We got a puppy.
He is incredibly cute, and gassy, and yippy, and tiny, and his name is Phineas Book.
Like his "sister" (Genetically speaking they are cousins) he is a black and white Havanese.
Roughly two months ago my aunt messaged me to say that a litter had been born and that there was a little puppy with our name on it, if we wanted to add to our family in that capacity.
We were excited. Phoebe needed a playmate. Win-win.
Once we got the date for the 8 week mark, I started making travel plans for when to go and pick the little guy up. Husband and I went back and forth on which kid should come, which kid should stay, should both go, should both stay... once we had settled on the appropriate "who goes and who stays" combination, I began the tedious task of calling airlines and figuring out who had the best pet policy and cheapest flights from Seattle to Dallas. This was our second time around so we knew a little bit of what to expect, but as things are with airlines in the United States subtle policy changes make for not so subtle unpleasantness, ad nauseum. While I'm not nearly as savvy as some people who travel with their dogs all the time, I have learned a few ropes of how to travel with puppies... and while you could probably find most of this information on rover.com, sometimes personal stories can help provide some context to the rules and therefore more clarity.
1. Research your airline before you even book your ticket. We are committed Delta fliers, but according to their online pet policy they have an age minimum of 12 weeks before the puppy can fly. I called to see if this was a non-negotiable and was told it was a hard no by the representative on the phone. Southwest and American Airlines fly 8 week puppies. I informed Delta that they were losing business with this seemingly arbitrary age requirement and then proceeded to book a flight with American. (Also, keep your wits about you when it comes to this pet policy. We had a canceled flight and the agent kept trying to book us on other airlines that were affiliated with American, but had vastly different pet policies. Stick with the airline you chose. More on this HERE.)
Once you have chosen your airline & purchased a ticket, immediately call to inform the airline that you will be bringing a pet. They will ask you if it will be in the cabin or in cargo. In our case little Finny was going to be carry-on and chilling under the seat in front of me. Once you get the pet reservation squared away, keep track of the confirmation number. Most airlines charge a hefty one-way fee for the pet. This is paid at the ticket counter, so the agent can verify the dog's health, vaccinations, and that the carrier meets the airlines guidelines for humane pet travel. Allow for extra time to stand in line to check in at the ticket counter. Have all the appropriate paperwork ready and a credit card handy to pay the pet fee.
2. Obviously pets need to be contained in their carriers for the duration of the flight. Rather than take your chances with the Paris Hilton-Purse-Dog vibe, most commercial airlines require that pets be in a carrier that is large enough for the pet to stand up/turn around/lay back down, soft sided for carry on purposes, sturdy zippers, and enough vents for proper airflow. The Sherpa Deluxe pet carrier has been our go-to. It is high quality and specifically made for air travel. We have used ours for car transportation as well as air travel and it has held up beautifully. It comes with several fluffy waterproof velcro liners and the structure of the carrier itself is comforting for dogs as it is pretty much a den on the go. In fact, both Phoebe and Phineas have used the Sherpa as a transition kennel once we got home.
The bonus here is that it is a discreet piece of luggage that doesn't scream "I'm traveling with a pet" which allows for more freedom when moving about the airport.
3. Airlines require a certificate of health stating that the dog is properly vaccinated and healthy enough for travel. This is obtained from a veterinarian a few days before the pet is set to travel. When I brought Phoebe home from Texas the airline was satisfied with the records from the vet stating that she was current on her shots and de-wormed, etc. That was only a year ago, and now airlines are getting more stringent with the requirements that the dog have the official health certificate. Simply call the vet's office and tell them you need a health certificate. The appointment is usually quick and the fee is roughly $50.
4. When I brought Phoebe home she was a super chill dog, and she also was 12 weeks old. This meant she curled up in her Sherpa bag and slept until we began our descent into Seattle. She also had a bladder of steel and didn't once pee until we had gotten home. Phineas was a different story as he was 8 weeks and newly weaned from his mother. This dude could fuss like a colicky human baby at bedtime. Thankfully, his vet gave us an age and weight appropriate dose for Comfort Calm chews and Phineas was blissed out for the entire flight. If you are nervous about a nervous dog then by all means talk to your vet about sedation, herbal or otherwise.
5. Meeting your dog's physical needs is probably the most challenging part of air travel with pets. Don't forget to bring a portable water dish, bottled water, and dog food. Bring extra dog food in the event that your flight is delayed/canceled/re-routed through Mumbai, etc. Remember your dog's leash in case you can't find the family/pet bathroom and need to use the regular one. If you are traveling with a puppy that isn't housebroken yet I highly recommend having him "pre mark" one of those classic blue pee pads before traveling. It is probably also good to bring a few quarantine zip lock bags for occasions such as these. If your connecting flight time is tight and seeking out the family bathroom is a luxury only known to those who have 2 hour layovers, then I hear you can use the airplane toilets to give your pet some water and an opportunity for the blue pad potty break. I'm assuming this will only work if your pet is small and discreet enough to not raise any eyebrows on your walk down the aisle.
I can only speak from experience as someone who has transported two puppies across the country. If you are interested in traveling with ESAs or even just traveling with your pet, I highly recommend checking out Gigi Griffis or Montecristo Travels for all sorts of great information on that kind of venture.
It takes some serious commitment and planning to be able to travel with a dog. Just keep your wits about you and confirmation numbers easily accessible and you should be fine. Mostly.