Pup pup and away!
February 19, 2011 10:30 PM   Subscribe

I need to get from LA to OBX in May .... with my ~100 lb German Shepherd. Hive, give me your wisdom!

I will be flying from LA to OBX in May and my little boy is coming with me.

-Willing to fly out of Burbank, LAX, Ontario, or Long Beach
-Willing to fly in to Norfolk or Dulles (or Richmond if it did me any favors, but I don't think it will)
-Potential to speak with shrink and have them stamp the pup as medically necessary for my mental well-being (I am not above that and don't particularly desire advice chastising me for considering it)

-Airline must allow pets of his size in cargo
-Airline should have direct flight (for the pup's sake) or some ability for me to get at him during a layover
-Airline should have reasonably-price fare for the journey (for all involved)

-He has an airline-sanctioned crate that he is reasonably comfy in and around
-He is as healthy (mentally and physically) as it gets

Input Needed:
-Which airline should I use to fit in all those constraints? Which should I avoid?
-How does a layover with pets in cargo work? (some people are very against it and some seem unconcerned)
-When do I give him up at the airport? When does he get stuck in his crate? (at the gate? when I check luggage? is there wiggle room here?)
-Tell me your similar stories and any wisdom learned (other thread had very little to say about a bigger pup, mostly lap dogs)
-Tell me your stories about successfully or unsuccessfully doing the "comfort animal" thing (the medical necessity of the animal is unimportant here).
-What other things should I be thinking about?
posted by milqman to Travel & Transportation (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
There is an airline specifically for pets. You can't go with your dog but he will fly in the cabin:
Pet Airways.

I haven't actually used them, but I would not put my dog in cargo. Cargo is not climate-controlled. Many people have put their dogs in cargo without incident, but it seems there was a rash of horror stories about dogs and airlines at Consumerist over the last six months or so. Mainly Delta, iirc.

If you decide to go ahead with cargo, make sure the weather is as mild as possible because you never know what kind of delays the flight might encounter once he is already stowed. Your vet can likely prescribe a tranquilizer to minimize stress. Good luck with whatever you choose.
posted by Glinn at 10:52 PM on February 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

Say what you will about PETA and their agenda and tactics, they take this stuff seriously and do good research on how to best protect your dog. Take a look at this.

The one time I was forced to travel with my dog in cargo, I was advised by my vet to take an airline that no longer exists because it was their policy at the time to "check-in" dogs by having the captain sign a receipt that acknowledged that he knew there was a live animal in cargo and to take appropriate steps to make sure that the cargo area was pressurized and whatever. My vet said that while this was likely mostly a gimmick to take advantage of a rash of horror stories concerning another airline, it likely meant that they were making a real effort to attract some business from people with pets and were probably putting some emphasis on providing good service in that regard. In any case, call your vet office and ask for advice. You might also consider calling your local humane society and asking for advice -- they often act as a clearinghouse of information.

Ask the airlines for clear information about what will happen if the temperature is unacceptable at the time of your flight. I know some airlines won't put dogs in cargo if the temperature is too high. But I don't know what would happen to you in this case -- would you then have to leave your dog behind at the last minute? Find out.

Lastly, if something should go wrong -- like a delay -- you need to be willing to stick up for your dog. In today's environment with the quick "security theater" triggers, this could be tricky. Keep your temper, but be firm and unyielding and relentless (yes, they all mean basically the same thing -- you probably will also have to be repetitive).
posted by driley at 2:50 AM on February 20, 2011

Best answer: I used to work for an airline and most of them do not transport animals in the hold if the animal and crate weigh 100+. However, this is easily avoidable by letting the ticket counter agent know that you are traveling with a "comfort animal". They legally cannot ask you for any paperwork, and they cannot charge you for transporting an animal if they are needed for comfort. They can, however, deny you if the animal is not well behaved.

If the dog travels as cargo your kennel has to have an absorbent lining (blanket) and food/water dishes that are accessible through the wire screen of the kennel door. I recommended taping a zip-lock baggie of food to the top of the kennel just in case there is a delay. If food or water is needed, the airline employees are not allowed to open the kennel, they have to be able to pour it through the wire door and into the dishes.
If you are able to take your dog as cargo; you give him up at the ticket counter. The dog is then brought downstairs, into the bagwell. It is extremely noisy and there is a lot going on so if you have a dog that is prone to anxiety, I would see your vet about some doggie sedatives.
When you step onboard your plane, make sure that you tell the flight attendant that you are traveling with an animal in cargo and you need to be advised that they have been placed in the hold. Before the main aircraft door is closed they should advise you that the dog has been loaded.

I've seen (and experienced) some horror stories about dogs traveling in the hold (brachycephalic animals especially) but the majority of the time it is a flawless system. Good luck!
posted by littlemockie at 3:53 AM on February 20, 2011

However, this is easily avoidable by letting the ticket counter agent know that you are traveling with a "comfort animal". They legally cannot ask you for any paperwork, and they cannot charge you for transporting an animal if they are needed for comfort. They can, however, deny you if the animal is not well behaved.

This is unfortunately not true. Service dogs are legally required to be transported in the cabin, but a service dog must perform specific tasks to help someone with a disability.

Some airlines do allow emotional support dogs or comfort dogs to travel in the cabin, but they are not legally required to do so. The policies on this vary by airlines. Here is United Airlines' policy, for example; they allow emotional support dogs with a therapist's letter.

Here is a New York Times article that addresses emotional support dogs and service dogs and how people break the law to travel with their dogs. Please realize that if you falsely represent your dog as a service dog, you are committing fraud and helping make life harder for people with disabilities who have service dogs.

Good luck with your travels! I hope it goes well.
posted by medusa at 6:41 AM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Pet Airways is amazing.
posted by k8t at 5:17 PM on February 20, 2011

Response by poster: I looked up Pet Airways for this trip. It looks like his round trip would be $1700. I think that is going to be prohibitive.

Part 382 on this page, the part on disabilities, was really helpful. I found through a consumerist link from above (thanks Glinn!) It lays out the actual laws that the airlines need to follow (a step better than airline policies).

I have the firm, unyielding, and relentless thing down to a science, so that should help me whatever I decide to do.

I don't have a NYT account so I cannot read Medusa's article.

I was hoping for more positive stories on doing this the legit, albeit slightly more expensive, way. It really looks like I am being incentivized and forced into doing the "wrong" thing here. The dog is mellow, I will be prepared, and this will hopefully be event-free.

The same kind of thing always happens when I travel with a handgun. I invariably know more about the policy than the person across the desk from me.
posted by milqman at 6:27 PM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

The cargo hold is pressurized and temperature controlled. The horror stories (especially with the brachycephalic dogs) occurred when planes were delayed on the tarmac for extended periods and the hold temperatures rose to the upper 80s. Luckily, now that it is illegal for a plane to sit on the tarmac for more than 3 hours, much of the danger is circumvented.

I recommend calling all airlines and getting their policy specific answers to all your questions.

You may find a direct flight from the LAX area to RDU as well.

I can't link to this, so I will copy and paste the following Flight Attendant guidelines on service animals from a major legacy carrier. Give you a little perspective on the inflight rules.

Service Animals

Service animals assist a person with a disability or provide emotional support. ‰

Common terms used for service animals or the function(s) they perform
include: assistance animals, hearing, seeing eye dog, signal animal, seizure
alert, psychiatric service, emotional support, and comfort animal.
Customers are not limited to one service animal. ‰

The airport sales agent is responsible for ensuring the animal meets ‰
federal guidelines and for reviewing customer’s documentation. The
agent will notify flight attendant A of the presence of a customer with a
service animal.

Service animals may accompany a customer with a disability in any seat in ‰
Seating Criteria, this section), unless which the customer is seated, (refer to
r area that must remain unobstructed in the animal(s) obstructs an aisle or othe
order to facilitate an emergency evacuation or to comply with FAA
regulations. The animal(s) must fit within the seat/floor area belonging to the
customer with the disability (e.g., lap, under the seat in front of them, floor
area), and cannot protrude into the main aisle.

Service animals are not considered part of the customer’s carry-on baggage ‰
and are not required to have a kennel.

If the animal(s) is in a carry-on kennel, the kennel must be placed under the ‰
seat in front of the customer, and the customer may not be seated in a
bulkhead row due to carry-on baggage restrictions.

Customers with service animals may not sit in an exit row. ‰

Small service animals may be used to assist a customer with a hidden ‰
disability and may be held during all phases of flight.

Dogs trained to assist customers who are mobility, visually, or hearing ‰
impaired will remain at the customer’s feet. At the owner’s discretion,
harnesses may be removed during flight.

Service animals should not be approached or touched without the consent of ‰
the owner. Flight attendants are not required to provide care, food or special
facilities for the animal.

Service animals are trained to behave properly in public settings, including ‰
issues surrounding bodily waste, and should not engage in disruptive
behavior (e.g., barking, growling, biting).

Any type of rodent, reptile, snake, spider, or ferret will not be accepted in the ‰
cabin of the aircraft.

In the event of an emergency, service animals should remain with their ‰

If there is a problem between customers related to the service animal(s), ‰
make every effort to resolve the issue by reseating the complaining
customer (if possible). If a problem occurs at the gate, contact the CRO
for assistance. If airborne, notify the captain and request a CRO meet
the flight.
posted by Bunsen Betty at 10:08 AM on February 21, 2011

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