Pet travel has earned some very bad publicity of late. In March, a United Airlines flight attendant forced a dog to spend its entire flight in an overhead bin, where it suffocated to death. The next day, two dogs traveling in cargo—also on United—were mixed up and flown to the wrong continents. Capping off the week, Delta sent an eight-week-old puppy to Vegas instead of Boise. Sensing a systemic problem (or at least the public perception of one), United suspended its widely used PetSafe program to conduct a thorough review.
For many pet owners, the risks outweigh the benefits. But some travelers have no choice. And still others have found happy ways to bring their pets along by car, train, and plane. In fact, the percentage of dog owners taking their pets on trips more than doubled between 2006 and 2016, from 20 percent to 40 percent, according to a survey by the American Pet Products Association. And the news isn’t all bad. There are more pet travel options now than ever before. With the right preparation, your furry family member can tag along safely and happily. Here’s our advice on how to do it.
Make Sure Your Pet Is Up For A Trip
“The first thing you want to ask yourself is, ‘Are you sure your pet really wants to go?’” says Patricia B. McConnell, PhD, a certified applied animal behaviorist, and author of The Education of Will. “I’ve seen people who believed their dog would be fine or they wanted their cat to go with them, but the animal was terrified of strangers or a wreck in noisy places. So think about your pet’s personality and remember that traveling will involve exposure to new people and changing environments.” Also, consult with your vet if you have any doubt as to whether or not your pet is healthy enough to handle the adventure.
Book in Advance
Book your hotel or rental property early—and call to confirm you can get a pet-friendly room. “A lot of times hotels will only have a certain number of rooms available for pet use,” says Amy Burkert, co-founder of GoPetFriendly.com. Airlines and trains also have a set capacity for pets on each trip, so reserve ahead of time to be sure there’s a spot for your animal.
“Your animal should always travel with tags that carry his name and your cell number. And ideally, your dog or cat should have a microchip,” says Dr. McConnell. Yes: a microchip. They’re about the size of a grain of rice, they’re programmed with a unique ID number, and they’re easily injected beneath your pet’s skin. If he gets lost, a simple scan can identify you as his owner. This isn’t just about keeping your tech edge—a 2009 study showed that microchipped dogs are more than twice as likely to be reunited with their owners as non-microchipped dogs, and microchipped cats are more than 20 times as likely to be returned home. Just be sure to keep your contact information current with the microchip registry database.
Get An Approved Pet Carrier
Make sure the airline or railway has officially sanctioned your carrier by checking the requirements on the website. Then label the carrier with your pet’s name as well as your name and contact info. Mark it clearly and prominently with the words “Live Animal,” so nobody can mistake it for regular luggage.