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We’re relocating to Denmark at the end of the month, and I’ve gotten a lot of questions about traveling internationally with a dog! I also did a post about bringing your dog into Denmark, which you can read here.
At first I was really anxious about taking Walter internationally, but quickly realized that it didn’t have to be the stressful endeavor that I’d hyped it up to be. His pre-travel process was relatively stress-free (read about it here) and we did a lot of research before selecting an airline.
We are traveling on an overnight flight with Icelandair. They have a great pet policy: you purchase a pet ticket (usually around $200 for an international flight) and your pet is placed in a pet area that is both temperature and climate controlled. You can attach a serving of food for a staff member to provide to them, and they are also offered water during your layover. Icelandair can only fit 4 animals on each flight, so it’s important to call the airline and ensure that they have room for your pet before you book your tickets, and ensure that a spot is reserved for your pet.
It’s important to note that most airlines don’t allow pets on itineraries that involve more than 12 hours of total travel time, and most don’t allow you to bring a pet on an itinerary with a layover longer than 3 hours. It’s also worth noting that most airlines don’t let you have access to your pet during a layover, especially one in a different country, where it is usually preferred that animals not come into contact with each other.
Most airports do, however, have pet relief areas inside the airport, so you’ll be able to get your pet and take them somewhere to relieve themselves pretty quickly after arrival (note: Copenhagen ended up not having one of these, see below).
PREPARING YOUR PET
As with most things, some advance planning and preparation can help your pet have the best experience. Here are the things we’ve done:
He’s crate trained! If you think you’ll ever need to fly with your pet it’s a great idea to crate train them young and keep it up for their entire life. Dogs who are crate trained are less likely to develop separation anxiety issues and also tend to have less behavioral issues as they age. So, if those aren’t reason enough to crate train, consider the fact that it makes any potential travel that much easier on you and your dog.
We got his flight crate a month in advance, so that he can use it and get comfortable in it before the flight. It already seems to be his favorite spot for a nap!
We booked an overnight flight, which will likely provide him with an easy experience. We’ll tire him out with a long walk or run, feed him 3 hours before the flight, and make sure he has a bowel movement before being crated.
Total travel time, including the layover, is 10 hours.
He’ll travel with food attached to his crate in case we encounter a delay or get separated.
We’ll plaster his crate with contact information and he’ll wear his ID tags at all times.
We’ve been sleeping with a white noise machine on. This kind of mimics the sound of the plane’s engine, so hopefully he’ll be used to it and it’ll signify “bed time!”
We ‘ll use a blanket that smells like home for cushioning.
STATISTICS AND PREVENTION
People tend to think that airline travel is dangerous for pets, which isn’t true. In 2016 there were 26 animal deaths per 100,000 animals transported. That’s .05%, which is low, but still odds that most pet owners wouldn’t want to mess around with (trust me, I love Walter so much that even a .05% chance of him being hurt wouldn’t be worth it to me). However, it’s important to know that most of these deaths occur from:
The animal injuring themselves from trying to escape their kennel (getting stuck in the door etc – make sure your pet’s crate has a locking or vaulted door, and add additional security by zip-tying the door shut before departure).
Death from asphyxiation due to their breed (some breeds should not travel at all due to their short airways or health concerns. Get a full physical and approval from your vet).
Extreme heat or cold on the runway (this typically occurs when pets are put in general cargo. Ensure your pet is in a designated pet area and that it is pressure and climate controlled).
Being crushed by heavy baggage that shifts during the flight (again, ensure your pet will be in a separate pet area).
It’s important to note that not all airlines are created equal, and that depending on the country you are trying to travel or relocate to you might be very limited in your options. We did all of this research before committing to our move, to ensure that Walter would have the safest voyage possible, and would have turned down the opportunity if we didn’t think we could get him there safely. That’s part of being a responsible pet owner.
WHAT YOU NEED
I was surprised that there wasn’t just one crate that is “airline approved” and that we had to do a lot of the research ourselves. Requirements vary from airline to airline, so you’ll need to check yours specifically, but generally your safest bet is to get a kennel that is:
Appropriately sized for your pet – they need to be able to turn around, lie down, sit up and there must be several inches of clearance all the way around them, including from their ears to the topof the crate when standing. Be sure to look at your airlines specific requirements before selecting a crate size.
Is made of the proper material.
Has proper ventilation
Has tie-down options
Has handles/handling spaces on the crate
Does not have wheels
Has metal hardware (instead of plastic)
Then, it’s also a good idea to purchase an accessory kit that comes with zip-ties (for securing the door before departure), identification labels, a clear pouch to house all contact and health information, a container for a serving of food, no-spill water containers, extra “live animal” stickers and more.
Your destination country will also have requirements on the paperwork and veterinary care needed before being allowed into the country. This is my post about Walter’s requirements for Denmark (can change annually so always double-check), but you’ll want to research yours independently. Some countries also a require a mandatory quarantine (sometimes as long as 30-60+ days) so make sure you look into these requirements before booking.
Overall I’m feeling pretty good about Walter’s travel plans, and feel like we have prepared appropriately for it. 8 days until take-off!
Now that we have all arrived safely in Denmark I wanted to update this post to let you know how it went and provide some additional tips for traveling internationally with your pet!
First tip: FREEZE 1/2 THEIR WATER. I had purchased no-spill food and water dishes for his crate, and a flight attendant told me that while those are better than a regular dish, it’s still really hard for them not to get spilled in transit. She said the best thing to do is to fill the dish halfway with water and freeze it, transport it to the airport in a cooler to keep it as solid as possible, and then add a bit more water before checking the dog in. This way it will likely be frozen during transport through the airport and onto the plane and won’t spill — and will thaw throughout the flight. We did this in 2019 during a return trip to the US, and also froze a few pieces of food into the ice. Seemed perfect!
Second tip: GET HAND-RELEASE ZIP TIES. The kit we purchased (here) came with hand-release zip ties, and I’m so glad they did. Airlines are legally required to secure your pet’s crate door with two zip ties before they are boarded. If you don’t bring your own hand-release ones, they might put standard zip ties on it, which will need to be cut with a knife or scissors at your destination. Obviously that’s a pain in the ass since you probably don’t have a box cutter in your luggage. So, get the hand-release ones so you know you’ll be able to access your pet ASAP.
Third tip: PACK A CLEANUP KIT. Put a 3-4 paper towels, and poop bag, and a few individually wrapped wet wipes into your carry-on bag so that you have it on you when you land. That way, if your pet has an accident in the airport (or has had one in their crate) you can quickly clean it up. We didn’t have to use ours, but it was nice to know we had it if we needed it. It turns out that Copenhagen doesn’t have pet relief stations in the airport, and apparently, they aren’t that common in countries outside of the US. So, assume that your pet won’t be able to go to the bathroom until you are through baggage claim and customs.
WE LOVE ICELANDAIR
Now I just gotta send a ton of love to Icelandair. They have such a great pet policy and they made it really easy on us. When we arrived at the airport (we flew out of MSP) the staff told us that we could go through security about 30-40 minutes before the flight so that we could stay with Walter as long as possible. Obviously, this might not always be the case, but I trust that they knew the airport and wait times and felt comfortable allowing us to lag behind. So, after checking our luggage and boxes we were able to take Walter outside for a walk and hang out in the lobby with him. They held onto his kennel for us so that we didn’t have to drag it around.
About 40 minutes before the flight we went back to the desk and they let us go with Walter through his TSA check, which was in a side room. An employee had to scan him for his microchip and fill out some quick paperwork. After that, they put his kennel on a cart and we had to say a temporary goodbye. Putting him into the kennel and seeing him rolled away was pretty hard (won’t lie!) and I definitely cried a little, just knowing that he was probably scared and we couldn’t explain what was going on.
Once we boarded the plane an Icelandair employee came up to our seats, placed her hand on my shoulder and said “We’re just confirming that your dog is safely onboard and doing fine.” Bah. I almost started crying again. It was just so nice to know he was on the flight and that we wouldn’t have to worry about him the entire way to Iceland.
When we arrived in Iceland for our layover we were not allowed to see Walter. Iceland is an island, and they have never had cases of rabies or other dog illnesses, so they want to keep it that way! They have very strict rules for dogs entering the country and don’t want animals to have any contact with each other during a layover. Thankfully our layover was short (about 90 minutes) and when we got on the new plane an employee once again came up to our seats to let us know that Walter was doing great and was once again aboard the flight and ready for the final leg of the journey. At that point we only had 3 hours left, so we knew he had gotten through the longest part and would be okay.
After arriving at our apartment in Copenhagen Walter seemed pretty unphased by the travel. He happily went in and out of his kennel and took long naps in there throughout the afternoon (clearly not scared or traumatized).
All-in-all we had a great experience, mostly thanks to the staff at Icelandair, and can’t stress the importance of researching airlines and their pet policies before you bring your pet with you.
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