How to travel by plane with your chihuahua

Tips and Tricks // November 2018
Chihuahua Pablo inside a cardboard airplane

One of the best things I discovered after a chihuahua came into my life was that he can travel with me by plane. Well… all dogs can travel by plane (in the cargo), but a chihuahua (the smallest dog breed) can travel in the cabin next to its owner. Isn’t that awesome?

Pablo’s was 11 months when he first traveled by plane. He traveled from Lisbon to São Miguel (Azores). As we stopped at Terceira Island, the trip lasted around 4 hours. It was a close destination; within the same country and language. It was a good test to know Pablo’s behavior inside an airplane and for me to learn how to do it in a relaxed and safe way.

Everything went perfect! It was a happy experience that we want to share and repeat.

If you’re thinking about taking your dog with you on vacation, the best advice I can give to you is to prepare everything in advance and make plans considering that you will have him by your side and that his routines should be maintained, such as food, play and walks. Although the flight is a boring moment for being packed into a carrier for a few hours, remember that the rest of the time he can be with the most important person of his life: the owner. Do not we all like to spend our vacation in good company?

Decision made, there is a lot to think about. At least the first time you do it.

1. Plan everything in advance

I planned the travel with five months in advance. As I didn’t know what it would be needed, it was time enough to search a hotel that would allow Pablo to stay in the room; an airline that would allow traveling with the dog in the cabin; to buy a comfortable dog carrier; deal with veterinary matters and make a list of what I’ll would need to take with me.

2. Buy the flight tickets

I prefer to buy my dog’s flight ticket as soon as possible because it is the most annoying part of the travel planning. You’ll need to check with the airline if they allow to travel with dogs in the cabin and what is the weight limit to enter. I flew with TAP and Sata (portuguese airlines). Both don’t allow to buy the dog tickets online. After buying my ticket through the site, I had to go to a TAP information desk to buy Pablo’s ticket (round trip with Sata included). Do not wait too long because there may not be the availability for dog ticket later. The price also varies from company to company. TAP charges 35€ for each flight and Sata charges 4€ for each dog kg, but as I bought the ticket through TAP (Sata was only part of the route) I paid 70€ for all (round trip).

Another very important thing before buying the tickets is to check the dog’s weight limit for traveling in the cabin. In the case of TAP the limit is 8kg in total (dog + carrier). You need to check your dog weight and get a carrier that does not exceed the weight limit with your dog inside.

3. Choose an accommodation that allows the dog to stay in the room

The choice of accommodation is very important. In my experience it went very well. I found Quinta de Santana in São Miguel, where he could stay with me in the room. In addition, the surrounding spaces were beautiful gardens to make our little walks freely. It was also a quiet and safe place to leave him alone while I was visiting places where his entrance was not allowed.

4. Buy a comfortable Dog Carrier

The carrier also obeys to some rules. They cannot exceed certain dimensions. It is necessary to check on the airline website (or through an information desk) the maximum size and type of carrier allowed in the cabin. TAP requires that carrier’s size don’t exceed 40cm x 33cm x 17cm (length x width x height) and must be made of flexible material and able to retain liquids from the dog.

I bought a carrier through Amazon with dimensions within limits and approved for most airlines. There is a detail that I found quite interesting: it has extra space provided for long rides on planes. If you don’t know which one to choose this was a good option for my dog.

5. Canine Traveler’s Consultation

Once booked the accommodation, purchased tickets and chosen carrier, is time for the dog’s traveler consultation. It is important to take your dog to the veterinarian in advance so they can inform you about any necessary vaccines or medicines as well as if the country you are going to needs the dog to quarantine upon entering and / or leaving the country. In addition to this information, the veterinarian will have to check whether your dog is healthy for a flight and in some situations will have to write a letter with a report confirming the animal’s health. If you leave the country you will also need to take your dog’s passport. This document is signed by the clinic director and in my case had a cost of 15€. It is a document for life. If you do not know how your dog will react when it is closed for a long time in an airplane, talk to your veterinarian about Vetranquil. It is a pill that will not leave your dog to sleep, but he will be calm.

6. Prepare the dog for the plane flight

After all these “mandatory” tasks, it is time to prepare the dog for the flight in advance.

a) The dog carrier

I introduced the carrier to Pablo one month before the trip. We started by putting the carrier in the middle of the room for Pablo to inspect it without stress and with his rhythm. By this way he was allowed to recognize the object and smell it as often as necessary until he felt comfortable. Then I put hidden biscuits inside the carrier. As Pablo is very greedy and curious he quickly got into the carrier to look for his so delicious snack.

For a few days I turned the carrier on his new bed and whenever he wanted to rest and sleep he began to look for the carrier to do so. Perfect! After that we went on our first car trip that was already without dramas and went perfectly. At this time, we had our first phase of preparation completed with success!

Watch the video we made with Pablo when he saw the carrier for the first time.

b) The sleeping pill

When we did our Traveler Consultation with Pablo’s vets I was advised to take one day to stay with him at home and test Vetranquil’s recommended dose for the flight (to Pablo is only 1/4 pill). It went well… after 1 hour, he peed on the couch. Suggestion: before taking the test with your friend, take him for a walk (good tip!). Forgetting the pee, everything went just fine. Pablo slept a quiet nap and after a few hours everything was normal.
See below the video of Pablo that shows his reaction to Vetranquil at home.

7. Pack your bags

It’s finally time to pack for adventure. Don’t forget that you are taking your dog with you. Include all the items that are important to him. I share with you my Pablo’s travel list, so I never forget anything: flight ticket; dog carrier; vaccination and passport bulletin; doctor’s letter; Vetranquil pills; diaper to use in the carrier during the flight; blanket; two Pablo’s favorite toys; two travel bowls for food and water (of those that fold and easily pack in backpacks); dog food; a bone for moments of relaxation; leash; car leash (if renting a car); harness; sweater (in case is cold) and snacks for the rewards.

8. Time to fly

Finally the day arrives for which we have prepared ourselves in the last months. We traveled early in the morning so we woke up very early so Pablo could do his first walk. Then we headed to the airport. When we entered the airport, Pablo went calmly inside the carrier. Pablo made the check-in on my lap. Do not leave your dog inside the carrier on the carpet during check-in (no need for this). Take him with you. Then, in the waiting room, Pablo took another little walk on the leash and when we were about half an hour to board, he took his miracle pill for a stress-free flight. And so it was. Probably Pablo will not need to take Vetranquil again during the next flight, because he behaved beautifully, but just in case, I’ll always take an emergency pill with me. During the flight, Pablo traveled inside the carrier at my feet. Safe and quiet.

After we landed in São Miguel, Pablo with his little paws on the ground was ready for adventure. Check in this article how much fun we had in Azores: Pablo, the chihuahua that discovered Azores.

Useful links:

TAP: Travelling with animals
Sata: Travelling with pets

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