Baby Barnes on the plane from Madrid. | Sarah Forge


Not “what breed?” or “how old?”, often the first question I’m asked by a German when out dog walking is “does he go in the kabine?”. It seems that as a nation they’re rather obsessed with exploring the best way to get their beloved pooch from home A to second-home B – and they’re not alone.
Over two million domestic animals take a commercial flight each year and, with the pandemic sparking a rise in pet ownership, it’s a slice of the travel industry that’s only going to get bigger. A significant percentage of owners simply will not globetrot without their pets, or opt for infrequent short holidays as a compromise, yet with an explosion in paws-friendly accommodation, the airlines would do well to normalise the situation.

Before we move on to the practicalities of putting your pup on the plane, it’s worth taking a moment to paws pause and consider if it’s truly necessary. Flying can be stressful for humans (queues, paperwork, delays, jetlag) and the same applies to dogs. If Rex is used to comfortably rotating between his bed, dog bowl and garden, then an environment of loud noises, bright lights, fluctuating temperatures, and strange air pressures will give him the collywobbles - not to mention having to tie a knot in his pee-pee for hours on end. Although you’ll miss him like crazy, it may just be better for Rex to leave him at home.

Next, Rex (as we’ll keep calling him) needs to be a certain size to make it into the paradise that is the kabine. Rules vary from airline to airline (and country to country, especially the UK - more on that in the minute) but, in general, to qualify as ‘hand baggage’, he’ll need to be small enough to fit in a carrier at your feet. Meanwhile, most airlines quote 8kg as their upper weight limit. If Rex is a big’un, then the only option is the cargo hold.

Now, this is when you really need to ponder if this trip is ‘essential’. Even the briefest of Googles will bring up an inexhaustible catalogue of hold horror stories: crates left in scorching sun, falling off luggage carts, or being knocked about by burly baggage (man)handlers. Dogs have arrived at destination surrounded by vomit and faeces or, even worse, lifeless. Naturally, there are thousands of fairy-tale endings to balance out the nightmare experiences but, hey, caveat emptor.

Now is as good a moment as any to address the stumbling block that is the UK. As part of a mission to stop rabies entering the country, no dogs can travel to the UK in either the cabin or as checked baggage - at least not commercial airlines flying in and out of commercial airports. The sole exception is registered assistance dogs and, even then, not on every route. It’s also worth checking the UK definition of an ‘assistance dog’ as it may not be the same as, for example, the US. British Airways say: “A service dog is one that has been trained to assist a person with a disability or medical condition”. An emotional support dog does not qualify. So, if you are determined to reach the UK by air, the only option available to you is cargo (see warning above) and, even then, not with every airline. British Airways, Air Malta and TUI for example are a ‘yes’, while easyJet, Ryanair and Jet2 are a definite ‘no’.

Flying out of the UK, the rules relax a little, and a handful of airlines will permit dogs in the cabin. For example, Iberia Express allows animals in the cabin and the hold on flights departing from the United Kingdom, provided they fulfil the requirements for Travel to Members States of the European Union. In all cases, call customer services to get the latest most accurate information.

The UK also lays out pretty strict guidelines to adhere to, and they’re best consulted here: Workarounds for the UK debacle are flying into Ireland (part of the EU) or getting as far as France and taking the ferry or Eurotunnel. We’ll cover these options in future articles.

In Europe, things tend to get a whole lot easier. German flag carrier Lufthansa is happy for you to take Rex in the passenger cabin, provided he’s 8kg or under – including the weight of the suitable transport container. (This could also be a combined weight of two small animals of the same species.) Special regulations apply to fighting dogs and snub-nosed breeds. Lufthansa also stipulates a minimum age of 12 weeks, or 15 weeks to and from Germany. If your animal doesn’t behave appropriately (barking, growling) it may be moved to the cargo hold at additional cost – be warned. Rex can also chill in the Lufthansa airport lounge, but not outside his pet carrier.

Major Scandinavian airline SAS is similarly pet-friendly. Each traveller can bring one pet container holding up to two animals of the same species with a total weight of 8kg. The carrier must fit under the seat in front and its occupant remain inside for the entirety of the flight. Puppies must be eight weeks or over and, if less than 14 weeks, must have a special vet certificate saying they’re fit to fly.

French favourite Air France shares the same 8kg limit (including the bag) and has a minimum 15-week age limit – except within metropolitan France, and between metropolitan France and French territories, where that is dropped to 8 weeks. It’s worth noting that Air France will only allow one animal per passenger, and therefore per bag.

As a final case study, Spanish flag carrier Iberia echoes the 8kg-max same-species rule, and also has a ban on certain dangerous and snub-nosed breeds. The pet cannot bother other passengers and (this tickled) if your pet has a strong odour it won’t be welcome in the cabin.

If you’ve decided that Rex is indeed accompanying you on your next air trip, here’s a little checklist for you.

· Book your dog in with the airline nicely in advance – space may be limited.
· Go for a health check and get a veterinary certificate stating your dog is fit to travel and has the necessary vaccinations. This certificate will expire after a certain number of days – consult your airline.
· Organise appropriate pet insurance.
· Whether your pet’s in the hold or the cabin, it will need a suitable transport bag or crate. It must be strong, well-ventilated, have a waterproof bottom, and be big enough for your animal to stand up in and turn around – check specific dimensions/requirements with your airline. Don’t forget to add a luggage tag with your contact details.
· Familiarise your dog with the aforementioned container before the trip - use treats, make it fun.
· At the airport, if flying in the cabin, Rex will go to the check-in desk with you where they’ll confirm your paperwork’s in order. If going by cargo, you may well have to take him to the freight terminal.
· At security, the pet carrier will go through the scanner along with lead/food/toys. Rex can go through the metal detector in your arms or at heel.
· Become au fait with the location of ‘pet relief’ areas in departing/arriving airport.
· And finally, review your chosen airline’s pet policy, which will be very clearly stated on its website. Long-haul flights often have different rules.

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