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Pets: Touching NosesFlying Is For The Birds (and dogs and cats and snakes...)
Flying with pets need not mean dog days in the cockpit – if you follow our tips.
by Janice Rosenberg | Photography by Joanne Persico

Flying your own plane puts an end to a pet peeve about commercial aviation: You can travel with your pets without the inevitable hassles, costs and worries about the treatment of your four-footed or other animal friends.

Flying with pets is much like flying with small children. Careful planning and sensitivity to your pets’ needs goes a long way to ensuring a fun, safe journey.

Pets: Puppy
Pets: Puppy
If you’re not prepared, flying with pets can be a bit…well, problematic. Flight instructor Bill Moore recalls a Bonanza that landed at Hickory Regional Airport in Hickory, North Carolina, which convinced him once and for all that cat carriers should remain locked in-flight.

“The door flew open and this guy jumps out absolutely bloodied and frantic,” Moore remembers. “I ran out to the plane to find the other occupants in the same condition, multiple cuts, scratches, and lacerations. Blood all over the seats and panel. I thought someone had been murdered!

“Turns out the cat got out of the carrier and was not happy,” he continues. “The ensuing carnage took place as they were trying to contain the cat somewhere about 10 miles out.”

Even on a short flight, proper pre-departure preparation and safe in-flight techniques will keep the claws from coming out, and pets from getting under your skin — literally or otherwise. Here’s your thumbnail guide.

Pets: Loading Puppy In
Pets: Loading Puppy In
Preflighting Your Pets
Before you leave home, ask yourself two important questions. First, do you think your pet will be a good traveler? Sociable pets in good health are more likely to adjust to any new situation. Second, is your trip appropriate for a pet? A visit to friends who welcome your pet into their home is perfect. Big-city sightseeing — with the pooch stuck in the hotel or car while you tour museums — is not.

Next, do a little Internet research to find pet-friendly accommodations at your destination and in towns along your route, just in case you need to make an unscheduled stop. Call ahead to make reservations and check details. How large an animal will the hotel allow? Must the animal be in a crate when you are not in the room? Ask if the hotel offers dog runs, dog walkers or transportation to dog day-spas.

Buy an appropriate carrier or dog seatbelt if you don’t already own one, and set up the carrier in your home before your trip so your pet grows comfortable with it. Carriers for cats, rabbits, ferrets and other small critters should be small rather than oversized.

For avian passengers, small boxes suit canaries and finches; dog crates with attached food and water dishes house larger birds. To encourage sleep, cover the carrier with a dark cloth. Never let birds loose in airplanes, says Lori Corriveau, a vet at the Purdue University School of Veterinary Medicine.

Place pet snakes in a dark pillowcase inside a box on the floor of the plane, advises Richard Nye, owner of the Midwest Bird and Exotic Animal Hospital in Westchester, Ill. Wrap the box in a blanket to create a dark, sleepy atmosphere.

Pets: Companions Take your pet for a preflight physical. Update vaccinations, acquire prescriptions and ask your vet to recommend a colleague at your destination. Obtain information on bringing pets into Mexico, the Bahamas/Caribbean or Canada in the AOPA series, Cross Border Operations ($8; order at 800.872.2672).

Finally, take a test flight with a (human) friend in tow to keep an eye on your pet’s reactions and offer a few treats. Minneapolis-area pilot Lance Fisher took his six-month old kittens for preflight car rides so they’d become accustomed to motion and engine noise. Next he placed the cats in their carrier inside his 55 Barron, opened the carrier door and let them wander around while the plane was parked.
On their first flight, the cats cried a bit when the engine started, but otherwise the 400-nautical mile ride went smoothly. Next time out, on a family trip to Michigan, the cats were allowed out of the carrier when the plane reached cruising altitude. One of them got comfortable sitting on the glare shield.

“Until you have experience with animals in the plane, it’s not good to try flying with them solo,” Fisher says. “And I wouldn’t let them out of the carrier if it was just me in the plane.”

Stop feeding your pets six hours prior to takeoff, but allow them to drink water until departure.

Pets: Kitty Kennel
Pets: Kitty Kennel
If your pet suffers from anxiety or motion sickness in the car, ask your vet about tranquilizers or anti-nausea medications. You may choose not to give them the medicine preflight, but it’s a good idea to have it with you in case the pet shows signs of illness. Excessive salivation or lip licking will sometimes, but not always, precede vomiting, says Jim Miller, vet spokesperson for the American Animal Hospital Association.

“The likelihood of being able to give a cat a pill in an airplane would be dependent upon the room in the plane’s cabin, the passenger’s prowess in giving pills to their cat,” Miller says.

Bill Swartz, medical director at Clocktower Animal Hospital in Herndon, Va., prefers that pets not be tranquilized. “Without medication they can respond more quickly to temperature changes,” he says. “If it’s warm, they can pant to give off excess heat and moisture. If it’s cold, they can stay active and warmer.”

Pets’ conditions mirror that of the humans on board. If you and your passengers are cold, put a sweater on your pet. If the cabin is warm, keep towels and blankets out of the kennel to allow air to circulate more easily.

Altitude changes can affect pets’ ears. Pilots whose planes are not pressurized should stay below 12,500 feet when pets are onboard unless the animals can be supplied with oxygen.

Pets: Packing it all up “If you can tolerate the oxygen level, so can your pet,” Nye says. “But if the air is thin and the animal has anemia, or a cardiac, liver or kidney condition that you don’t know about, and they are under stress because they can’t oxygenate themselves, you could have a problem.”

Nye suggests covering the opening of an “Elizabethan” collar (a plastic collar that sticks out several inches around a dog’s head) with plastic wrap, then supplying additional oxygen through a hole in the wrap.

Instructor Bill Moore has kept ascents and descents to no more than 500 feet per minute since seeing his dog shake her head during steeper climbs.

“I assumed that meant she was having ear problems,” Moore says.

As for noise, if you can tolerate it, so can your pet. But if the noise level requires you to wear headphones, Richard J. Rossman, director of Glen Oak Dog and Cat Hospital, Glenview, Ill., recommends cotton plugs or soft earplugs to protect your pets. Rossman’s German shepherds enjoy reasonably quiet trips in his Cessna 421.

Keep your first flights with your pet short. After your pet has been airborne a few times and appears to be adjusting well, you can increase flight time to about three hours.

Happy Landings
Once you’re on the ground, let your pet stretch his legs, relieve himself and get a drink of water. Experienced pilots report that most FBOs welcome well-behaved animals on leashes into their pilot lounges. Ask before going inside, or better yet, call ahead.

  Want to share your family experiences with other aviators, chat with others on stuck mic forum.   
Before checking in at your accommodations, Robert Habgood, co-author of Pets on the Go, (Dawbert Press,Duxbury, Mass.) and contributor to, suggests you take a look around. Ask for a room near an outside entrance, or choose a tucked away cottage where you can leave your dog alone with the TV on. When you’re out of the room, use the “Do Not Disturb” sign so that cleaning personnel won’t upset your pet or vice versa.

Follow these guidelines, and you can permanently ground any guilty feelings about leaving your pet behind when you take to the skies.

Taking Care Of Business
Phoenix, Arizona
Louisville, Kentucky



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