Celebrities make traveling with pets look so easy. But is it? What does it cost? What products do you need? And is it worth the hassle?
To answer these pressing questions I enlist the help of Nikki, a 9-pound Chihuahua terrier. She's a foster dog from the Tony LaRussa Animal Rescue Foundation and she seems a willing flight companion.
First the ticket: you have to pay extra for an onboard pet, usually $60 to $125. The animal needs a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection to show that it's up to date on vaccinations and generally healthy. You get this from your vet and it's worth calling as soon as you can to get that in the works.
Next the logistics of what to carry the dog in. Carriers have changed a lot. No longer are you relegated to hard plastic crates with wire-mesh doors. Lisa Gill of Conde Nast Traveler magazine brings more than four 4 different styles of carriers (special thanks to Wag.com for providing review units of the carriers).
First we looked at the classic soft-sided carrier; the Sherpa ($70). It has lots of mesh and plenty of head-room, and it fits the requirements. "All carriers must be airline approved and uncrushable, but you have to think not just about the dog's comfort but your own," Gill said. And the Sherpa was boxy and a little unwieldy for me to schlep through the airport.
The next option is the Petvoyage Trolley ($73) with both wheels and backpack straps. We also look at the bright orange Teafco Argo ($99), which is very sturdy but is a little too small for Nikki.
I settle on the Sleepy-Pod Air ($149), which is roomy and comfy inside, but the big selling point is that it can be carried by the shoulder strap or latched onto my roll-aboard bag.
Gill also advises: "Be sure to get your dog very familiar and comfortable with the crate before you go. This has to be a happy place for your pup."
On the day of travel the big jobs are to give your dog a good walk (but don't dehydrate her) and feed her at her regular times because she won't be able to eat or drink on the plane.
At the airport, I struggled to manage Nikki and all my other luggage, so a big lesson: pack light. You need to check your dog in and they need their own boarding pass to get through security and on the plane. Also, your dog in its carrier counts as one of your two pieces of carry-on luggage.
Before going through the security line, it's time to take Nikki out for her last chance to heed nature's call. Many airports now have pet-relief areas that are great for dogs headed out on long flights. But they are often located a far cry from the airport's central areas (for obvious reasons) and you really need to allocate a good 30 minutes of extra time to afford your dog a chance to go.
We head to security and I remember one of Gill's warnings: "Don't put the carrier with the dog in it on the conveyor belt." No problem, I can carry her through but then I notice that all the people in my line are headed for the Backscatter X-ray machine where you stand spread eagle with your hands above your head. With a dog, this could be awkward. Luckily, the TSA agent shuttles me to the traditional walk-through scanner where I can easily hold Nikki. And a bonus, her collar doesn't set off the alarm.