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Reader’s report: Pet stroller as airport, layover solution; under seat space on United’s Embraer RJ-145

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.

Photo by Pet Gear Inc.

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.”

Luna’s large SturdiBag is stowed in the lower mesh storage compartment; you can just see the white SturdiBag pad in the main passenger compartment.

A close up of the SturdiBag foam board and pad inserted into the main compartment of the Happy Trails stroller

“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.”

Fully assembled large SturdiBag, resting on the top of the (unzipped) stroller, for those moments when Luna was in the carrier, not the stroller

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.

Luna and the stroller, during a layover coffee break.

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.

Luna’s folded (and gate tagged) stroller

“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.

Amazon links:
Snoozer Roll Around Pet Carrier, Black, Medium
Pet Gear Happy Trails Stroller

18 comments

  • Ice Pony Girl

    So…it worked well for you? I do have one of these pet stroller. Would love to use it when I travel…through the airports. The dog carrier on my shoulder…starts to hurt after a while.

  • Moving internationally

    I just stumbled on your blog today while looking for information about airport pet relief areas. So much good information! Thank you for sharing your experiences, and those of your readers. I work for the government and move every 2 – 3 years. My yorkipoo has been with me for 5 years, and she is the best traveler – I’ve been so lucky. But I’ve definitely picked up some good ideas along the way for making it easier for her. Your blog has opened my eyes to so many more possibilities. I’m preparing for my next move (Beirut to the USA for a few months, then on to Belgrade, our next home) and took the risk of ordering a stroller in hopes that it will get here before I leave. I have often mourned the fact that taking Bijou means no rolling suitcase, and I just have to carry everything! I cannot explain why the stroller idea never occured to me, but I’m so excited to try it out! Thanks again.

  • I’m adding some information that reader Claire sent me in an e-mail (thanks, Claire!), about an alternative stroller idea:

    “Have you seen this product?

    http://www.meijer.com/s/four-paws-products-fresh-air-pet-stroller-blue/_/R-34965

    The blue carrier comes out and I pop in my large SturdiBag and it is the perfect set of wheels for the airport… can be gate checked like a child’s stroller. (I fortunately have a friend with a Chihuahua, so the little blue carrier didn’t go to waste.) I’ll send a picture when I get a moment.”

  • Janice

    Thank you for this great information. After reading this post, I too bought a stroller. It is the perfect solution for traveling with my 17 pound sheltie Kayla. She is much more comfortable and I am too. It is so much easier to get her through the airports. We travel every month and the stroller makes a huge difference. Thanks again.

  • Ice Pony Girl

    Thank you for the idea on the stroller! Used it last time I flew and it was perfect for both of my Chihuahuas and so much easier for me.

  • dachshund owner

    Hi I also have flown one round trip with my 16 lbs dachshund with was a pretty good experience and the airport was awesome let him be out of the carrier as long as i was carring him in my arms or sitting on the floor with him on a very tight leash, but i may not have that at the next airport and there will be a lay over and i will be traveling with 2 now in cabin with a friend i have a big dog stroller that can fit both dogs together but was wondering how it is to get through security with the dogs in the stroller? and any tips with the stroller when traveling through the airport and trying to get back through security when on a lay over and getting to a pet relief area?

  • Hi there, Dachshund Owner! I was just contemplating this myself, and I think the stroller is very doable, security-wise. You and your friend will each take a dog from the stroller and hold them in your arms as you step through the metal detector. My pet stroller (the same Pet Gear one that the reader in this post used) collapses very easily, like an umbrella — you’d collapse it and place it on the belt, ahead of your other gear, so that it’s the first thing out, so you can put your pups back in as soon as possible. It’s really just like putting a bag through. I think it’s a brilliant idea for the situation you describe, because with the pups in the stroller, you can move at a really brisk pace, giving you more time to get them out to the pet relief area and then back in again.

  • Casey

    Thanks for this site, the advice here is great! I too bought a Pet Gear stroller based on this post and used it for the first time last week. My dog Jane is a ~20 lb, tall, skinny terrier mix who barely fits in her large SturdiBag. We traveled from NYC to Ohio; the flight is short but the commute from the city to the airport doubles the amount of time she spends in her carrier. The stroller gives her so much more space during the commute.
    With Jane in her stroller, we took the train from Penn Station to Newark airport. It was full so we had to stand in the vestibule. I had TSAPre but Terminal A doesn’t have a separate pre-check line so the only advantage was keeping my shoes on. Jane’s stroller still had to be collapsed and scanned. We took a United Express flight and were on the same tiny plane as Mary and Luna (Embraer RJ-145). We’ve flown on the ERJ-145 before in both window and aisle seats and this plane is small, small, small. Jane’s SturdiBag stuck into my foot space by a few inches but no one mentioned it. Here’s a link to a cross section of the cabin, if you want a sense of the configuration: http://www.embraercommercialaviation.com/AircraftPDF/E145_Cabin.pdf
    Thanks again for all the great information here!

  • Laura

    I love the idea of pushing my dog in a stroller to change planes after a long international flight. However I was advised by the airline (Lufthansa) that although they are happy to gate check the stroller, they do count it as the 1 piece of carry on luggage each passenger can bring. Since they also count the Sturdibag occupied by my dog as a carry-on, I cannot take the stroller and the dog if I am traveling alone, since it exceeds the one carry-on limit. Both the Sturdibag and the stroller are too large to qualify as a personal item (also limit one per person) besides which I need a personal item to carry the other dog supplies we’ll need enroute. Since my husband will be traveling with me, we can gate check the stroller and take the Sturdibag on board and meet the 1 carry on per person limit. Whew!

  • Reader Stefanie has used a pet stroller for her 19 lb. Pug on their travels to and from Peru, and passed on this info: “With AA your stroller can’t weight more than 20lbs/9kgs if you want to gate check it. If it weighs more than that you have to check it with your luggage (which defeats the purpose of the stroller in my opinion). I bought a gate check bag (http://amzn.to/28Z6wAD) to help keep it clean and I wrote my name and contact info on it. The stroller also has a tag attached to it just in case.

    When going through security my dog is in his carrier on top of the stroller, so the stroller collapses and goes through the scanner first, then my dog and I go through the metal detector and hand swabbing and on the other end I just put him directly in the stroller instead of his carrier.

    I’ve taken the stroller with me to Peru twice now. It’s a little extra work but worth it. What kinda ruined my plans is that on international trips the stroller sometimes doesn’t get gate checked and returned to you at the gate. It’s happened a few times. Twice, AA gate agents told me it had to be picked up at luggage cuz it was a DOG stroller (luckily in Peru they brought it to the gate, I guess my big red gate check bag helped!) and when returning to the US, it’s ALWAYS with the luggage.”

  • Laura

    We took a Pet Gear Happy Trails light no-zip stroller for our poodle bichon on her first international trip earlier this year from San Francisco to Florence. On the plane change in Munich it came in really handy as you deplane out on the tarmac onto a shuttle bus which takes you to the terminal, and vice-versa for the departure (gate/bus to tarmac/stairs up to plane). The stroller was given to us at the foot of the plane steps when we landed and we left it at the foot of the plane steps when we departed so our dog was able to ride comfortably on the bus and thru the terminal, and our shoulders were relieved of her weight for the transfer. Would’ve been great to have the stroller gate check bag, as the stroller did get wet & dirty in the belly of the plane (it was raining when we landed), so thanks for that link, I’ve just ordered it for our next trip. $12!

  • Joyce

    Can anyone advise if the airline are firm about the dog being able to stand and turnaround in the carrier?
    (the animal must be able to stand up and turn around comfortably.) my dog will fit in a large carrier but would not be able to turn around

  • Hello, Joyce — You and the airline(s) may be on the same page after all. The crucial height is your dog’s height at his or her shoulder. If her (my dog is a female, so I’m going with “her”) shoulder height is, for example, 12″, then she will officially fit in a carrier that is 12″ tall. Please note that a carrier that height will not allow her to raise her head! But that’s okay — dogs don’t need to raise their head in order to turn around. In fact, your pup will typically spend her flight time curled up, and hopefully sleeping. She’ll only stand up from time to time, to shift hips, basically, as we do. So take a tape measure to your dog and to your carrier, and see what you learn. If they match, then you’re (and more importantly, your pup is) in good shape.

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