What happens when globetrotting with your dog goes wrong at 35,000 feet in the air.
Thanks to the pandemic puppy craze, you’re likely to see more furry travelers at airports. When planned out carefully, traveling with a dog can be a fun bonding experience. However, it’s not always as glamorous as what pet influencers portray on Instagram.
After resigning from the conventional office in 2016, I started traveling with my ultra bossy Yorkshire Terrier named Roger Wellington. A resilient rescue dog, Roger W. quickly transformed into a seasoned world traveler. After exceeding expectations with carrier training, he slept like a baby during his first few “prep” flights, which were quick hour-long flights from Los Angeles to San Francisco and vice versa. When it came time for his first international flight from Los Angeles to Paris, he took it on like a champ.
As if he were born to travel, Roger W. remained calm and slept throughout most of the 11-hour flight, which would have caused many first-time human fliers to freak out. And yes, he did so without the use of any sedatives and still does even to this day. After over 5 years of being a world nomad, and more than 20 countries later, Roger W. has yet to bark once or have an oopsie on the plane. But things weren’t always so rosy. To be entirely truthful, Roger W. nearly died on a flight.
After living off of bocadillos and patatas bravas in Madrid for over a month, Roger W. and I were ready for our next escapade. Craving goulash and cheap rent, I was set on visiting Budapest—the dog-friendly capital city of Hungary where Roger W. had already visited once before. With my boyfriend (now fiancé) visiting Switzerland at the time, I decided to book a quick two-hour flight to Geneva to meet him. We timed it so we could meet at the airport and then hop on a short flight to Budapest together. I usually try to avoid any type of layover with my furry traveler, but this didn’t sound too bad considering he was accustomed to 10+ hour flights.
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The morning of the flight, I woke up early to anticipate additional time needed for check-out. Roger W. and I headed to the Metro by paw and foot but were stunned when we found out that we had to buy new tickets to hop on the airport line. Much to my frustration, the ones purchased the day before for the trip were supposedly not valid despite being unused. Reluctantly, I swiped my credit card for a new Metro ticket. At Madrid-Barajas Adolfo Suárez Airport, everything went smoothly. After dropping €50 for Roger’s one-way ticket, we were all set and ready to go.
When traveling with a dog, the easiest thing you can do is to get to the airport early, just in case. As usual, I gave Roger W. as much time as possible outside of the carrier until boarding time. After taking the last walk in front of the airport, we passed through the security checkpoint and found an empty gate nearby our actual gate. In peace, we stretched out our legs and chomped on toasty triangular sandwiches that I had prepared earlier that morning. As it got closer to boarding time, I put Roger back inside his carrier and headed to our gate. But, who would have known that a mishap would occur after I’d sunk comfortably into my economy seat on the plane?
As the flight attendants made their standard safety announcements, I fought to stay awake. For safety reasons, I’ve always had a hard rule to NOT fall asleep on any flight that Roger W. gets on with me. Shortly after take-off, the plane became stuffy quickly due to the lack of air conditioning. Needless to say, it was getting very hot. Through the black mesh window screen, I started seeing Roger W. panting inside the carrier. Taking no chances, I immediately unzipped the carrier so he could have some ventilation. I offered him some water, which he refused. A few minutes later, one of the flight attendants, a young woman with sleek blonde hair, walked by and instructed me to zip up the carrier; she asserted that the airline policy states that dogs must remain inside an enclosed carrier at all times. I proceeded to partially zip up the carrier, but still left enough room for Roger W. to stick his head out. His pants became lighter as he got some air. But then, a more senior flight attendant marched over.
“Miss, you have to zip up the carrier,” instructed the flight attendant.
“My dog is panting. He needs some air. It’s really stuffy in here,” I pleaded calmly.
“It doesn’t matter,” said the flight attendant. “You have to zip up the carrier.”
I reached down and pretended to zip it up only to unzip it as soon as she walked away. Seeing Roger W.’s continuous pants, I was not going to let him suffocate. I didn’t care if I broke the airline’s rules.
A few minutes later, the first flight attendant returned with a disapproving frown. “Miss, I already told you that you need to zip it up.”
“But he can’t breathe. He needs air. He’s going to die,” I teared up as I looked at my relentlessly panting dog. My hands started trembling, but I remained as calm as I possibly could.
No response. She just glared at Roger W. for a few seconds and walked down the aisle.
Whew, I felt so relieved. My eyes dried as I wiped off my tears. Sadly, the victory was short-lived. The second flight attendant came back.
“Ma’am, YOU HAVE TO ZIP UP THE CARRIER. Rules are rules.” It was a command. She wasn’t going to make any exceptions.
“I can’t do that. He needs air.” I kept shaking my head. I could feel my heart pounding and tears returning.
After going back and forth a few more times, the first flight attendant saw the commotion and joined in. I became hysterical.
“Please, I’m begging you. My dog will die. He’s going to DIE. He can’t breathe. Can’t you see? Please. He’s just staying in the same spot inside and not disturbing anyone.” Tears were now flowing down to my lips and barely hanging onto the tip of my chin. Passengers were now turning their heads in curiosity.
“OK.” The senior flight attendant motioned her hand to end the altercation. And, that was all they said. They finally left us alone.
After five minutes or so, Roger W.’s pants subsided. He took a few sips of water and fell asleep inside his carrier. I kept it unzipped throughout the remainder of the flight.
Although Roger W. landed safely in Geneva, I wonder how many dog parents would have given into the airline’s demands. Let the truth be told that my Roger W. means the world to me. He’s not just a dog, he’s family. If they were to kick me off the flight, so be it. I wasn’t going to jeopardize his health or his life. I’d rather lose money and pride than to see my dog suffer before my eyes, knowing that I could have done something to help him. Rules may be rules, but I will break them to save a life.
Upon arrival at our apartment in Terézváro in Budapest, we rested before heading to our favorite local spot for some succulent beef goulash. With everything that can go wrong 35,000 feet in the air, I will still attest that traveling with your dog can be a wonderful experience, but no trip is ever worth your dog’s life. I have yet to sleep for a second whenever I fly with Roger, and no more layovers for us.
Quick Tips for Flying with Your Dog
- Start carrier training as soon as possible.
- Exercise your dog before the flight.
- Plan out meal and potty breaks strategically.
- Pack to-go water bowls.
- Get to the airport early.
- Monitor your dog throughout the flight.
- NEVER let your dog struggle.