Travel TipsFlying with Spaniels

Tips on Flying with Spaniels

Flying with your dogs can be a stressful experience for both you and your canine friends. Here are a few tips, based on my personal experiences, with added hints from many contributors on Spanie-L and the English Cocker Spaniel discussion lists. Topics covered include:

Booking your fights...

  • Time Flights for Ground Temperatures. Check temperature restrictions with the airlines. They will not board your dogs if the airport ground temperature is below about 40 degrees or above about 80 degrees. I make it a practice to scheduling flights coinciding with the "best" temperatures on take-off and landing...simply because you can never tell if there are going to be ground delays after the dogs are boarded or before you get to the gate after landing. For example, flying from LA to Chicago in the winter, we leave LA early morning, so we land between 11am and 2pm, when the sun is high and the temps are warmer. In the summer, when it's hot both in LA and Chicago, we tend to leave VERY early in the morning, VERY late afternoon or do the red-eye, so we avoid periods of high temperatures in both airports. It may only be 80 degrees, but the tarmack can get an awful lot hotter!
  • Reserve Cargo Space. Be sure to reserve space in cargo for your dogs when booking your flights...they only have room for a few dogs on each flight (around 7 dogs total). If you are traveling to a specialty, space goes fast!
  • Check Flight Equipment. Be sure to check the type of airplane when booking, as most airlines do not advise shipping dogs on DC-10s (some WON'T take them on DC-10s at all...period!). Check your return flight on travel day, in case of equipment's happened to me, but the airline was very accomodating about changing my flight schedule, or boarding my dogs on other flights, once the problem was discovered. If your seat assignment is in the range G thru K...ASK the gate agent or reservations agent!

Preparing for Travel...

  • Health Certificates. Don't forget your health certificates! One for each dog, valid long enough to cover your return trip too! If you fly frequently, work out a deal with your vet, so you don't have to pay for a "full" exam. This can add a lot to the cost of your trip.
  • Prepare Crates. Inspect crates for damage. Get cups for food and water. One Spanie-Ler suggests shredded paper as padding against accidents and bumps. I use wire grates for accidents and towels for comfort. I've heard reports of wire crate bottoms causing serious injuries, if the crate is tipped in transit (broken bones!), so use your best judgement.
  • Label Crates. Make sure your name address, etc. are permanently affixed. Some suggest plastering your flight itinerary on there too. Try permanent marker and clear packing tape, or marker on duct tape, if you don't have engraved signs on your crates. Include the dog's call name, your name, address & phone, and any special instructions, should there be delays, etc. I also recommend getting and using a Bunny Watch Decal to help prevent mishaps. They're FREE!
  • Crate Fastenings. Check for and replace missing nuts and bolts. One agent suggested putting nuts on the top, as they seem to come undone less frequently (we haven't lost one since!). Others have suggested using plastic "zip" fasteners en lieu of bolts (the kind that some police departments use instead of handcuffs). Check your local hardware or home repair store for these. I also like the new Deluxe VariKennel crates, which have locking clasps that can be bolted or fastened in place.

Day of Travel...

  • Confirm Flight. Confirm the time your flight is leaving, and that the time and that the temperatures are in the safe range for your dog to travel. No sense going to the airport, if it's already 100 degrees at the airport...your dog won't get on the plane!
  • Feed and Water. Airlines require you to feed and water your dogs within about 60 minutes of departure. If they are good travellers, feed & water them before leaving home or while you are checking in. I prefer a good meal several hours earlier (to avoid "accidents") and a few cookies during check-in.
  • Leave Early. Leave plenty of time to check in. There's always someone ahead of you in line arguing about the excess baggage charge for their surfboard!
  • Optional Insurance. Some airlines will offer extra insurance to cover your pet's trip. Inquire ahead of time. See a testimonial for further information.
  • Watch Boarding. Your dogs will be boarded last into the plane's forward cargo area. Ask for a window seat assignment on the right side of the plane (seat "F"), so you can watch. That's the side they usually board dogs on United Airlines; other airlines may differ. Or watch them being boarded from the gate or jetway.
  • Warn The Crew. Alert the crew that you have dogs flying, so they can at least identify the weird sounds coming from the cargo area in flight. If you ask REALLY NICE, the first flight attendant will usually:
    1. Warn the captain that there are "n" number of dogs being boarded and
    2. Let you know when they got on, so you can relax without 6 cocktails
  • Relax. Your dogs may be stressed upon arrival. You need to be in a position to calm them, not the other way around!

Bunny Watch Decals

Courtesy of Susan Hutt, Red Dog Fan Club. Pending permission to use this description:

"Bunny (Edgehill's Foolish Pleasure) was a golden who died in the cargo hold of a commercial flight on the way back from the Golden Retriever National Specialty in October, 1997. Some folks on the work_gold list provided the funding to create a decal that can be used on crates to let airline workers know that this crate is being watched to assure its safe handling in the hope of preventing any more tragedies like Bunny's.

Those "on watch" are all of us who travel on airlines or ship dogs via airlines, who are keeping an eye out not just for our own dogs or our own breeds, but ALL dogs being shipped on an airline. It is a community-wide effort among dog fanciers to be proactive in keeping vigilance for our companions who depend on us for their safety.

The decal is 6" x 8". At the top is the word BUNNY, in the center is drawing of a bunny held in two hands, under the drawing is the word W.A.T.C.H and under that are the words Watch Air & Temperature in the Cargo Hold. The words are in bold, black print, the bunny is fluorescent pink, all on a white background. The goal is to obtain as wide a distribution as possible so that airline crates all over the country will be wearing these safety reminders. The decals are free; however, donations of any amount will help continue their production and distribution. Send a self addressed, stamped envelope with the number of decals you would like to:

The RED DOG Fan Club
9000 Crow Canyon Drive
Danville, CA 94506 "

If you are a club, please send a small donation for the decals. These will be used to produce more decals in the future. The donations should be at least $20.00 and made out to Dilco Industrial. Jay at Dilco is kind enough to process these little checks and Credit Card orders.

For more information on the decals, please contact:

Susan Hutt, smhutt@IX.NETCOM.COM
Phone: 1-888-RED-DOOG
Web site:

Flight Insurance Testimonial

Courtesy of Bill and Laurie Tull, Alpine Clumbers of Etna, California

"On my way to the '96 Clumber National, I flew US Air from Seattle to Philadelphia. While checking in, I asked at the ticket counter how I could be assured that my dog was loaded. When I was informed about the extra care the dog gets with Added Value insurance, I insured him for $5,000 at the cost of a little over $30. A porter inspects your dog, checks your special instructions tag on the crate, takes him out to the loading ramp, and makes sure that you see him loaded before you get on the plane. In Philadelphia, a porter delivered him to me personally and had me inspect him before giving him to me. The insurance fee was little to pay for my peace of mind. (I don't travel with plane changes unless my wife is along. She won't get on the plane until she sees that the dog is loaded and doesn't mind making a fuss until things are right). By the way, with the Added Value insurance, my dog was brought to me before the luggage was even unloaded. "


I do not presume to advise on the pros/cons of sedatives (for you or the dogs) during travel! Please consult a qualified health professional.