Eye of Experience #56:
Fido Goes for an Airplane Ride

The dog days of summer are upon us, and that means vacations. You gonna take that pet? In an AIRPLANE? Sure you can! AVweb's Howard Fried gives advice to all pet owners on how to safely and securely transport your best friend, in this month's


Eye Of ExperienceNearly half the households in the United States include one or more animals, and many of these households also include a general aviation aircraft owner or pilot. Arrangements must be made for the care of their pets before the human members of the household can take a trip of more than one day’s duration. Do statements such as these sound familiar?

“I can’t go! You’ll just have to go by yourself. There’s nobody to take care of Princess.”

“What do you mean the boarding kennel is $30 a day? That’s almost as much as a hotel room for people.”

“I’d rather stay home. I can’t stand the thought of being separated from my darling Tootsie.”

Every pet-owning pilot should know that it is not only possible to take a dog or cat along in the aircraft, but that it is not particularly difficult to do so. I posed the question to my sister-in-law, Myrna L. Papurt, DVM, who is a graduate of the Ohio State School of Veterinary Medicine and a longtime practitioner of animal medicine. She told me, “Sure, you can take ’em. You can certainly travel in light aircraft with nearly any dog or cat, and many exotic pets as well. The only thing is, you have to do it right.”

When I responded by asking, “Just what do you mean, ‘do it right’?” Dr. Papurt gave me a whole lot of pertinent information, all of which makes sense. As well as practicing veterinary medicine, she has owned and trained a large number of dogs, cats, horses, and exotics, and has traveled extensively with her animals, often by air. I will attempt to pass on some of her recommendations to those of you who are fellow pet owners.

Pets Welcome

Dog and Piper

First, and of paramount importance, Dr. Papurt told me to be sure that the animal will be welcome at your destination and that proper facilities will be available to care for it during your stay. Do not take Fido along on a whim, and then when it is too late, discover that the hotel doesn’t allow dogs. Some hotels and motels have just such rules, while others maintain that they’d rather have your dog than you. After all, dogs don’t smoke in bed and start fires, nor do they spill booze and stain the carpet, and they don’t steal towels. Don’t take Fluffy before you inquire if your host is deathly allergic to cats. Better not take Rowdy if you’re staying in a small apartment with small children who are afraid of dogs. On the other hand, if you have certain knowledge that your pet will be welcome at your destination, by all means take it along.

On the subject of just where a dog may be welcome, it should be noted that many, if not most, terminals at air-carrier airports prohibit dogs in the terminal (except for Seeing-Eye types), even on a leash or harness. The key here is to know and avoid such places.


Pets in general aviation aircraft are an entirely different matter from pets flying on an air carrier. Airlines require that all animals be confined to an animal carrier of specified dimensions, and all but the very smallest of these animal carriers must be confined to the baggage area. Most airlines have such equipment available for rent or sale. In a general aviation aircraft, one can, of course, do whatever one chooses. It is absolutely imperative that you choose safety for your animal. And step one is the use of a pet carrier, the system that has been working so well for so many years for the air carriers.

A pet carrier is a great idea. Dr. Papurt recommends such a portable cage for all cats and most dogs. A pet in a carrier cannot become frightened and bolt away, requiring an extensive search; or even worse, the loss of the animal altogether. If kept caged, it cannot hide under a seat where it would be difficult to retrieve, it cannot jump on the pilot, possibly with extremely unfortunate results to all concerned, and it cannot urinate, defecate, or vomit on the aircraft upholstery. Dr. Papurt also suggested some methods to prevent these unpleasant occurrences while in the carrier.

A carrier for one’s pet shouldn’t be too large. It serves the same purpose as a seat belt for the animal, and if it is larger than required for the specific pet, the animal could well be injured bouncing around inside the carrier if turbulence should be encountered, or in the event of a particularly hard landing. The pet should have enough room to stand up and turn around in the carrier, but not much more, according to Dr. Papurt. She asserts that a good rule of thumb is that the carrier need not be more than one and one-half times the length of the animal.

Dr. Papurt goes on to recommend that every pet in a carrier should be transported in the cabin with the passengers rather than an isolated baggage compartment, such as the nose compartment of a twin-engine airplane or one of the larger singles with a nose baggage compartment. The environment in such an area is neither temperature- nor noise-controlled, which may be okay for luggage, but not for a dog or cat. As is the case with everything in an aircraft, the carrier must be secured. A good way to do this if there is a seat available and the carrier is small (for a cat or small dog), is to place the carrier on the seat and run the seat belt through the handle, while for larger pet carriers, a seat may be removed or the carrier may be secured in the baggage area behind the seats.

Pet Carrier

The plastic or fiberglass airline-carriers with a wire door and ventilation holes or grates are superior to the wire-cage types. Dr. Papurt offered several sound reasons for this. The solid (plastic or fiberglass) carrier prevents the pet from seeing strange objects, and thus enhances the feeling of security. It lessens the likelihood of the animal being overtaken by fear, and protects it to some degree from extremes of temperature. And should the pet have an unfortunate “accident,” the result is confined to a leak-proof enclosure and not distributed throughout the interior of the aircraft, resulting in an extremely unpleasant environment for everyone aboard, an event to be scrupulously avoided at all costs. The desirable sort of carrier can be obtained at many pet-supply houses or through some airline offices.

The floor of the carrier should be covered with some absorbent material. For older pets, a towel or a blanket is quite suitable, but for puppies, which are likely to chew and perhaps swallow pieces of cloth, newspapers are perfectly adequate. If the animal must be left unattended, the carrier should be equipped with a lock. Food and water dishes should not be placed inside the carrier, but rather offered to the pet at proscribed intervals.

Too Big for Carriers

Some dogs, especially large breeds that are well-trained and accustomed to automobile travel, will readily adapt to riding in a general aviation airplane without a carrier. It is important, however, to make certain that any animal that is not to be confined in a carrier have a temperament that is not readily incited to fear or panic, or the results of attempted air travel could be extremely traumatic indeed to both the pet and the people aboard, as well as to the aircraft itself.

Of course, it is also imperative that the animal be well-secured. I vividly recall a tragic accident that happened several years ago involving a pilot whom I knew quite well. A group of hunters with their unsecured bird dogs in a Beech 18 crashed immediately after takeoff when the dogs all slid to the rear of the airplane, upsetting the center of gravity and causing the airplane to stall and crash right off the end of the runway.

Pet Harness

Dr. Papurt insists that no animal, even those not confined inside a carrier, should ever be at-large inside an airplane. Every dog that is not in a carrier absolutely must be fitted with a comfortable, escape-proof harness. The harness is to be used with the seat belt. Every large pet-supply house stocks dog harnesses in a variety of sizes. Dr. Papurt says the best ones for large and medium dogs are the types of harness designed for hunting and tracking dogs. These are much more difficult for the animal to pull out of than the ordinary style. Very small dogs can be fitted with a cat harness, which is more escape-proof than is the more common small-dog harness. The most desirable means of attaching the seat belt to the dog’s harness is to pass one end of the belt through one of the side straps of the harness, under the dog’s chest, and over the other side strap of the harness where it can be joined to the other end of the belt. The belt should be drawn tight enough to limit the dog’s freedom of movement somewhat, and should be left on at all times when the aircraft is in motion. An animal so confined can lie down, sit, and stand in comfort, but cannot jump around or be thrown off the seat. If there is no seat available for the dog, it may be secured in the baggage space behind the seats, but the harness must be secured from both sides.

Many, many years ago when I owned and regularly flew a four-place taildragger, my wife and I had a registered racing Greyhound with an obedience degree as a pet. We traveled with it so often that, on the occasions when we didn’t take it along, the tower controllers at our home base, as they observed us load the airplane, would ask where the dog was. Since that time, I have had three Border collies in succession, and they all flew with us in light planes. My last Border collie had an interesting habit. When we were all settled in and I started the engine, he would bark at the prop. Immediately thereafter, he would settle down and go to sleep, awakening only when we landed. With all these dogs we used the harness technique, and I can attest that it worked quite well for us. Without the benefit of Dr. Papurt’s good advice, we had blundered into doing just as she suggests here. We also occasionally carried a cat in a cat carrier with a seat belt through the handle.

The good veterinarian also recommends that no animal, even those inside a carrier, be taken in an aircraft unless it is wearing a well-fitting collar, an identification tag, and a short leash attached to the collar at all times. If a pet does happen to escape from its carrier, it is much easier to catch it if it has a leash on, and if it succeeds in getting clear away, perhaps someone will identify the owner by the tag.

To Feed or Not to Feed

As for feeding the pet prior to a trip, this depends upon the pet, and the length of the trip. Remember, a pilot can’t pull over and park at the nearest cloud while he takes care of his pet’s needs. Generally, it is best to withhold food for six to 12 hours before departing. This means skipping one meal for an adult animal and perhaps more for a puppy or kitten. This apparent cruelty can be rectified at the destination, and in the meantime the pet will not be particularly uncomfortable or smelly. Some dogs, particularly older ones, should never have water withheld. If the animal has no medical problem that increases its need for water, Dr. Papurt says that only small amounts should be offered before takeoff. If the animal appears to be excessively thirsty upon arrival, water should be offered in half-cup amounts at 15-minute intervals until its thirst is quenched. She says that to allow an animal to guzzle water and overfill its stomach is likely to induce it to vomit. It is a wise idea to take along the food to which the animal is accustomed, to avoid upsetting its digestive system by a sudden change in diet. On the other hand, any potable water is usually satisfactory for a pet.

Heat Kills

Hot Pet

An extremely important point stressed by Dr. Papurt is the fact that heat kills. She mentioned that owners are usually careful that Fido doesn’t get cold, but dogs withstand cold temperatures much better than they do excessively hot ones. This is particularly true of the brachycephalic and heavy-coated breeds. Dogs come equipped with fur coats. Additionally, the smaller the dog, the greater the skin area it has in proportion to its size. The owner must beware of traveling in very hot weather with a hairy, short-nosed Pekinese in a carrier, else he may arrive at his destination with a dog dead of heatstroke. Bulldogs, Pugs, and other short-nosed dogs, even though their coat is not especially heavy, are also at risk, as are Peke-faced Persian cats. As a general rule, all pets should be kept out of the sun in a well-ventilated area. The owner should be alert for signs of excessive panting, drooling, or restlessness. If a person is uncomfortable from the heat, it is a good bet that his pet is in danger of death.


Over the years, Dr. Papurt has frequently been asked to prescribe tranquilizers for pets that are to travel by air or by automobile. Usually she recommends against this because a pet tranquilized to alter its behavior often loses bladder and/or bowel control. Such a situation is certain to be very unpleasant for its fellow passengers as well as the individual who is required to deal with the pet at the destination. Mild sedation, however, can be a good idea, she says. She adds that any pet that experiences significant motion sickness in an automobile is likely to be at least twice as adversely affected in an aircraft. Such an animal requires the same sort of assistance as does an airsick human being.

Cats almost never exhibit motion sickness, but dogs often do. Certain human drugs, given in appropriate doses, are suitable to be administered to dogs and are available over-the-counter without prescription. The most common of these is, of course, Dramamine, which comes in both tablet and liquid form. The liquid is suspended in cherry-flavored ethyl alcohol. Dogs dislike the cherry flavor and are prone to spit out the medication. However, when a dog swallows a tablet, one can be sure it is in there. The easiest was to get a dog to swallow a tablet is to enclose it in a piece of meat such as hamburger, or a slice of hot dog, and if the animal is first given a piece without the tablet, it will likely grab the next piece containing the tablet.

The usual dose of Dramamine for a dog is one milligram per pound of body weight, so a dog weighing 25 pounds would get half of a (50-milligram) tablet. Since Dramamine frequently results in drowsiness, and as much as two milligrams per pound won’t harm the dog but will tend to make it quite sedate, some owners may wish to use this much. If a dog has any medical condition requiring it to be on medication, a veterinarian should be consulted prior to administering Dramamine.

So, Bring Fido Along!

The question of whether or not to take your pet along when you fly rests on its welcome at the other end, and just how important it is to have it with you. Anyone who has a pet knows that there is a certain minimum amount of care required, and traveling by air with one’s pet in general aviation aircraft is not particularly difficult, nor is it more troublesome than caring for the pet at home, but Dr. Papurt’s good advice certainly should be heeded.

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