Flying With an In-Cabin Pet for Dummies (Like Me)

i had to bring my dog with me on this business trip because unlike every other time, no one would be at home to watch her while i’m gone for three weeks. (luckily the main office is very dog-friendly.) i expected there to be a lot more hassle — both with the airline and my dog, but nope! i’ve really never noticed anyone ever bringing a pet on a flight before, but i guess i wasn’t paying attention; there was someone else on today’s flight with an in-cabin pet carrier as well, so it must happen on quite a regular basis.

Aubrey on the SFO AirTrain

i will, instead of writing some big dramatic blog post (since there was no drama), just offer some “heads-up” tips for n00bs like me:

  • of course, first check your airline’s policies. some may only allow certain types of pets, certain sizes of carrier, pets only in the cargo hold, pets only as cargo but not necessarily on the same flight as you, etc.
  • for an in-cabin pet, make sure it can lie down in the carrier and turn around. i’m no pet expert, but i’d think for their sake, make sure they can at least get comfy enough to sleep. i was a bit worried because aubrey is tall, but i tested the carrier out at home before we left and made sure she could turn around with it closed and lie down without (visible?) discomfort. i got this sherpa large carrier, and even though it says 20″ long (which is above united’s 18″ limit) i decided to take a chance because one of the reviewers said it really was 18″, and it was. also, i’ve heard of people giving their pets benadryl or dramamine to make them drowsy and prevent motion-sickness, but i didn’t have to. to me, that’s definitely something worth checking with your vet about if you think your pet will need either.
  • call the airline and pay the in-cabin fee, or do it online if you can. if they give you a confirmation number for the pet, take it down and bring it with you to the airport. for some reason the agent i spoke to on the phone created a whole new reservation for her, and it wasn’t linked to my reservation, so they weren’t able to see that i had paid for her until i offered up her confirmation number. side note: united at SFO had some extra people from pre-merger continental (in my case, someone from CLE) to assist with navigating their new (new-to-united) passenger service system. “type slash slash E D D S E A, go up to the second O and put an X, then OK enter.” O_o i don’t blame them for requiring assistance if it’s something so inscrutable! (at least to me)
  • by the way, if you have a cute pet (err, a pet that other people would consider cute, heh), expect lots of attention, from gate agents to other passengers to rental car shuttle drivers to…
  • if your pet is traveling in cargo, you will need to accompany it (and the crate) to the TSA baggage screening, but since aubrey was going with me in the cabin, they just counted the crate as a piece of luggage (aka “NO KENNEL”, the baggage guy told the agent to write on the tag) and off i went to the gate.
  • speaking of security, if you have an in-cabin pet, you carry the pet through the metal detector (no pornoscanner, so i can’t comment on what happens with those) while the empty carrier goes through the x-ray machine. they then swabbed my palms for explosives, i guess thinking that people might fill an animal up with something that can go boom, and then detonate said animal in the sky? ugh, what a terrible thought! on the bright side, one of the agents called aubrey “100% cute!”

Under the seat in front of me

  • research the pet relief areas at all the airports you will be at. more than likely they will be outside security, so if you need to change planes, be sure your connection time(s) allow for leaving the secure area and going back through security. at PHL today i had to ask four people where the pet relief area was, working up a sweat walking all over terminals C and D. i indeed had looked up the locations before i left, but i stopped and asked someone and she didn’t know of the area i had in mind, thus starting me on the wild goose chase. (p.s. the pet relief area i went to at PHL is next to the communications center, which is on the check-in side (not the side with the baggage carousels) between terminals C and D, and even though they give you poopie bags, clearly no one uses them…ugh.)

and that’s about it. good luck and happy travels with your in-cabin pet! i don’t expect any drama on the return flight, but if i encounter any, you’ll hear about it!

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