Damn, I hope this blog doesn’t blow up my spot, but I’m about to change your life (or at least the life of your wallet and your dog) by letting you in on this little secret: I travel on a plane with my dog, Belladonna, for free. Now this advice only applies to small dogs–Bella is just 5 lbs. The dog must be able to fit in an approved travel bag underneath your seat. This advice applies for U.S. travel only.
How do I do it?
Well there is a right way and a wrong way. And, I do it the wrong way. Let’s start there. I was tired of paying nearly $200 round trip to bring Bella–as my carry-on–just to shove her under my own seat. It’s such a rip off! But once, after paying for my pup to travel with me, not one person asked to see her ticket at the airport. In fact, I didn’t receive a special ticket for her and there was nothing on my ticket indicating that I had a dog with me. This got me to thinking–“Why the hell did I just pay all this money!“
The Wrong Way
So the next time, I just took her with me. I kept her in the bag, except for at security, and not one person said anything to me. I put her under the seat, and exited through customs at my destination and no one said a word! It was a revelation! Of course I had prepared all her documentation–vaccinations and the like–in the event that I was questioned. But even that turned out to be unnecessary.
A friend of mine, let’s call her Stella, was hip to this long before me. She casually recalled her experience doing it one day as we walked our pups in the park.
“I actually didn’t intend to ‘sneak’ my dog onto the plane in the beginning. I was extremely nervous about how she would behave and if she would be sick, so I was more preoccupied with her more than the boarding procedure itself,” said Stella. “I was fully prepared just as it instructed on the airline site (I had all of the proper documentation required for pet travel including shot records, certificate, etc.), but once I boarded the flight I realized that no one ever asked for a ticket, documentation or anything! And it helps that my dog is so well-trained and a great traveler–we’ve gone to restaurants, movies, weddings, showers (and even sneaked into a club one night–long story, lol) without anyone detecting her!”
But what about security?
To that, I pondered, “But doesn’t security see the dog and ask for the ticket?“
Stella said that all it takes is a great poker face! If you look like you and your dog belong then people will believe that you and your dog belong. “I quickly discovered that each airport’s rules on pet travel weren’t enforced the same (some are more lax than others) so I just went with the flow!” said Stella. “If check-in or staff positioned at the security gate asks for your pet ticket as you are preparing to board and you don’t have one, they’ll simply instruct you to go back and purchase one. If they ask for it on the plane, and you don’t have it… well, you may have a problem.”
So what’s the worst that can happen?
Stella recalled once boarding without a pet pass and discovering that her assigned seat was in the front row of the section, so there was no “under seat” to put her dog bag!
“I had to tell on myself,” she said. “The attendant was surprised to find that another dog was on board without their prior knowledge (I think there was a two-pet limit per flight and there were already two on board!) She was nice enough to ask a passenger to switch seats with me without further questioning or making a stink, but she had every right to kick me off the flight! Thank God for nice people.”
But that wasn’t her worst experience–“The worst experience was actually getting caught without a ticket at the security gate, and having to rush back to wait on line and pay a whopping $175 for a pet pass for my 8-lb. doggie. It only happened once, but my wallet really felt it. That hurt.”
The Right Way
So one day I was imparting my little scheme to a colleague, let’s call her Darla, and when I was done she told me I was doing it all wrong! She had taken her small, two-year-old pup on over eight trips–and all for free–and all legit!
How’d she do it?
She got her pup registered as a service dog for anxiety. A regular doctor can make it happen–actually, the vet really has nothing to do with it. Although you probably need to check with your state law about what type/size of animal can be a service animal. In Darla’s state, California, any pet can be a service animal.
The perks of having a service animal go beyond your flight, explained Darla. “I save $150 each way on a plane and he can be out of his bag. I also save at least $50 to $100 hotel-cleaning fee. And all hotels have to let you have your dog in the room. We put the “no clean” on our doors when we’re out so that the pup doesn’t get bugged. We also bring him plenty of things to chew on so the hotel pillows isn’t one of them!”
And at the airport, do you have to tell anyone that you have a service pet?
“No one asked me for any paperwork whatsoever,” said Darla. “If I call the airline and tell them I’m bringing my pet, eight times out of eight when I arrive the crew has no idea about it.”
“If I check-in to tell them about my pup I have to stand on a long line. If I check-in at the self check-in and someone sees me checking in with the dog they tell me that I need to stand on line, even if I’ve called in advance. Now my husband does self check-in for both of us and when we get to the gate we tell them we’ve got our service pup. We’ve never had an issue. Don’t need to stand on line.”
Have you ever had any issues?
“The one time we did have an issue is when I had him out at the self check-in and the idiot flight attendant was yelling IS HE AN ANXIETY DOG? YOU NEED TO STAND ON LINE…to which I pointed out, it’s probably against a law for you to be screaming that out in a crowded airport!”
The moral of this story?
The TSA and the airlines never talk to each other, so even if you’re bringing your small dog without the service dog license chances are that you’ll breeze through the flight unquestioned. But if you want to do it the right way, then book an appointment with your doc asap.
It’s certainly best to over-prepare. So bring your pet travel documents and your service dog tags if you have them. If you have a doctor’s note, bring that too, just in case.
A note of caution: Everything above is true for plane travel in the United States. I do not know if the experience would be the same anywhere else. Yes, I’ve traveled with Bella to St. Maarten and The Bahamas with no problems, but I’ve been hesitant to do this in Europe, for example. Because, there, if something doesn’t check out, the worst that can happen is that my pup is detained and/or shipped back to the U.S. alone. So take care!
Now enjoy these photos and video of Bella living it up at exotic destinations!