Traveling with a dog on a plane can be easy – if you have the funds to do so. Just look up for a pet transportation service, contact them, employ their services and fork out the money. Easy. However, if you’re looking to save some money by not going through a third-party service (trust me, they aren’t cheap – I inquired at least five different companies before deciding to do it on my own) – be prepared to spend a lot of time looking up information, making calls and sending emails.
Note – this isn’t a guide, but a description of the process I had to go through to bring Snuggles to America. It may not be the most efficient or best way to do things but it’s what I did. It worked, which is what matters, right?
My plan was to bring a dog (schnauzer-poodle), from Malaysia to the United States. If you have other pets you’re thinking about traveling with, this post may or may not be useful.
Your pet needs to be healthy, so make sure he/she has been vaccinated, vaccinated for rabies, dewormed, and all the other necessary stuff.
Your dog also can’t have a snub-nose, if not it won’t be allowed on the plane (it’s not because they don’t like them – it’s for the safety of the pet). Apparently, snub-nosed dogs have trouble breathing up in the air.
Get your dog measured (height, length, width) and weighed – you’ll need the details to make sure you can purchase a suitable cage, and for booking purposes. Speaking of cages – you have to make sure that they are flight-safe (they are stronger, have proper ventilation, locks, etc). If you have a tiny pet, you can save a bit of money for flying the pet since some flights allow you to bring the cages as carry-on, which should be cheaper than taking up baggage/cargo space.
Your dog will also need to be micro-chipped to get into the US – I believe it is a requirement for most countries (you’ll have to check).
You’ll also need to get the documents for your pet prepared. There’s no manual for this – the documents will vary from country to country, but essentially they want documents certifying the health of the pet. This step will require you to get in touch with the countries and/or airlines that your pet will be flying on. Fortunately, most airlines have all the answers you need on their websites. If they don’t, you’ll need to call or email them for the specifics. I know a lot of them just say “proper documents”, as though we know what that means. My best tip here is to get in touch with a vet who has had experience doing this before. The vet should help you sort out the necessary documents for your pet’s health. My vet was a great help here as he had done it in the past, so he was familiar with the procedures that I had to go through.
Once you’ve got all the above settled, the next step is the hardest part (IMO) – figuring out which damn airline to fly. This step could have been easier if I had an unlimited budget, but since I didn’t, I was making most of my decisions based on costs and the number of stops. Every airline has different rules about pets. Some allow pets as carry on, some as cargo only – I was looking for airlines that allowed pets to be brought on as excess baggage (cheaper than shipping as cargo). This is important because if you don’t have a direct flight to your destination, you have to take into account the rules of the airlines/countries you’ll be transiting to. Just because your initial flight can take your pet, it doesn’t mean that the connecting flights will.
For example, I found a reasonably priced flight from KL to AUS via KLM and Delta. KLM would have no issues bringing my pet, but Delta has a rule of pets as carry-on only. Since my dog’s cage was too big to fit under the seat, I couldn’t bring her as carry-on which meant I had to look for an alternative flight. The more airlines you travel with, the more rules you’ll have to look up – which is why I tried to get a flight with as little transits as possible.
Layovers in a country also might require documents even though that city/country isn’t your final destination. You’ll need to be prepared for all these things. Another thing you’ll have to worry about is that while an airline might take pets, not all of their planes and not all airports do. So there’s an extra thing to worry about.
So in short, you’ll need to keep in mind:
Does the airline allow flying with pets, if yes – as carry on, checked baggage or cargo?
Does the airplane allow it? (you’ll need to provide the size and weight of your cage + pet here)
Does the airport allow pet transfers?
If yes, what documents or procedures are required to be completed?
I flew Snuggles from KL to Austin via the following route/airlines:
KUL to NRT via JAL
NRT to LAX via JAL
LAX to AUS via AA
For costs, there are no guidelines to how much extra this will cost – it varies from airline to airline, but based on what I know, they will charge you according to the weight of the cage + dog, and some extra charge for them being animals (because they can). If you have extended layovers, some airports will charge you extra for taking care of your pet at their pet area/hotel (as far as I know they are compulsory since the pets can’t be released at the airport). This doesn’t include the fees you’ll have to pay for all the jabs, documents and cage that your dog will need. And let’s not forget your own air ticket.
Doing all this by yourself can save you a few thousand ringgit (which is a big deal for me). However, if you have the money to spare, trust me – it’s much easier and stress-free to pass the task along to more capable hands.
Here’s how much it cost for me to bring Snuggles from KL to the US:
Vaccination, documents and cage – RM1000 (my vet helped me to get everything done, so it was a package deal)
Transportation costs from KL to Tokyo – USD400 (RM1600)
Transportation costs from LA to Austin – USD200 (RM800)
Total – RM3400
3rd party services I got quotes for started at around RM7000, so I saved quite a bit of money doing it by myself. Based on the trouble I had to go through, I can see why people would pay that much money for somebody else to handle the process.
Other things I’ve learned during this process (accurate as of Jan 2019):
MAS, KLM, JAL, AA – accept pets as excess baggage
BA – only accepts pets as cargo (will also need to be arranged via a third party service and their shipping company – IAG Cargo)
Delta – only accepts pets as carry on
There are also risks involved when traveling with pets. I’ve heard some horror stories about pets being left out to die in the sun at the airport, or pets not surviving flights. On the other hand, I’ve also heard many success stories. As usual, it will all depend on the staff that day (how they perform, whether or not they’re having a good or bad day, the weather, the flight, etc) and your pet itself. There’s no guarantee your pet will make the journey – just like there’s no guarantee you will make the journey. Don’t travel with a sick pet.
I don’t know if it really helped my dog, but I read somewhere that putting a shirt with your scent in your dog’s cage can help them feel more comfortable when they’re alone. I did it anyway.
Put your dog’s photo, name, flight details and your contact details on the cage. In the event it goes missing, at least there’s information to help locate you on the cage itself. If you’re going to be on the same flight, make sure it is stated there (“owner is traveling on the same flight”).
Make sure you have your pet’s documents with you at all times (I had at 4 copies just in case). Don’t put them in your luggage, keep them with you in your backpack. You’ll need to show them to the authorities when asked.
Make sure you have extra cable ties and a way to easily remove them (i.e. nail clipper or pen knife) taped to the side of the cage – this way you can easily extract the pet if the cage needs to be checked at an airport, and you can secure the cage again after inspection.
Tape a bag of food and feeding instructions to the cage, this way the airport/airline staff can feed your pet if they run out of food during any layovers.
Snuggles ended up not eating much (she did drink all the water though, which I refilled at the LAX stop).
Whenever possible, bring your dog out for a walk and toilet break. During my transit in LAX, I could bring Snuggles to the restroom at the airport where she made a mess on the floor (I cleaned up, of course) and she could run around for a bit.
The mission was a success. I managed to bring Snuggles to America. For those of you looking to do the same thing, I hope this post has information to help you out. Feel free to get in touch with me if you have any questions about the process and I’ll do my best to help!