This is yet another example of Dog Jaunt reader brilliance. The problem: In no time at all, even a small dog, carried over a shoulder, becomes remarkably heavy. Negotiating an airport, and, in particular, exiting and reentering an airport to visit a pet relief area, would be much more comfortable with wheels. If you have a small dog (under 10 lbs.), the problem is easily solved: I recommend buying a Creature Leisure Pet Pilot XL, a cleverly designed and well-made wheeled carrier. [5/13 Sadly, the Creature Leisure Pet Pilot XL is no longer available.] But what if you have a large small dog, like Chloe (13-15 lbs.), or even larger?
There are larger wheeled carriers than the Pet Pilot XL, and some travelers swear by their medium Snoozer Roll Around (the small certainly works, but only for very small dogs; the large is too huge for in-cabin use). It occupies a good deal of foot space, though, and my nerves aren’t strong enough to risk using it. If I’m traveling with my husband, we can bring a wheeled carry-on with us (Chloe’s carrier typically, though not always, takes the place of my carry-on), and I slip her carrier handles over the suitcase handle. My best solution for solo travel, until today, was a short, slim, wheeled carry-on that could support Chloe’s carrier while masquerading as a “small personal item.” That’s good, though not perfect (the resulting structure is top-heavy) — but reader Mary’s solution is even better.
“What about using a folding dog stroller?” she wrote a short while ago. “I’m flying for the first time in about a week and can’t imagine trying to wander around through the airport with a 15 pound, squirmy dog in addition to food and my already-heavy purse. According to the airlines, I can gate check the stroller just like human parents would. I’m hoping it will also make her more comfortable as she can really stretch out in it and actually stand up during our 4 hour layover.” And I thought, well, why the heck not? And why didn’t I think of that? I asked her to report on how her trip went, and she kindly sent detailed info and lots of pictures.
Mary and Luna, her Chihuahua mix, flew on United from Billings to Denver, and then on to El Paso. They flew on an Embraer regional jet (based on Mary’s description, and SeatGuru’s listing of United’s Embraer models, I believe it was an RJ-145); see below for Mary’s report on what seat to choose and how the large SturdiBag worked for her and Luna.
Facing a seven-hour trip, including four hours in the Denver airport — to be spent seeking out the distant pet relief area, returning to their departure gate (at “the VERY, VERY (VERY) tail end of terminal B”), and finding food/coffee — Mary researched pet strollers and purchased the Happy Trails stroller from Pet Gear.
She was happy with her choice: “It’s a serious stroller. Heavy-duty, easy to steer, quality material, etc. It looked a lot like a baby stroller, and most people I passed didn’t actually realize I had a dog in there to begin with. In fact, one of the ticket agents panicked when I came up. She saw the empty stroller (Luna had already been stashed in her carrier) and thought I had lost my baby! The folding mechanism is super easy and I had no trouble doing it with one hand while still holding all my other boarding stuff and Luna. It has a folding lock and folds as small as a baby stroller, so I was able to gate-check the stroller as I boarded and then get it as I deplaned. The stroller also has a harness tether (as does the SturdiBag), so, with all the extra transferring, I didn’t have to worry about her escaping.”
Mary used the stroller to get Luna through security in Billings, and then again in Denver to get Luna out to the pet relief area and back in through DEN security: “It was pretty nice that I didn’t have to worry about pulling her out and cramming her back into the SturdiBag while there were 10,000 people behind me waiting for me to get out of the way.”
The stroller has a mesh storage compartment below the passenger compartment, and Mary stowed Luna’s SturdiBag there while she was using the stroller: “To make it fit down there, you do have to take out the foam board. I took out the pad inside as well and put both in the stroller, giving her an extra soft surface to sit on.”
“If I needed to leave her in the carrier for whatever reason, I was able to unzip the top [of the stroller] and fit the carrier right on top. It fit perfectly.”
Having the stroller at the airports pleased both her and Luna:
“The space inside is fully zippered and so it abides by airport regulations, but it gave her plenty of space to stand up and stretch out. It also took the weight off my shoulder during the layover. We trekked all through the airport, and it only took one hand to steer the stroller. Luna was happy inside too, she enjoyed watching everything go by as we walked. [The stroller even] has a parent tray with two cup holders. I felt pretty privileged to be walking around the airport, not having to hold my own drinks! 🙂
I did get a lot of stares and was afraid people would make fun of me. But I continuously applauded myself on my stroller ingenuity and actually got a LOT of compliments as well as a couple of people asking for detailed information about where they could get one as well! No one had a bad word or look to give me as I had feared.
Once I stopped wandering around, I found a nice place to eat/get coffee near my gate. I sat us out of the way a little and was able to open the zipper up so she could poke her head out. Aside from the convenience of the stroller, it was REALLY nice to have her at eye level so we could have girl talk with my coffee. 🙂 Putting her on the floor would have made me sad and the tables were generally too small to have fit the carrier. The stroller really was the BEST solution both for getting her around the airport, as well as hanging out during the remainder of our layover.”
I asked Debbie Dubrow, who writes the marvelous family travel blog DeliciousBaby, for more details about the logistics of traveling with a stroller, and she (and her excellent husband) told me that the gate agent will tag your stroller as you head down the gangway. You leave the tagged and folded stroller at the end of the jetway, near the plane door.
“I believe they’re put in a special storage compartment in the belly of the plane, along with bags that don’t fit in the overheads, etc. Then, at the destination, it magically appears in the same place. If the landing crew is on it, the strollers are ready by the time you deplane, but it’s not uncommon to have to wait a few minutes, which can be crazy (all of us standing to the side [at the bottom of the jetway] as everyone deplanes).” On international flights, “the planes are sometimes big enough to stow the stroller onboard. Otherwise it gets checked through to your destination and shows up in baggage claim.”
That information alleviates one of my concerns about Mary’s proposal — that it would take so long to get your stroller, on arrival, that it wouldn’t be useful during a layover. Not so. My other concern was that the stroller would end up being an encumbrance at journey’s end, but Mary enthused about having the stroller available during her El Paso visit: “Once you get to your destination, you have a stroller you can use when traveling places that don’t generally want dogs wandering around! What a great travel accessory! :)”
Her verdict? “If you’re going on a long trip, ABSOLUTELY consider getting a foldable stroller. It just made the trip so enjoyable and less daunting.”
Under-seat space on United’s Embraer RJ-145
Mary read about the under-seat space available on a Delta Embraer 145, and reserved an aisle seat, on the chance that the United Embraer would be configured the same way. Here is SeatGuru’s floorplan of United’s ERJ-145 planes, so you can follow along with Mary’s report.
“They booked me on an A seat. It is an aisle seat, but also a window seat. That side of the plane has only one seat per row. As soon as I got in, I realized there was no way she would fit under there. I didn’t have a way to measure and I’m terrible with eyeballing it, but it would seem that there was MAYBE 6-7 inches of width under the seat. The flight attendant made an effort to fit her down there, but it clearly wasn’t going to work.
I was reseated in a seat C, also up against the window (on the other side of the plane where each row has 2 seats). Despite the fact that the side of the plane stole space on that side, too, I was able to fit her under there because there was no bar or anything separating the two under-seat spaces. I couldn’t fit my other carry-on in the bin above me (good grief it was a tiny plane!), so I asked the guy next to me if I could steal his space and he was fine with it. Even using both of the under-seat spaces, it was VERY cramped.
We sat on the runway for quite a while, before they really had the air going. By my feet, at the corner of the floor and the wall, there was a metal plate that ran along the length of the plane which her carrier was pressed up against. This plate began to get hotter and hotter. I pushed my foot in there between the plate and her carrier to shield her from some of the heat. Eventually, I had to call the flight attendant when the plate started to burn my foot and the whole area around my feet felt like a sauna. Poor Luna was panting and panting and stuck in this tiny cramped space with virtually no ventilation.
The pilot was able to get the floor space fresher and we took off. But then, about 20 minutes into the flight, that stupid plate started getting hot again. The flight attendant offered to bring her some water, but there was absolutely no way I could physically get water down there to her anyway. So finally, I asked the guy next to me to go sit in an empty seat elsewhere, and I was able to pull her out away from the window, out from under the seat and in the direct path of the air blowing from my little vent. It took her about 20 minutes, but she finally stopped panting and was able to go to sleep.
So, the moral of this story… if you are flying on this plane, be VERY clear that you want a seat B. Don’t ask for an aisle seat as you may get stuck in a seat A. You need to be away from the window! It was an awful experience, I hope never to repeat it!”
Another moral of this story is to stay aware of the actual conditions your pup is experiencing. Good for Mary for noticing the metal plate, for keeping her foot by it (and Luna), and for acting rapidly to relieve Luna’s distress. (I’m glad, too, that Mary chose the SturdiBag, because the mesh upper panel lets you observe your dog at your feet, even in the very cramped situation Mary describes.)
One last note, in fact, from Mary about the large SturdiBag, which she worried might be too small for Luna (who weighs 15 lbs., and is about 13-14″ tall at the shoulders): “I purchased a SturdiBag Large, put her in it and it fit like a glove!! I never dreamed I’d get her into such a small carrier, but she had a surprising amount of room inside and really seemed to be very comfortable. There wasn’t really any whining, scratching, or attempts to escape with the exception of a slightly bumpy take-off on the first flight. It’s worth noting that she’s not crate-trained in the least bit. This is not a dog accustomed to being contained.”
Luna sounds like a wonderful dog. Thanks so much to you both for providing the details people will need to try the stroller approach for themselves, and to choose the best possible seat on a United Embraer RJ145! I know I’ll be adding a Happy Trails stroller to my pile of gear, especially for trips where I’m traveling alone and I’ll have a car on the arriving end. I’m adding this post to Dog Jaunt’s ongoing series recording under-seat plane measurements.