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Reader’s report: Flying with an in-cabin dog on an Alaska Airlines Bombardier Q400 and 737 (-800 series)

The last piece of the report Jen and Troy sent from their trip to California’s Shenandoah Valley wine country focused on their plane flights from Belllingham to Seattle on a Bombardier Q400 (Alaska Airlines/Horizon Air/Hawaiian Airlines), and from Seattle to Sacramento on a 737 (-800 series).

Bombardier Q400 (Alaska Airlines/Horizon Air/Hawaiian Airlines)

“From Bellingham we boarded a Bombardier Q400 turboprop plane with Sophie in her large SturdiBag. The small seats are four across, in two pairs, and there are about 20 rows to accommodate about 80 passengers. The airplane is very fast, smooth, and quiet, as opposed to many other turboprop planes. The actual airtime between Bellingham and Seattle was 20 minutes, although with boarding taxiing, etc. it took about an hour to get from airport to airport. Fortunately, the under-seat space is completely undivided, so Sophie’s carrier fit sideways with ample room to accommodate our large carry-on backpack, too. I don’t think that the SturdiBag would fit as well lengthwise under the seat even though we took [Dog Jaunt’s] advice and cut off the inch of the board underneath.”

Alaska Airlines/Horizon Air/Hawaiian Airlines 737 (-800 series)

“We took the optional upgrade option on this second flight from Seattle to Sacramento because it’s more comfortable for us, and because another reader had noted in a post that there was space between the seats in first-class to accommodate the carrier. There was A LOT of room, as you can see in the picture I included. Her carrier fit lengthwise completely under the seat.

Sophie (along with a new plush squeaky toy and two bully sticks) in her large SturdiBag, oriented front-to-back under a First Class seat on an Alaska Airlines 737-800

Again, our little Sophie slept like a proverbial angel throughout the flight. We flew coach for the return flight and her carrier fit just fine beneath the middle seat.”

All of this is good news, especially the part where Sophie snoozed through her flights. Jen and Troy were completely unhappy, however, with what they saw of Alaska Airlines’ cargo service:

“We checked Sophie’s hard-sided small Grreat Choice Pet Carrier filled with her non-essential gear at Bellingham International Airport. We made that choice because it’s what Sophie is used to and we wanted to be able to leave her contained for a few hours from time to time and not worry about her trying to escape her SturdiBag. We noticed a woman checking her German Shepherd in an extra-large hard-sided carrier at the same time. Upon arrival in Sacramento, Alaska had lost both our carrier and the woman’s German Shepherd. It was a long and stressful hour for us and the other passenger before they finally found her dog and our dog carrier.

Sophie’s Grreat Choice Carrier was in perfect condition when we checked it in Bellingham, and it was dramatically broken when they returned it to us in Sacramento.

Sophie is not at all pleased about her broken crate

Since it was still semi-useable and we were in a hurry, we didn’t raise the issue with Alaska, but being so careless as to ruin her carrier was a large mark against them in our book.”

Thank you again, Jen — this time for the under-seat information and for the heads-up about Alaska Airlines’ handling of your luggage and another traveler’s dog. I’ve added this post to Dog Jaunt’s ongoing series recording under-seat plane measurements. 

37 comments

  • Amanda

    So sorry to hear about Sophie’s hard-sided carrier…. THAT is the reason we’d never send our dog as cargo, no matter what the airlines say. Glad to hear all worked out well, especially for the woman and her German Shepherd. Scary!

  • Aemelia

    I don’t understand airlines. I really don’t. My luggage makes it through alright, all the time. So do people’s strollers and car seats and photo equipment and boxes etc etc etc etc. But for some CRAZY REASON that I just can’t figure out, they seem to screw up when it comes to things with animals ALL THE TIME. I don’t get it.

  • Oh, Mia — I hear you. But you know, every 100 trips or so, my checked luggage gets lost. The problems with checked pets are probably as infrequent, but because they’re SO FREAKING AWFUL when they happen, they get a lot of press. This site keeps track of pet “incidents” on planes, and in 2010 there were 56 reported incidents: http://www.petflight.com/pet_travel_incident_summaries/2010 The number I can’t give you is how many pets total traveled in cargo on those airlines in 2010, but it’s got to be huge. Even when there hasn’t been a loss, injury or death, though, I can’t believe the experience isn’t at least disturbing for the pet. How grateful I am that I have the option of bringing Chloe in-cabin with us.

  • Monica McLaughlin

    Was the carrier empty? If so, it might have gotten thrown or placed on top of the luggage and then fell off as the luggage truck sped toward the building. What a bummer.

  • Christy Haven

    Hi,
    I saw your great post about flying with a dog in the cabin of an Alaska Airlines flight. I’m about to do that and also have a Blenheim King Charles Cavalier. They told me that the dogs should be under 10 pounds but she’s closer to 13. I’m glad to know you have the same dog and she fit under the seat as well (in coach).
    Thanks!
    Christy

  • Christy Haven

    I do have a question for Jen and Troy. The large Sturdi carrier is one inch over (in height) the Alaska Airlines under seat requirement. I know it will squish down to fit but do they actually measure the carrier at check-in?
    Thanks for any help.
    Christy

  • I’ll be interested to see what Jen and Troy say — in my experience, it depends on the agent. We’re hardly ever asked about the carrier — it’s happened maybe twice in 3 years, and 6-7 airlines, and many dozens of trips.

  • Jen

    Hi Christy,

    I’m glad if our information was a help.
    No, they never actually measured the carrier, but if they did,
    I’m guessing that just squashing it to size would make it
    technically fulfill the requirement. Just like smashing an
    overfull suitcase into one of those suitcase measuring frames
    would. That’s
    the logic I’d try anyway. Also, Sophie’s now
    12 pounds, but I think under 20 is OK, (right M-A?)
    and nobody ever tried to weigh her…
    Alaska is the airline where the pilot wanted
    me to take her out mid flight for a snuggle,
    and the stewardess actually SUGGESTED we
    take her out mid flight and hold her in our lap,
    but we didn’t because she was sleeping soundly.
    The TSA folks also wanted to pet her, and did, even
    though they told us while mid petting that technically they weren’t
    allowed to do that. So I’d suggest having a freshly bathed,
    and groomed dog and a pleading smile to help convince any person who questions
    on travel issues. I tried to follow M-A’s lead and hold
    the carrier unobtrusively when at the counter.
    My motto: “If you don’t want an issue don’t make an issue”.
    Cavaliers are so darned cute that they tend to draw attention,
    as I’m sure you well know… so it’s an ongoing endeavor.
    I’d also suggest following Mary-Alice’s
    advice about shaving off that inch of foam board. Of course,
    follow all the rules about keeping your pup in the carrier–
    you never know when you might meet an unfriendly employee,
    –and we don’t want to cause any negative feelings about pets on planes,
    but I included the happy flight details to illustrate that in our
    limited experience Alaska Airlines is VERY pet friendly. However,
    we haven’t flown nearly as much as M-A and adorable Chloe,
    so I don’t know if our experiences are the norm or not. Best of luck!

    Jen

  • Jen

    Oh, and Christy, the bag fits fine in coach, too. We flew coach
    as well (middle seat) with no space issue.

  • Christy

    Hi again,
    I bought the large Sturdi Carrier and Bella (my King Charles) fits great in it but it seems way too big to go under the seat. This is the carrier you mention, right? I haven’t slimmed down the board yet but will do that. Any other thoughts?
    Thanks. I leave in 2 weeks and I’m so nervous they won’t let me take her on board!
    Christy

  • Hi, Christy! The large is the size of carrier that Chloe has, and it has always worked for us. It’s taller and wider than the official maximums, but if you press on the top and sides you’ll see how flexible it is. Now, the extra-large is a beast, so make sure you have just the large. (Mind you, several readers have succeeded in traveling with the XL, but it’s a nerve-wracking experience getting it past the ticketing and gate agents.) Safe travels!

  • Tracy

    On March 23 I flew on Alaska Airlines with my 14lb. dog Jasmine in a large Sturdibag. We were in seat 12D, an aisle, and there was no way the bag was fitting under the seat. I was very fortunate that no one came and sat in the middle seat, so I put her under there very easily and I stayed in my aisle seat. A very lucky break!

  • Thanks so much, Tracy! Reports like yours — from the field! — are so helpful. Do you happen to remember what kind of plane you were on?

  • Christy

    Hi,
    I took my Cavalier, Bella, on an Alaska Airlines flight from Seattle to Palm Springs a few weeks ago and it went very smoothly. I wrote on here a few times because I was so nervous. I used the Large Sturdibag and she fit well under the middle seat. It’s a little awkward trying to get it under the seat but overall it was a very easy experience. She slept the entire time.

  • Yay, Christy! Cheering for you guys here in Seattle — SO GLAD it went well. And thank you for the Alaska feedback! Any recollection of what kind of plane you were on?

  • Ashlee

    I am flying to Washington (Seattle and then to Wenatchee) from Tucson in December with my 15 lb poodle terrier mix and I am already nervous about the trip! Glad to hear about everyone’s positive experiences with Alaska Airlines though!

  • Cindy

    Hi, I have a question. My husband and I are planning on flying Alaska Air from the mainland to Kona, HI. It is a five hour flight and I have two Shih Tzu’s. They wont fit in a carrier that will fit under the seat, but one is 10 lb and the other 8. They measure 10″ at the shoulders, but I read that the carrier cannot touch their head while sitting or standing. However, a vet in HI told me that because they are Shih Tzu’s (snubbed nose breed), that they would allow them in the cabin. They will fit in a medium carrier, but their heads will touch. Suggestions?

  • Hi, Cindy! Head touching, thank God, is not the test (our Chloe is larger than your pups, and she regularly travels under our plane seats). The crucial dimension is shoulder height (and, to some extent, length from nape of neck to base of tail; and weight), because they need to be able to turn around (and to do that, they need their legs to straighten, of course, but they don’t need their heads to be erect). Chloe is 12″ tall at the shoulder, so she fits in the large SturdiBag, which has worked on every plane flight we’ve taken it on (she’s also about 16″ long from nape of neck to base of tail, and weighs 13-15 lbs, depending). Your pups would each fit comfortably in a large SturdiBag, and it’s an easy sell to airline reps (should a “sell” become necessary), because its top and sides are so flexible and allow it to fit into awkward spaces. And as soon as you take off, you can pull the carrier out under your knees, giving your pups the full height of their carriers to enjoy. Indeed, because of their nasal structure and breathing apparatus, they should travel in-cabin — and I sincerely believe they can. Please let us all know how it goes!

  • Monique

    Thanks everyone for your comments! 🙂 This blog has been so helpful in helping me plan my 10 lb. yorkie mix with our flight to Honolulu. I got the large sturdibag (since she’s much taller than most yorkies) but I’m worried it being too tall, however, I’m glad that it’s easy to maneuver into the small spaces under the seat. I compared it with the large sherpa plus and feel like that might be more in regulations but I guess we will see once we check in. Any thoughts? Alaska Airlines is the only plane that allows pets in cabin traveling to honolulu so if they’re as pet friendly as everyone says they are, I hope everything will work out. Flying is stressful enough as it is but a bit more stressful with a dog. I’m pretty sure I’ll be flying Alaska on a BOEING 737-800. Does anyone have experience/know what the best seat is for that plane? Also, is there any extra space on the side for a small carry on after the sturdibag is in place?

  • Hey there, Monique! A 10-lb. Yorkie, no matter how tall, will do great in the large SturdiBag — and I like it better than the Sherpa because its top and sides are flexible, letting you fit it around odd under-seat projections. I anticipate that you and your girl will be just fine on your flight to HI — please let us know how the procedure on landing goes! There are a couple of posts about under-seat space on an Alaska 737-800 — scroll down on this page and check them out: http://www.dogjaunt.com/guides/airplane-under-seat-measurements/ In my experience, there’s no extra room under the seat for additional stuff (well, maybe a jacket or something equally small). You can also bring a personal item and stow it above you — I make mine a pretty substantial purse. I also wear a many-pocketed vest, to stow around me the stuff I might need during flight, in case turbulence keeps the safety belt light on. Here’s a post about that: http://www.dogjaunt.com/posts/scottevest-travel-vest-carrying-all-the-stuff-you-cant-reach-in-the-overhead-bin/

  • Monique

    Thanks so much Mary-Alice! I’ll definitely be in touch about the procedure upon landing. My boyfriend and I just took care of all the paperwork and had it sent overnight via UPS. A LOT of paperwork and research beforehand but I’m sure it’ll be worth the stress in the end. This blog has made things a whole lot easier 🙂

  • Monique

    Hi Mary-Alice!
    Bella (my yorkie) and I have made it to Oahu! 🙂 The Sturdibag definitely fit on the planes we were on. We flew delta on the first leg, though the flight attendant there was pretty skeptical about the bag fitting. We took a 6-day layover in Seattle and then continued our flight to Honolulu on Alaska BOEING 737-900ER. I sat in the absolute back row and the in the seat space was so big and roomy. I highly recommend Alaska for those who are first time travelers with pets. The lady at the ticket counter was extremely friendly and helpful as well. As far as the procedures go upon landing, you would’ve filled out Department of Agriculture form which is required for every entry into HI. You will fill out the necessary information and declare your dog on the form. Then, upon deplaning, let the flight attendant at the door know you have a dog and she/he will lead you to someone from the DOA who will be waiting right outside the aircraft door. They will take your personal info (name, address, phone number) and your pet and bring them to the airport facility that holds animals. It is best/easiest to have a friend traveling with you so one of you can get/watch your luggage as the other person goes to the facility. The quarantine holding facility is about a 10-15 minute walk from the baggage claim and a little tricky to get to as it is not along the main street. However, if you follow the two green “animal quarantine facility” signs, you should find it with no problem. The facility is small and you need to ring the doorbell outside and wait a few minutes before they are able to open the door for you. They’ll ask you for your ID and if you did your homework before arriving and have all the paperwork ready, you need only to fill out your name, contact info and sign a small slip of paper. Within minutes, Bella was back in my care 🙂 I highly recommend doing all the paperwork beforehand and submitting the health certificate beforehand also (even though the DOA allows you to bring it in). It has been a stressful several months pre-planning and vet visits and filling out papers, but it is SO worth it. Bella is adjusting well to my family and seems to be very happy here. I hope this helps for anyone traveling to HI with their pets in the future! 🙂

  • Amy

    My boyfriend and I will be traveling with our chihuahua mix breed. She is tall, 11″ to her withers. We will be flying Alaska Airlines on a Bombardier Q400 from Seattle to Pasco and like those of you that have flown with your pets in cabin am wondering whether she’ll be able to fit under the seat. I’ve read about the space under those seats in the airlines and understand that it’s an option to turn the carrier lengthwise. I’ve also read that the SturdiCarrier (large) is a good option. However we live in Juneau, Alaska and I don’t know whether a carrier like that will be available or arrive in time. Does anyone have any advice because I’m stressing out way too much.

  • Hi, Amy! If SturdiProducts can’t get one to you in time, I’d fall back to a Sherpa carrier of the comparable size (they’re pretty readily available at most pet stores, from Petco/PetSmart through the more boutique-y ones). It’ll be called the medium or large Original Deluxe (the large is about an inch longer than the large SturdiBag, but I think you can make it work) or the Delta Deluxe. I don’t love the Sherpa carriers, but they’re sturdy and you can push on them to make them fit into tight/odd spaces.

  • Ann

    I have a slightly overweight corgi/cocker spaniel mix. Scared to death to fly her cargo, so will try Alaska as a carry on in my move to Honolulu. Wish me luck! open to tips if you have any.

  • Sandy

    M.A., thank you so much for this blog – what a lifesaver! I am flying on an Alaska 737-800 in two weeks, and would like transport my two cats in the same carrier if at all possible, to avoid having to purchase an additional seat. Both cats are between 8 and 10 lbs. Do you think they will fit in a large Sturdibag? If not, do you have any other suggestions of bags? I tried them in a medium Sherpa to go, just for a point of reference, and it was too small;. The large original deluxe Sherpa would be enough room; however, I’m concerned that it won’t be allowed due to its size. (It seems huge in comparison to the medium.) Any insights or experiences with the large deluxe Sherpa would be hugely appreciated!!

  • I am so sorry for the delay in responding, Sandy — your trip has come and gone! Had I been timely, I would have agreed that the large Sturdibag was worth a try, if your cats are used to close cuddling. It’s only an inch shorter than the large Original Deluxe Sherpa, and I suspect that inch wouldn’t have cramped their style too much. Argh! Please forgive!

  • Jen Reeves

    Hello, I would love to hear how it went with Sandy who wrote on Feb 23, 2015. I am hoping to take both my cats in the large Sturdi-bag but they are both large cats. NOT feeling good about putting one of them in cargo. I hope she will see this and respond. Thanks

  • Sandy

    I’m glad to help! I had a GREAT experience on Alaska. Believe it or not, I took them both in an black XL Sturdibag, and had no issues whatsoever. (My cats were simply too big to fit comfortably together in the L Sturdibag – I bought both to try them out.) I did use the floorboard of the L Sturdibag to reduce the footprint of the XL bag. I had photos of the XL in action (from this site!) ready on my phone in case I was questioned, but no one even raised an eyebrow. I did fly out of MSY, which may be a more “relaxed” airport than a higher volume hub like CHI or LAX, so that’s something to keep in mind. Also, make sure to grab the middle seat! It has the most room. There is no way that the bag would have fit under the aisle seat. 🙂

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