these are different sizes of the same breed). He is technically a Kleinspitz but I have met so many Poms that are the same size, and in my experience he mostly looks like a full-bodied Pomeranian for the uninitiated. At 3.5kgs he is definitely a small dog regardless, although the thick coat can be deceiving!
That being said he does have a bit of height, his shoulder height being around 32cm. I only write this because I don't think a dog with larger measurements would fit, and I know that airport staff sometimes check to see the dog can stand upright.
Flying With Our Dog From Zurich Airport
The day before the flight we actually went to Germany to run a few errands and we walked quite a bit (+15k steps) that day, so he was fairly tired the evening before which helped a lot for the flight.
Zürich Airport is super dog friendly, and this meant that Mo was able to walk around on his leash all the way up until we had to board. It was so exciting to see him in this new situation, he clearly could sense that something was about to happen!
Normally the check of the dog passport happens at the checkin counter but in Zürich we had no check (in Italy we did, though). So we pretty much just walked through everywhere like normal.
While I had checked in the majority of his dry food for the trip and his toys, I did have some spare food in my carry-on just in case of issues with lost bags. I also came armed with some of his most desired chew treats which I was planning to give him upon closing up the bag for boarding. Also in his carrier I had a reusable pee-pad in the bottom and a small blanket for him.
There is no priority / early boarding for flying dog parents (I asked, don't judge me), so I just waited until boarding was underway and took him aside to a quieter area where I calmly let him go in the bag. I gave him his treat and boarded the flight smoothly - he didn't mind at all with the distraction of the goodies!
His bag was actually too large to really fit under the seat; I had to somewhat manipulate the back-end of it underneath there and had close to zero leg-room - which was the least of my concerns! (Also the cabin crew didn't at any point have any issues with it obviously)
I spent most of my time on this flight hunched over with my hand inside the bag rubbing his chest. He did try to push out of the bag once and got pretty upset when he got pushed back inside after catching a whiff of freedom...
Once we landed I more or less immediately took him out as it was a very small airport and he seemed rather unperturbed.
For the return flight I did not have sufficient treats for him and it was rather catastrophic. He barked quite a bit during boarding, thankfully our fellow passengers were mostly gracious about it and he mostly calmed down once on board (Poms like to bark in general).
If he had been given a better, more long-lasting treat I think he would have been quiet like on the first leg! My bad. After feeling guilty about the barking I reminded myself of all the times babies have cried on flights... It just happens. Life goes on.
Best Tips For Flying With Your Dog
In conclusion, here are a few additional things I wish I had know before flying with my dog:
Always declare yourself to customs when traveling with a dog; at least to Switzerland. We got stopped by customs in Zurich upon return where they checked all his documents including his original import stamp from when I brought him from Germany (!)
Try to relax and not freak out if your dog is barking - it happens, and the fastest way of calming them down is to stay calm yourself
Limit water and food before flying. I only gave Mo a tiny sip of water in the last hours before the flight and we skipped his breakfast. We had no accidents on the first leg, but we did have a #2 accident in the airport coming home in spite of Mo having done his business that morning... I guess he was nervous lol
On that note, bring wet wipes and doggy bags plus a portable water bowl and food for a few days in case of lost baggage.
Be mentally prepared for the flight to be less comfortable than normal for you. Maybe start out with a short flight the first time if you have the luxury of choice.
Finally, perhaps the most important lesson learnt for us: BRING THE GOODIES. Bring enough for BOTH FLIGHTS. Don't cave a dole out the return treat mid-trip if you have a very food-motivated dog like Mo! He has a few treats that take a while for him to devour and which distract him even through flights. This is gold.