Chloe and I were AWOL for a few months (nothing to be worried about, lovely readers — Life just got clamorous for a while, and the blog took a back seat), and we returned to find hundreds of your excellent comments and questions piled up, waiting to be read and approved. Seeing them in a group like that, it’s clear that many of you have similar concerns. Time for a Dog Jaunt FAQ page! Please note that none of these is an exact quote; I’ve created general questions inspired by the individual fact patterns you’ve described.
How do I measure my dog for an in-cabin carrier?
The crucial measurements are height, measured from ground to top of shoulder; and length, measured from nape (back) of neck to base of tail. You’ll often see, in an airline’s pet policy page, that your pet must be able to turn around freely in her carrier. She need only stand up to do that; she’s not required to raise her head, and indeed, if you watch your dog, you’ll see that she typically doesn’t bother to lift her head when she readjusts. So, shoulder height is the height that counts. Chloe is 12″ tall at the shoulder, and she does most of her travel in the large SturdiBag, which is 12″ tall.
My airline specifies that my pet’s in-cabin carrier must be a maximum of 9″ tall [I’m choosing 9″ at random; the maximum height varies by airline]. You have a dog who’s 12″ tall at the shoulder, and she typically travels in a 12″ tall large SturdiBag. What’s the deal with that?
I spend a great deal of time measuring the space available under various airplane seats, and I’ve come to the conclusion that an airline must set its maximums based on the lowest height, and narrowest width, of its planes’ various under-seat spaces. It’s the simplest solution, since an airline typically has many different plane types, with many different classes and under-seat configurations.
In practice, however, under-seat spaces are often much more, well, spacious, than an airline’s stated maximums. The height component, in particular, isn’t carved in stone. It’s nearly always based on the presence of a life-vest under each seat, and vests are contained either in a soft sling (which hangs down — and therefore lifts up — a couple of inches) or a hard box, which is fairly limited in size. A pet carrier with a flexible top, like Chloe’s beloved SturdiBag, essentially molds itself around that box, leaving Chloe with plenty of room.
There is the potential, therefore, for a dog taller than 9″ at the shoulder to fit even on an airline that officially offers only 9″ in under-seat height. In all this time, I have yet to come across a plane that cannot accommodate Chloe.
That said, there are airplane seats that no dog could possibly fit under, and often they’re in Business or First Class. The fancier seats often have more elaborate electronics under them, or bits that fold out to become leg rests, and there is simply no room under them for any kind of pet. Resign yourself to traveling mostly in Coach class with your pet (spring, when you can, for the extra legroom option).
Please also note that Chloe is only a few pounds and inches over the size of an airline’s Ideal In-Cabin Dog. I am very confident that she is comfortable in her carrier, and that she is still comfortable even when that carrier has been poked under the seat in front of me, with all of its life-vest and electronics protrusions invading her space (I improve her comfort by pulling her carrier out under my knees as soon as the plane has reached cruising altitude). The larger your large small dog gets, the more carefully you’ll need to assess your pet’s comfort in her carrier and the space it will need to occupy.
Height and weight are not the only story: Tall, gracile creatures like a Chinese Crested cheerfully curl up into a surprisingly small space; while a “heavy” Boston Terrier or French Bulldog is often a reasonable size, but packed with muscle. Assess your pet with a loving eye and decide for yourself whether she’s content in the carrier you’ve chosen for her. Look at the actual under-seat measurements I provide for the airplane you’re considering, mock up that space at home, and try fitting your carrier into it. Be realistic. There are upper limits to what’s possible with in-cabin pet travel, and they start kicking in at, say, dogs that are 15″ tall or taller at the shoulder and/or weigh 20 lb. or more.
If you feel confident that your pet can handle the available space, you will project that good cheer and confidence to her, to yourself, and to the airline’s representatives. That’s important because the fact is, unless your dog is 9″ at the shoulder (or 8.5″, or whatever the given airline’s maximum is), you’re breaking your airline’s rules. You’re in good company: Nearly all of the dogs I see in airports (and I spend a lot of time in airports) are, like Chloe, a bit bigger than they “should be.”
I’m nervous about showing up at the airport with a dog in a carrier that doesn’t match my airline’s maximums. Maybe I should go to the airport a couple of days ahead of time and show the ticket agents my carrier and see what they say?
I hear you and I applaud your conscientiousness. I don’t believe it’s a good idea, for two reasons. First, the airline rep you speak to will likely be uncomfortable telling you that his or her airline’s official rules can be flouted. It is easiest and safest for him or her to tell you that your bag, or dog, won’t fit on board. Second, even if by some fluke you speak with someone you gives you the nod, there is no guarantee that that person will be there on the day you travel.
Experience tells me that it works best to assure yourself ahead of time that you and your pup can travel comfortably together (read the posts on this blog, including the comments from other travelers; follow Dog Jaunt’s Facebook page, converse with other travelers with pets there, and scroll back through past posts about their experiences; look at the under-seat measurements I’ve gathered from my travels and from other readers’ reports), and then arrive at the airport with a Zen-like sense of calm. Do not volunteer your concerns to the ticket agent, or indeed to any other airline rep.
Choose a black carrier (black is so slimming!). Keep your pet’s carrier down by your feet until/unless you’re asked for a viewing, or for the carrier to be produced so it can be tagged (you’ll need to check in with the ticketing desk, since you’re traveling with an in-cabin pet, even if you’ve paid for her ahead of time). When you lift it up, make it look easy. Coo at your pet, and tell her what a great little traveler she is. Generally convey the sense that you do this all the time. Heck, this is the third time this week you’ve done this. Don’t be obnoxious, of course (no Dog Jaunt reader would ever be obnoxious!) — just be quietly cheerful and confident. If you are challenged, point out how flexible your carrier is (it helps if it is, which is why we use the SturdiBag, and alas, no, I do not get any kind of kickback from SturdiProducts). If push really comes to shove, request to talk with one of your flight attendants. They know their planes, and they’ve seen any number of travelers with pets (unlike the ticketing or gate agents).
It’s never gotten to that point for me (though it has for at least one Dog Jaunt reader, who ultimately did board the plane with his Cocker Spaniel). However, I have had to demonstrate the flexibility of Chloe’s carrier on a couple of occasions. Given the dozens (hundreds?) of flights we’ve taken together, that’s pretty good. Add in the hundreds of flights other Dog Jaunt readers have taken with their larger small dogs, and you should be feeling better.
Do any airlines allow you to travel with your dog on your lap?
Working dogs, like service animals or, usually, emotional support animals, are allowed to travel at their person’s feet or on their person’s lap. All major airlines require pet dogs to travel in a carrier (size and other characteristics specified in each airlines’ rules — to see them, click on the “Taking your pet on a plane” button at the top of this page, and look for Dog Jaunt’s handy guides to U.S and international airlines’ in-cabin pet policies). Most airlines officially require your pet’s carrier to remain under the seat in front of you during flight; some flight crews may turn a blind eye to your putting that carrier on your lap during flight.
What if I buy an extra seat for my pet dog? Can her carrier sit on it? Can she sit on it?
Alas, it would be wasted money. Even if you bought a ticket for your pet dog, she would be required to remain in her carrier in the underseat space in front of what you’d hoped would be her seat.
I’ll keep adding FAQs to this list as I think of them, so check back!