Reader’s report: Pushing back when your dog’s in-cabin carrier is “too big”
Reader Joanna, who travels frequently with her Cardigan Welsh Corgi, told me about a recent exchange with a United ticket agent, who decided her dog (26 lbs., in an extra-large SturdiBag) was too big to fit under the seat:
“Last time on United at ticket counter they refused to let my dog go in cabin despite my measuring tape and pleas. Well, I took my SturdiBag in the cabin after dog was put in cargo and lo and behold, it fit with not a problem. I snapped a photo, grabbed the airline attendant and demanded they bring my dog up from cargo. They did, and ended up after the fact refunding every penny of the dog fee….”
That’s impressive. I hope that I would have had the creativity and tenacity to do the same thing, but now that I know about Joanna’s success, I’d certainly follow her lead.
Along the same lines, consider taking a picture of your dog successfully installed in her carrier under the seat on an airline (and an airplane type) you often fly — or a picture of Chloe or another dog, in the same-sized carrier you use — and bringing that with you, so you can show it to an airline agent who’s worried about your carrier’s size. I’ve started collecting readers’ pictures of their dogs in carriers, and our pictures of Chloe in her carrier (in the blog’s sidebar, click on “Pictures of carriers on planes”), and there are a couple more, posted by readers, on Dog Jaunt’s Facebook page.
Joanna has another suggestion, which comes naturally to someone with an agility dog — but I believe that we all could achieve the same result with a little effort, and perhaps some guidance from a local trainer:
“Another idea that seemed to work to make it look like it’s no problem for your dog to turn around and get in and out of the bag easily [a requirement for most airlines] is to teach them to back up. Then you don’t look like you are struggling to smash them in. Also, teaching rights/lefts with cookies will make them turn around on their own without us manipulating them.”
She referred to a friend who travels with Shelties (another dog I would never have dreamed of trying to get under a plane seat), and brings two sizes of SturdiBag to the airport with her — she believes her friend approaches the ticket counter with the large SturdiBag, then switches her dog into the extra-large after going through security.
There are some risks with that approach, namely that the boarding agent will disapprove of the larger carrier, and that it won’t be possible to transfer the sticky tag placed on your dog’s original carrier by the ticketing agent (some airlines instead use a tag with an elastic band, or no tag at all). Consider instead trying first with the extra-large, and then falling back, if need be, to the large. The problem with that approach, though, is that it lets the ticketing agent view your pretty-darned-large small dog in her entirety, not tucked away in a hard-to-see-into bag.
On balance, I’d stick with the large SturdiBag, and transfer your dog to the extra-large — if you absolutely must — as discreetly as possible once you’re on the plane. You wouldn’t need to re-transfer your dog back into the large SturdiBag at the end of the flight, assuming that your dog truly does fit under your particular airplane seat in an extra-large SturdiBag. This approach will work best if you have a traveling companion who can carry the extra bag for you, and can give you the extra legroom you’ll need to effect the transfer. Please note that this should be attempted ONLY by owners who are completely confident that their dog will not escape their control during the transfer process. If there’s a possibility that your dog might bolt once that first zipper opens — and keep in mind that being on an airplane is stressful, and may make your reliable pup less than reliable — do not open the zipper.
All of this strategizing assumes that you have a dog that is really pushing the limits of what works in-cabin, like a 26-lb. Corgi, or a Sheltie, though even in that size-range there are important differences between breeds and dogs: “But, she has shelties. They can turn tighter and are like spaghetti noodles. I have corgis, more like inert, squat sausages.”