Successfully navigating the airport is a big part of flying with your pet. It will start your trip off right and reduce the stress you and your pet experience. If you’ve never flown with your pet before, we encourage you to read this step-by-step guide for airport pet travel and policies on having dogs in airports. This airport travel guide is in addition to other resources for Making an Airline Reservation and Preparing Your Pet and Carrier for Air Travel.
If you’ve traveled with a pet before, you may already have some sense of what to expect. But this doesn’t mean you’ve memorized every airline policy and the location of the pet relief areas in every airport you’ll be traveling through. Not to worry, our airport directory has the maps and information you’re looking for.
Pet Travel Airport Directory
Step-by-Step Guide for Dogs in Airports & Other Pet Travel
- Double-Check the Carrier and Give Your Pet Food and Playtime. If it’s not already in the carrier, place an absorbent pad or liner in the bottom of the carrier. Make sure you have food and water bowls. Bring extra food in case of delays. Consider throwing in a freshly dirty piece of laundry so the pet can travel with your smell. The USDA requires that animals are offered food and water within 4 hours of flying, but avoid giving them a full meal right before flying. A full stomach isn’t going to do them any favors, especially while confined to their travel crate. We usually give our dog a small meal at home right at 4 hours before flying, then a few treats and water after getting through security. Leave enough room in your schedule to give your dog a good-sized walk or play session before leaving for the airport. This will help reduce any nervous energy the dog may experience while traveling.
- Arrive Early—But Not Too Early—and Have a Plan. Typically, you want to arrive a little earlier for your flight than you would otherwise, but not too early. Even when traveling with a pet, airlines still won’t allow you to check-in more than 4 hours in advance. We recommend arriving approximately 2 hours before your flight. Having a dog in the airport–a new environment to him/her–is just going to intensify the experience of flying on a plane. Try to limit this to the extent possible. After all, who wants to sit in a airport any longer than they should? Have a tentative plan for giving your pet one last chance out of its carrier. Is it convenient and sufficient to visit an outdoor park outside the terminal? Will your pet do better being let out of its carrier closer to flight time at one of the indoor pet relief areas? Even if you don’t have clear-cut answers, come up with a tentative plan, but be ready to modify it. You’ll want to know where to go if you find out your flight is delayed upon reaching the airport or only after getting through security.
- Check-In with the Airline. No matter if you checked in online, you will need to visit the airline counter to confirm you’re traveling with a pet. Have your travel documentation ready when checking in. The airline should already know about your pet from the reservation, but you will want to double-check that your seat assignment includes room for your pet under the seat in front of you. You’ll want to check your gate assignment and locate the nearest pet relief area. If there’s no pet relief area near your gate, you may want to make sure you visit the relief area outside the terminal before proceeding through security.
- Know the Rules of Dogs in Airports & Relief Areas. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) generally requires that dogs in airports stay in their carriers. There are two exceptions to this rule. First, you’ll be asked to hold the pet as you walk through the metal detector. The pet carrier will go through the X-ray machine. The other exception is designated pet relief areas, where you can take the pet out of its crate, let it move around, and relieve itself. These pet relief areas may be the size of a small cubicle, or they can be full-fledged areas that rival human restrooms and small dog parks. Take advantage of the opportunity to board early. This should give you the opportunity to get you, your pet, and your luggage situated. You don’t want the pet to get jarred in his or her carrier right before the flight by careless passengers trying to hoist their own carry-on luggage into place.
- Have a Plan for Arriving with Your Dog at the Airport. Know where the pet relief areas are located at your destination airport, too. Your dog may be antsy upon arrival and ready to do its business or stretch its legs sooner rather than later. Make sure your transportation plan is pet-friendly. Taxi drivers may refuse to give your pet a ride, so be sure to tell the taxi stand that you need a pet-friendly cab. The same goes for Uber and Lyft. Make sure to include a note in the ride request that you’ll be traveling with a pet. If someone is picking you up, be sure to have a reliable plan in place for coordinating the pickup. Have them monitor the flight status from the ground, and have a cell phone ready to communicate the final details. If you’re planning on meeting your dog at the airport, know where the excess baggage claim or other designated area is for picking up your pet.