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Traveling with Pets and Service Animals Can Be a “Paws-itive” Experience

November 9, 2022

Thinking of bringing your four-legged friend on your next vacation? Before you make plans for puppy-friendly breweries or restaurants, walks on the beach, or splashing in the waves with human’s best friend, plan your airport experience in advance. A little research will make sure you and your pet stay calm, cool, and collected as you em-BARK on your travel journey. Here are a few tips and trips for your pet-friendly travel journey

Know Before You Go

Cross these items off your list before your big vacation to avoid a ruff travel day. 

1. Make sure your pet is fit to travel

Your trip won’t be quite the same without your dog, cat, fish, lizard, or hamster (no judgement — you do you!), but keep in mind that it's not safe for some animals to travel due to age, illness, injury, or temperament. Check with your vet before traveling to see if your pet falls into any of these categories. Other good resources are your airline and the state veterinarian at your destination to determine the needed documentation. Whether it's in the cabin, in the belly, or as checked baggage, the American Veterinary Medical Association can help clear your pet for air travel. 

2. Check with your airline

Each airline sets their own requirements for traveling pets, so reach out to your airline in advance to find out whether your fluffy friend can travel in the cabin with you. Most airlines will allow you to take a cat or small dog in the cabin for an additional fee. There are limits to the number of animals allowed in the cabin, as well as size requirements, so be sure to call well ahead of time. 

Many airlines place restrictions on certain dog and cat breeds, especially Brachycephalic or “short-nosed” breeds like Boston terriers, boxers, and bull dogs. Some airlines will allow you to fly with your short-nosed pet in cabin, as long as they meet size and weight guidelines.  

Determine which documents your airline requires and keep them handy, so you can easily provide them if asked. Airlines often require a health certificate — issued by an accredited veterinarian following an office visit that includes a physical examination — stating your dog is healthy and up to date on vaccinations. 

If you’re considering traveling with your pet in the cargo hold, consult with your airline on requirements and fees. 

3. Provide ID 

Make sure you don’t get separated from Sparky or Rover. Purchase an ID for your pet’s collar that lists your home address and cell phone number, and a temporary tag with the location and phone number of the hotel where you plan to stay.  

Consider microchipping your pet if you haven’t already. If your pet is already microchipped, be paws-itive that your information is up to date. 


4. Use the right carrier 

Select a travel crate or carrier for your pet that is well-ventilated and large enough to stand, sit, turn around and lie down. Springing for a new carrier? Make sure to test it out at home before using it on a trip to work out any kinks. Always check your airline’s pet carrier size guidelines and specifications before purchasing anything new.  

The International Air Transport Association, whose guidelines most airlines follow, has a list of pet carrier requirements.

At the airport 

5. Know what to expect for screening 

Keep your four-legged friends with you during security screening and out of the X-ray tunnel.  

Follow these steps to unleash a hassle-free security experience: 

  • Before screening, make sure they are securely leashed, then take your pet out of the travel carrier
  • Send the empty carrier through the X-ray tunnel along with your other belongings 
  • Bring your pet through security screening with you, or request a special secondary screening that won't require you to take them out of their carrier 

Note:  If you have a pet going through TSA screening, you may be redirected to another checkpoint by an airport employee if the TSA canines are working that checkpoint.

Pro tip: Nobody likes waiting in line, including your pet. Minimize your time in the security line by signing up for SEA Spot Saver. The good news is that the free checkpoint reservation program just extended its hours from 5:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m

6. Know your navigation 

Airports can be noisy, unfamiliar places for both pets and their humans! Stress less and leash up at all times at the airport — while taking your pet through security screening, using the airport's pet relief areas, and throughout the terminal. Opt for elevators, not escalators, to keep everyone safe and sound.  

Pro tip: Pets can get restless waiting in line for food. Use the FlySEA app to order your food online, and spend more time stretching your legs in the terminal. Order SEA allows you to get a meal delivered anywhere in the airport or make a quick pickup. 

To navigate SEA like a pro, check out terminal maps and amenities with the Fly SEA app

7. Find (pet) relief 


SEA offers numerous pet relief locations inside and outside of the terminal. Mapping out locations before you fly can save you and your pet a lot of stress. 

Once you find the closest pet relief area, SEA has you covered. Pet relief areas are stocked with pet waste bags, hand sanitizer, a paper towel dispenser, and trash for proper disposal. 

Pre and post security locations include: 

  • 5 pet relief areas in the secured section of the terminal 
  • 4 pet relief areas outside the Main Terminal

On the plane

Once you’ve made it through the airport, it’s time to tackle the airplane – all that remains between you and vacation with your four-legged friend!

  • Take a nonstop flight if possible. Fewer interruptions and a smoother journey will be easier on you and your pet! 
  • Always be prepared for flight delays with extra food and toys in your carry-on 
  • When booking your seat, snatch  a window seat if possible decorative

That way you won’t take up legroom of your fellow passengers. If your dog is small, place it in a carrier under the seat in front of you. If you have a larger service dog, arrange for a seat where your dog can fit in front of you comfortably without blocking the aisle. 

Purr-fect Resources 

Here are few more resources to help plan pet-friendly travel. 

Pro tip: Want to see some pups when yours are at home? The SEA Pups Therapy Animal team is in the terminal for your fluffy friend fix.

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