Traveling with little ones is no easy feat: stressing about getting through security, having enough snacks on-hand, fretting about bathroom breaks, hoping for peaceful naps in-flight... the list is endless. Like many mothers who travel on Southwest, I can relate to the trials and tribulations of traveling with children, but my baby happens to have four legs!
My baby, Sugar, is a well-traveled dog! She loves to travel from Dallas to Grandma and Grandpa’s house in Columbus, Ohio. Here are some of our favorite Southwest travel tips for traveling with your small dog or cat:
Before your trip:
Call Southwest and make a reservation for your pet: Only six animals are allowed on each flight, so make sure they know Rover or Fluffy are accompanying you on your trip.
Visit the vet: Make sure your vet thinks your baby is ready to travel. Southwest doesn’t require paperwork at this time, but it’s always good to make sure your pet is healthy and ready for an adventure!
Get the right carrier: Make sure you get a pet carrier that is comfortable for your pet. Your dog or cat should be able to stand up, turn around, and lie down within the carrier. Look for a carrier that is well-ventilated and has cushioning. I usually put a small toy and a t-shirt inside Sugar’s carrier so she feels as if she’s in a little den. Sugar’s carrier has a little “sun-roof” (which she loves) so she can peek her head out while we’re waiting in the gate area.
Practice: To get your pet comfortable with the carrier, do a few dry runs at home. I throw Sugar’s favorite treat inside (she’s partial to Cesar Softie dog treats), and she’ll chase after it. Start by keeping your pet in the carrier for a few minutes each day, gradually extending the time as your travel date nears. Walk around the house with the carrier so your pet can get used to the motion.
Pack: While traveling with a pet on Southwest, your pet counts as your carry-on! Bring another small bag that has enough room for a leash, some treats, and a small dish or water bottle for your pet.
Tire your pet out: Before you leave for the airport, make sure your pet has had a little extra exercise. I try to take Sugar on an extra-long walk the day before we travel. If you think your pet might be a fearful flyer, you can discuss a prescription sedative with your veterinarian.
Limit meals and water: I usually give Sugar a small meal with a little water before leaving for the airport. The day will be very exciting for you and your pet; you’ll want to make sure they don’t have an overly full stomach or bladder for the adventure!
Arrive at the airport early: Visit the animal relief area one last time before entering the airport! Most airports have information on where to find this area on their website. You’ll need to check in at Southwest’s ticket counter and pay your pet's PAWS ticket. The Southwest Agent will check that your carrier fits and that your pet can move around comfortably. Once the agent has tagged your carrier, you and your furry friend are off to the TSA checkpoint!
Security: Honestly, this is the most challenging aspect of traveling with your fur baby, especially if you’re traveling alone. The TSA requires that you take your pet out of the carrier and walk through the magnetometer with them in your arms. If you’re traveling with someone, ask them to assist you with getting the carrier, your small bag, your shoes, and any other items on the belt through the X-ray machine. If you’re traveling on your own, put your belongings on the belt before you enter the metal detector so it’s ready for after you’ve crossed through, as your hands will be quite full! Keep a few treats in your pocket to help coax your pet back into the carrier once you’ve passed the security checkpoint.
Gate Area: As I mentioned, Sugar’s carrier has a little “sun roof” that allows her head out while she’s still inside. (It’s a new environment and my little busy body enjoys taking in her new surroundings!) I usually get out her little water bottle and reward her with a few treats and a few behind-the-ear scratches.
Onboard: When it’s time to board, make sure he or she is secured in the carrier and that the zippers are latched … otherwise, you might feel a little tongue licking your ankles during the middle of your flight. (Yes, I’m speaking from experience). Seat selection onboard is very important! You’ll actually want to find a middle seat for this Southwest flight as it has the most space for the carrier. We try to find a nice middle seat over the engine as Sugar finds the movement and the sounds soothing for her inflight nap. Please note that your pets must remain in the carrier throughout the flight, and you’re unable to purchase an actual Southwest seat for your fur baby at this time. (Of course, I’ve asked! And I’ve requested that pets be eligible for Rapid Rewards Points too. Sugar would be A-List in no time!)
At your destination: Grab your bags at baggage claim and seek out the nearest animal relief area at your destination airport. Remember to reward your little one with a few treats and lots of love! Expect your pet to be exhausted. Sugar is always tuckered out after her travel escapades!
That’s it! You’ve arrived and can now celebrate your vacation or holidays with one of your most beloved family members: your fur baby! Do you have any tips for traveling with your pet you can share with other Southwest travelers?