Pet-friendly travel has never been more in demand. If you’re a loving pet parent who’s planning a trip or relocating, no doubt you’re looking for ways to bring your dog with you. But while flying has never been easier or more routine for us humans, the same is unfortunately not yet true for dogs, especially in the UK. With strict government regulations and airline policies, it’s still a big deal to book your dog onto a flight, and can be very costly too. There’s also the health and well-being of your furry companion to consider.
Okay, so flying with your dog in the UK isn’t exactly a walk in the park – but what if you have no choice? If you’ve ruled out other modes of transport and absolutely need to fly with your furry friend, it’s certainly not impossible. While still not entirely straightforward, there have never been more options available for flying with your pet in the UK, with more popping up every year to meet the growing demand. Our guide to flying with a dog will help you adequately plan and prepare, to make your pup’s flight as safe and comfortable as possible.
Understanding Airline Dog Policies
Whether you’re flying domestic or booking an international flight to enter the UK, there are strict rules about whether and how your dog can fly. Airlines must abide by government regulations that ban dogs from cabin areas within the UK and stipulate that they can only fly as cargo in the airplane’s hold. Within this broad restriction, each airline has its own set of rules that you’ll need to get familiar with before you book.
You may have an easier time flying out of the UK with your pooch, depending on your destination. Some international airlines, like Lufthansa, TUI and KLM, have more lenient policies that allow small dogs to fly in-cabin or as checked baggage. Just keep in mind that you’ll need to make alternative arrangements if you’re planning on returning to the UK with your pooch.
If you’re travelling with a service animal, such as a guide dog, government pet regulations won’t apply to you. Your dog will be permitted to fly free of charge – just be sure to check with your chosen carrier before booking to ensure you can meet any airline-specific requirements.
Booking and Preparing for the Flight
It’s vital to do your research before booking a flight for your pooch. You’ll need to find an airline that’s able to accommodate your pet, and then make sure you’re able to comply with their requirements. Not all airlines are equal when it comes to dog-friendly protocol, so it pays to shop around to find the best fit for your pup. Be sure to organise your pup’s booking at the same time as your own, to avoid disappointment down the track if it turns out the airline is not able to take both of you.
If you’re travelling internationally, end-to-end services like Fetchapet and PetRelocation exist to take the hassle out of the research and booking process. It can be difficult to navigate all the regulatory requirements and keep track of the restrictions and rules you need to be aware of when travelling overseas, so these expert services can offer a great deal of peace of mind. Some services will even supply a specially designed travel crate for your pet’s comfort during the journey – though of course, you do pay for their expertise! Expect a one-way trip to cost up to a few thousand pounds, depending on your destination and chosen airline.
Which UK Airlines Allow Dogs in Cabins?
Due to government regulations in the UK, dogs are not allowed in cabins on flights entering or within the UK. Instead, your dog will need to fly in the hold, as cargo. The UK government keeps an updated list of pet-friendly airlines that will transport your pet, and you can also check the policy of your preferred airline online.
If you have a guide or assistance dog, the rules are a little different. Airlines in the UK are required to welcome your assistance dog to fly free of charge in the cabin with you. Note that you’ll need to provide evidence that your dog is accredited by a member organisation of either Assistance Dogs International or the International Guide Dog Federation. If you’re entering from abroad, you’ll also need to meet all the regular requirements for animals entering the UK.
Which International Airlines Allow Dogs in Cabins?
While government regulations prohibit dogs in cabins on international flights entering the UK, it’s a different story for departing flights. Many international airlines, including KLM, Lufthansa and TUI, allow dogs in cabins. Guidelines vary between airlines, but in-cabin travel is usually restricted to small dogs. You’ll of course need to make alternative arrangements if you plan to return to the UK.
Can I Buy My Dog a Seat on a Plane?
If you’re planning to travel on a commercial flight within or into the UK, you won’t be able to buy your dog a seat on the plane. UK regulations require all animals to travel “as cargo”, rather than in the cabin or as checked baggage.
As we’ve mentioned, the government’s rules are different for recognised assistance dogs, which airlines in the UK are required to allow to travel free of charge. They will usually be provided floor space next to your seat at the front of the cabin, rather than a seat of their own.
For international flights out of the UK, it’s a similar story. While many airlines, such as TUI and Lufthansa, do allow small dogs to travel in the cabin, you’ll need to pay an additional carry-on baggage fee rather than purchasing an additional seat to secure their journey.
If cost is not an issue for you, there are alternative options that provide a bit more space for you and your pooch. To meet the demands of pet-loving jet setters, companies like K9 Jets are stepping in to provide chartered flights for dogs and their parents to travel in and out of the UK in comfort. These privately chartered flights are exempt from government restrictions on dogs travelling into the UK in commercial airplane cabins. Travelling with your dog in the cabin can be safer and more comfortable for large breeds and flat-nosed breeds, but it does, of course, come at a cost – expect to pay in the order of thousands or even tens of thousands of pounds per flight.
Seating Arrangements and Lap Travel
Since UK regulations prohibit dogs from travelling with you in the cabin of your flight, you won’t be able to book a seat for your dog or travel with them on your lap. The exemption to this is, of course, recognised assistance dogs – they’re allowed to fly with you free of charge and will be provided floor space beside or in front of your seat.
If you’re travelling out of the UK with an airline that allows your dog to travel in the cabin with you, you’ll usually be required to keep them secured in their approved carrier, stored under the seat in front of you, for the duration of the journey. Some airlines may have more lenient rules that allow you to cuddle your pet outside of take-off and landing – be sure to check with your chosen carrier to confirm.
Essentials for Flying with Dogs
Just as you need to think carefully about packing your own luggage before you fly, you also need to prepare the right essentials for your dog before taking them on a flight. Aside from the obvious bits and bobs they’ll need once you reach your destination – things like food, medication and bedding – you also need to pack the things they’ll need for the journey itself, and ensure they are easily accessible during the flight.
The documentation you need to bring with your dog depends on your departure and arrival points. If you’re travelling into the UK from overseas, check the government guidelines to find out what documentation you’ll require, depending on whether you’re travelling from a part 1, part 2 or not listed country.
For travel out of the UK, you’ll need to meet the documentation requirements of your destination country. This is where relocation services like Fetchapet and PetRelocation can be very helpful, to ensure you’re not missing anything important before your flight.
If you’ll be sending your dog off in the cargo hold of a plane, be sure to attach their identifying documents to their carrier so that handlers know who they are. You should always check for any specific requirements from your chosen airplane provider; most have detailed guidelines online.
The most important accessory you’ll need to organise ahead of your flight is an airline-approved carrier for your pooch. Whether your dog will be flying with you in the cabin, as checked baggage or as cargo, they will need to fly in an appropriate travel crate or kennel. While many retailers advertise their carriers as ‘airline approved’, each airline has its own measurement and weight stipulations, so you’ll need to confirm that your crate is compliant with your chosen airline. Aim to give your pooch as much space as possible within airline restrictions, especially for longer journeys. If you’re using a relocation service like Fetchapet, they may supply an approved crate as part of your package.
A proper water bowl that attaches securely to your dog’s crate is another non-negotiable if your dog will be travelling away from you as cargo or luggage. You can buy attachable bowls online, or have a go at this DIY solution. Many people recommend attaching two water containers to your dog’s carrier, and freezing one ahead of time to ensure adequate water is available throughout their journey. Of course, if you’ll be travelling with your dog in the cabin, you’ll be fine with a collapsible or small refillable container, since you can keep an eye on your pup’s hydration levels and top them up as needed.
Aside from these travel essentials, you’ll of course need to pack all your regular doggie accessories for your destination. Don’t forget to pop your dog’s harness, lead, favourite toys and bedding, food bowl and any other creature comforts they enjoy at home in your carry-on luggage, so they can enjoy some familiarity once you reach your destination!
How Stressful is Flying with a Dog?
Many loving dog parents worry about their dog’s stress levels when flying, and their worries are not entirely unfounded. You do occasionally come across horror stories about dogs becoming very distressed on board flights, and depending on your dog’s temperament, health status and breed, this level of stress can pose a serious health risk. In-flight stress is particularly risky for brachycephalic breeds, AKA flat-faced or snub-nosed breeds, like pugs, who are more prone to life-threatening breathing difficulties in the changed air pressure of the aeroplane.
Flying with your dog in the cabin with you can help to alleviate stress for both you and your dog, as you’ll be able to respond to their needs and any stress-induced behavioural concerns before they escalate to a health risk. As we’ve discussed, however, most UK airlines don’t allow passengers to bring their pets into the cabin with them, and even abroad there are limited in-cabin options for larger dogs. Depending on your budget and dog’s needs, a private chartered service like K9 Jets may be an appropriate workaround.
If you’ve never flown with your pet before and you’re unsure how they will handle the trip, you should consult your vet ahead of time. They’ll be able to assess your dog’s risk level and advise the safest way for your pooch to travel.
Lastly, it’s worth mentioning the human stress that can come along with flying with your dog! Travel can be a lot to manage at the best of times, but having your furry friend in tow adds another layer of complexity and responsibility. The best way to alleviate your own stress and worry is to make sure you’re turning up to the airport fully prepared for the trip. If you do your research ahead of time you won’t be second-guessing on the day of the flight, and you can focus on making your dog’s journey as calm and smooth as possible. Leave plenty of time to get to the airport so you’re not rushing, and consider packing light so you can focus your time and energy on assisting your pup.
In-Flight Tips and Considerations When Flying With a Dog
Whether they’re flying with you in the cabin, as baggage or as cargo, flying is likely to be a stressful and anxiety-inducing time for your dog. There are steps you can take to ensure your dog’s safety and comfort during the flight.
If you’re lucky enough to be able to travel with your dog in the cabin, you’ll be able to keep a close eye on them and assist them with managing any in-flight nerves. As a stressful and new experience, flying can increase the likelihood of anxious behaviours in even the most placid, well-behaved dogs.
The best way to alleviate in-flight nerves is to ensure your dog is properly carrier-trained ahead of time. In the weeks leading up to your flight, give your pup time to adjust to their travel bag or crate, letting them explore it in their own time until they feel relaxed and at home in the space. You can create positive associations with plenty of treats and favourite toys, and try using a pheromone spray.
Check with your airline to see whether you’re allowed to take your dog out of their carrier during the flight. It goes without saying that you should always follow your airline’s protocols – usually, the rules are in place for good reason!
Hydration and Nutrition
The stress and uncertainty of flying can lead to an upset tummy for some dogs. To keep them as comfortable as possible, it’s recommended that you feed them a small meal around 4 hours before leaving home, to give the food time to settle and digest. You don’t want your pup to be hungry, but it’s also not a good idea to feed them anything too heavy that might leave them feeling unwell in the air.
If your dog is flying as cargo, there usually won’t be an opportunity for them to eat in-flight. However, some airlines do request that you tape a plastic bag of their food to the outside of their carrier in case of emergencies. You should check with your chosen airline to see if this is required.
Hydration is vital for your pup during the flight, especially if it’s a longer journey. You don’t want to give them an uncomfortably full bladder by overwatering them, but you should ensure they’re drinking adequate amounts pre-flight. You should ensure they have a full water bowl to travel with. If they’re travelling away from you as cargo, make sure an attendant will be able to top up their water bowl if needed. Many people recommend attaching an additional bowl of frozen water to the inside of your dog’s crate, which can slowly defrost during the journey to provide additional hydration.
After the flight, your dog might be feeling a little unwell, and they could also be quite hungry and thirsty. Make sure you’ve packed the food they’re used to eating at home and encourage them to eat and drink small amounts to allow them to gradually rehydrate and refuel. Eating or drinking too much too quickly after a period of fasting can be fatal for dogs.
You should always speak to your vet about meeting your dog’s in-flight hydration and nutritional needs, especially if your dog has any kind of health condition or is an at-risk snub-nosed breed.
Addressing Anxiety and Stress
Managing your dog’s stress is vital, not only for their comfort but also for their safety. While you may be tempted to turn to medication to manage your dog’s in-flight anxiety, sedating or tranquilising dogs on flights is not recommended. In fact, it can be very dangerous, since it can heighten the risk of respiratory and cardiovascular complications in the changed air pressure of the airplane. Many airlines actually prohibit the use of pet sedatives due to these risks.
Pheromone sprays can be a safe, gentle alternative to sedatives. These can be sprayed on your dog’s bedding and carrier in the lead-up to the flight, helping them to feel calmer, naturally. Making sure your dog’s crate is large enough for them to move around (within your airline’s size restrictions) and giving your dog proper crate training ahead of the flight will also go a long way towards ensuring their in-flight well-being.
Regardless of whether your dog has travelled before or not, you should always consult your vet before flying. They will be able to give you specific health and behavioural advice to suit your dog’s unique needs. In some cases, such as for snub-nosed breeds and dogs with pre-existing health conditions, in-flight stress can be particularly dangerous, and even deadly. Speak to your vet about the best options for keeping them calm and safe.
Dealing with Motion Sickness
We’ve all been there on a plane trip – whether it’s the anxiety, the confined environment or the turbulence, sometimes the nausea sets in and just won’t let up. For pups who are unfamiliar with air travel, the risk of motion sickness is even higher. The best thing you can do is keep your dog as calm and comfortable as possible, with basics like ensuring they are properly crate trained, giving them access to plenty of water and not overfeeding them before the journey.
You can also speak to your vet about appropriate anti-nausea medications available. These are often recommended for snub-nosed breeds, which are more at risk of aspiration. Keep in mind that you should never give your dog a new medication for the first time and then leave them unattended since you don’t know how they might respond. So, be sure to talk to your vet well in advance of your travel date, especially if your dog will be flying away from you in the hold.
How Much Does It Cost to Take a Dog on a Plane?
The cost of flying with your dog varies widely, depending on your airline and travel route. For commercial international flights, expect to pay upwards of £1000. If you’re opting to fly with a private charter plane service like K9 Jets to avoid the UK ban on cabin travel, expect to pay in the order of tens of thousands of pounds.
Are There Restrictions on Flying With Certain Dog Breeds?
Yes, many airlines have breed-specific restrictions that you need to keep in mind when planning to fly with your dog. Most airlines restrict snub-nosed breeds, such as pugs, due to their vulnerability to breathing difficulties, especially when flying alone in the hold. Many airlines also specify weight limits, and some have outright bans on breeds deemed to be dangerous.
Since every airline has a different policy as to which dog breeds can fly, and how, it’s important to check with your preferred airline before booking your flights. Lufthansa, for example, requires “fighting dogs” and snub-nosed breeds to meet a list of additional requirements before they can fly. KLM specifies that it will carry snub-nosed breeds either as cargo or in the cabin, but not in the hold.
Can Emotional Support Dogs Fly in the Cabin?
Unfortunately, emotional support animals are not permitted to fly in the cabin on commercial flights in the UK. While guide and assistance dogs are exempt from UK regulations banning pet dogs in cabins, emotional support animals are currently not recognised as belonging in this category by the government, so they’re under the same rules as regular dogs.
This policy could change in the future, with many people who rely on their emotional support dogs petitioning the UK government to adopt more lenient rules, like those in place across the US.
How Can I Ensure My Dog is Comfortable During a Long Flight?
Making sure your dog is comfortable during a long-haul flight is all about planning and preparation. First things first, you want to make sure your dog is happy and comfortable in the crate, kennel or carrier they’ll be travelling in. Help them to feel safe and at home by properly crate-training them well in advance of your journey. Introduce them to their travel crate in the weeks prior to their journey and let them adjust to it in their own time. You could also consider spraying your dog’s carrier and bedding with pheromones to encourage calm and relaxation.
On the day of travel, take your dog on a pre-flight walk to get their jitters out. Follow our advice for hydration and nutrition above, ensuring they’ve been fed around four hours before leaving home to give them time to digest, and giving them adequate but not excessive water. You want them to be nourished and hydrated, but not so full of food or water that they’ll be uncomfortable or nauseous during the flight. Putting food in your dog’s carrier is not advised, but you must ensure they have adequate water for the duration of the trip.
Once again, it’s important to talk to your vet about your dog’s flight ahead of their journey. Every dog has different needs and will respond to the unfamiliar sights, sounds, smells and sensations of air travel differently. Flying can be overwhelming and even dangerous for some dogs, so ensuring their comfort is non-negotiable.
Your dog is part of your family, so while flying with your pooch in tow can be challenging, there may be times when it’s just unavoidable. Even though British regulations don’t always make it easy to fly with your dog, it’s never been more achievable than it is today. With some careful planning and enough pre-flight research, you can make your dog’s trip as safe and comfortable as possible. Soon enough, the hard part will be over, and you and your furry friend will be enjoying your destination in no time!