Travel With Puppies
This information was accurate and up-to-date as of early 2017. However, airlines are constantly changing their policies. There are no guarantees that this information is all perfectly correct and update at any given time. As families report back to us their travel experiences, we periodically will update this page to reflect new information.
Please wait until puppies are over 2 weeks before actually booking anything where you can’t get a refund. Though it’s not common, it does sometimes happen that we loose a puppy. I’ve never lost one after the 2-week mark but have talked to many other breeders who have. I’ve never lost more than one puppy in a litter (except at birth of a very large litter), but with anything living, anything is possible. Currently, all puppies are doing well and gaining weight if you are receiving this document and haven’t heard anything different from us.
Flying with a puppy in the cabin is very easy. Though some who have flown with our puppies were nervous about it before the flight, I’ve never had one who’s had a problem with their puppy at the airport or during the flight. (Several have had problems with the flights themselves such as delays and canceled flights. One or two have had weather issues.) Puppies will sleep for most, if not all, of the trip. Customer service people will give you the rules over the phone before you book your trip, but most of the rules are never checked. Also, what we’ve found is that most customer service people don’t know the rules. You might read one thing online and get three different customer service people telling you something different. However, what we’ve found is that you will never be required more than what is stated online (which is the official rules). As long as you can get your puppy under the seat in front of you for take off and landing, they don’t care. I have never had anyone who has had their crate measured or been asked the age of their puppy, or been asked to see a health certificate. I’ve only had one whose puppy was weighed.
I’ve had many puppies go to the west coast. With one litter we had 3 out of 7 puppies going to the San Francisco airport (and none of them knew each other). We’ve had many more going to the New England States. Though we’ve had a good number to get car sick, we’ve never had a puppy to get sick on an airplane!
We’ve had families to fly most, if not all, of the major airlines. Until my late 2017 litter, I’ve recommended flying Delta, American, or United and getting a medium sized Sherpa carrier. The pet carrier size limits for these three airlines are a little larger than the others allowing you to officially use the medium sized Sherpa carrier which is 17 X 11 X 10 ½ and designed to hold a dog up to 16 pounds. Our puppies on average are about 11-12 pounds at 8 weeks so they fit comfortably in the medium Sherpa carrier. Flying Southwest has become easier as they have come out with their own brand of carrier that makes flying with them as well as some of the other airlines with less space under the seats. If flying with an airline other than American or United, check with the airline to find out the maximum crate size they will allow. Most likely the medium Southwest carrier will fit if the Sherpa does not.
As of Oct. 1, 2016, Delta says they will be asking for health certificates for dogs flying to certain states. I don’t know which states those are. Delta recently (in the last year or so) changed their minimum age from 8 weeks to 10 weeks. This wasn’t a problem as the age was only checked when puppies flew as checked baggage. It didn’t apply to puppies carried on. We’ve never had a puppy where a health certificate was needed. Now things have changed with Delta. If possible, I suggest flying another airline. If you need to fly Delta, please research this out more thoroughly and let us know what you find out. If you need a health certificate, we need to know ahead of time so that we can get one from our vet. There is an extra charge to cover our vet costs for the certificate. See our Payment and Policies page for details.
I have had people fly other airlines including US Air, Southwest, and Alaska where the official size limit is smaller. For US Air and probably most of these others, the medium Sherpa fits the length and width requirements but is ½ inch too tall. However, several people have safely squeezed the carrier a ½ inch small to fit under the seat for take off and landing. They can actually easily be squished down more than a full inch. These carriers are soft so they have some flexibility and airline personnel do not measure carriers. Southwest makes a carrier that takes away that extra ½ inch. It makes for a less confortable ride for your puppy but unless you have someone sitting next to you who objects, most flight attendants will allow you to take your puppy out of his carrier except for at take off and landing. The small Sherpa carrier is too small for your puppy to fit. If you fly an airline other than Delta, American, or United, find out the size of the compartment under your seat. Most likely, the medium carrier made by Southwest will fit.
The dimensions for the medium Sherpa carrier are 17 inches X 11 inches (high) X 10 ½ inches (wide). The dimensions for the medium Southwest carrier are 17 ½ X 10 ½ (high) X 10 (wide). The medium Southwest carrier is the absolute smallest carrier that a 7 ½ to 8 week old Golden Retriever puppy will fit in. You won’t be able to fly with an airline with carrier size requirements smaller than this.
The official weight limit of most, if not all, airlines is 20 pounds including the weight of the carrier. The carrier I recommend is 4 pounds and it is rare that an 8 week old puppy gets over 16 pounds. I don’t recommend getting the carrier with wheels as that adds an additional 2 pounds to the weight of carrier which could push your puppy along with the carrier over the weight limit. So far, I’ve only had one person have their puppy and carrier weighed. Still, it’s best to keep it within the required limits if possible.
Age does not matter for puppies flying in the cabin and your puppy will not need a health certificate (unless flying Delta which we don't recommend). A health certificate is only a requirement for pets traveling as checked baggage. Sometimes customer service people will give you wrong information because so few pets fly in the cabin and customer service personnel don’t know. Sometimes customer service employees get confused since it is much more common for pets to travel underneath. Not only have we verified this with all the major airlines, but we have never had anyone asked to show a health certificate. The puppy’s age is something that no one has ever been asked and no one has ever been asked to see a health certificate and we have sent home quite a large number of puppies with people by plane.
You also need to check with the airline about space under the seats for particular planes and even for particular seats within the plane unless you are flying Delta, American, or United. See if there are certain seats that have larger storage areas under the seat in front of them than others.
American and a few other airlines offer crates that are guaranteed to be approved for travel with them. For those other than Delta and American, make sure the crate size is as close to the 17 X 11 X 10 ½ that we know will comfortably transport an 8 week old puppy. The Sherpa bag company also has a service call “Guaranteed on Board”. Google it for information on the bags that they guarantee will be allowed by certain airlines. I know that the Southwest bag will also work but the size of their bag is not online. I believe it is just an inch shorter but I need someone to verify this for me. Southwest has just recently come out with this bag.
Make sure to reserve a place for your puppy at the same time you book your flight. Most, if not all, have a small limit to the number of puppies allowed on board each flight in the cabin. You do not pay for your puppy up front like you do for your own ticket but instead pay when you get to the airport with your puppy.
Make sure you bring paper towels or baby wipes just in case your puppy gets motion sickness. I have puppy pads (and diaper sacks to dispose of them in) that I can give you for the puppies to go to the bathroom on if you can’t get to an outside area in a reasonable amount of time while you are traveling. In addition to the crate, bring a collar (10-15 inch size for now) and leash, empty water bottle that can be filled after passing through the check in at airport, and a small water bowl. I will provide you with the blanket that your puppy has been used to sleeping on for you to put close to the outside of your carrier so that your puppy can smell it. (It won’t fit inside a travel carrier but will be nice for a regular crate when you get home.)
Be prepared at security to take your puppy out of the carrier. They will x-ray the carrier and you will carry your puppy through security out of the carrier.
I’ve had many people fly directly into the Birmingham airport but to get to Birmingham from most places, there will be a stop. This shouldn’t be a problem. You can carry your puppy through the airport. If you want a non-stop flight, I’ve also had many fly into Atlanta and rent a car and drive to my house. I’m about 2 ½ hours from the Atlanta airport and about 35-40 minutes from the Birmingham airport (if it isn’t during rush hour). Just recently someone mentioned flying into Nashville (a 3 hour, 15 minute drive to us). If flying in and out of Atlanta, keep in mind when booking your flight time that Georgia is on eastern time and Alabama is on central time.
If you are planning on flying in and flying right back out, you’ll need at least 5 hours in between your incoming flight landing and your return flight leaving (provided you aren’t checking any luggage and you aren’t arriving during Birmingham rush hour). It is 45 minutes to my home from the airport which gives you about 10 extra minutes to account for traffic. If you are coming in during rush hour you’ll need about 30 extra minutes on top of that. You’ll need about 30-45 minutes to rent and return a car and about 1 ½ hours at my home. (You can stay as long as you like as long as I don’t have an appointment with someone else getting their puppy right after you. Some stay longer. Some are in and out quicker. It’s up to you.) I’d try to be at the airport 1 ½ hours early. The Birmingham airport is fairly small so you don’t need the time you’d need in a big airport. If you are accustomed to flying, you might be fine with less time than I am recommending.
I want to end this discussion by repeating that I do not recommend that you fly something other than those who officially allow the medium Sherpa carrier or the carrier made by Southwest. I am only passing along what others have told me about their experience. If you choose another airline, make sure you talk to the correct people to assure yourself that you’ll have no problems getting your puppy on board. For what it is worth, I have also read pages of Amazon reviews on the medium Sherpa carrier. There are a whole lot of them who have said that they’ve had no problems with getting a carrier onto the plane that was a little oversized for their airline. Some have said they’ve compressed the carriers down 2 inches to fit. I would think that it would be hard to get the size down that much without damaging the carrier but I’m sure it has been done. Even on Amazon, I never saw a review that said that an oversized carrier caused a person to not be able to take their pet on board. Still, this is all just information to consider if for whatever reason you don’t want to fly with the airlines that will officially allow the correct size carrier.
Once you’ve decided on your flight plans, please email me with them so that I can put it on my calendar and hold that time for you. Wait for me to respond before actually booking the flight to make sure that no one else has already reserved that time.
I’m here to answer any questions you may have. I may not have all the answers but may be able to either point you in the direction to find your answer or I may know someone else to ask who may know the answer to your question. If you learn anything new about any particular airlines or if you find out that there are any new rules or regulation, please let me know after your flight so that I can pass this information along to others. I’m always learning and love to hear from others what they’ve learned.
Many people ask what the best way for a puppy to travel by car. I think that bringing a crate is best as they are already used spending time in them here at my home. There are harnesses for dogs where you can buckle them in like a seatbelt and there are also doggy car seats. Those are the safest options, but I think that that will make for a stressful ride home for a puppy already dealing with a big change.
I suggest that you bring the wire crate that your puppy will be in once you get home. Divide it so that it is about the size of a 24-inch. You can actually buckle these in your car. I’ll send you your puppy’s blanket with the smell of our home and a bone. You can put these in the crate and that is really all they need. If you feel comfortable with your puppy out of the crate, I’d probably hold him/her if there is an extra person besides the driver for at least part of your trip. I’ve had people drive as far as Dallas and even to Cape Cod. They’ve all said that their puppy mostly slept. We’ve driven ourselves from Canada with a puppy and she slept most of that distance. (She did keep us up most of the night though in our motel room!) Driving with young puppies is super easy. Bring water and a bowl, a collar, a leash, some towels, and if your drive is more than 8 hours, bring some food.
Most puppies traveling long distances do not get car sick but I’d say that about 1/3 of them do. The sickness usually will last for just the first hour or two and then the puppy will settle down for the rest of the ride. If you’re traveling a long way, I’d bring towels, paper towel, and plastic bags (like Walmart sacks) to store the dirty towels in case of an accident.
Motels in Town
If you plan on spending the night in Birmingham, here is some information on where to stay. From most places including coming from the Birmingham Airport, Atlanta, and south Florida, you’ll be coming in on Hwy 280 which goes within a mile of my house. Any place in the Eagle Point, Graystone, or Inverness area are within 20 minutes of my house. The Hampton Inn in Eagle Point is probably the closest motel to me and everyone has said only good things about this motel. It is also very close to a big variety of restaurants and even a nice dog food and accessory store if you forgot something. Here are a couple of links to motels that people have stayed in and recommended in these areas:
If you are driving up from the pan-handle of FL or from south Alabama, the most convenient area to stay would be the Alabaster/Pelham area which is right off of I65. Here is one in this area that was recommended:
Places to Eat
Hartley’s – meat and vegetable buffet style
Habanera’s – Mexican
Golden City – Chinese
China Garden – less expensive Chinese – we like it but not as good as Golden City
Fast food – McDonalds, Sonic, Hamburger Heaven, Bojangles, Wendy’s, Taco Bell
Highway 280 Inverness or Graystone areas (about 10-15 minutes from us):
Jim & Nick’s Barbeque
Taziki’s – Greek
Surin 280 - Thai food
The Summit on 280 (about 20 minutes on the way to Birmingham and the airport)
Cheese Cake Factory
P.F. Changs - Chinese
Birmingham/Southside/close to Hwy 280 in Homewood
Highland Bar and Grill – upscale popular
Bottega’s – upscale popular
Hot and Hot Fish Club – upscale popular
Jim & Nick’s Barbeque
Surin – Thai food
Zoe’s Kitchen – salads, sandwiches, Mediterranean
Scheduling Your Pick Up
I like to schedule everyone so that families don’t overlap and so that I can spend at least an hour with each family. You don’t have to stay this long, but I’ve found that most do stay at least an hour; many have stayed over two hours. During the days for picking up puppies, I make scheduling my day around you my number one priority and will do everything I can to make it possible for you to pick up your puppy on the day and at the time that you’d prefer. However, it does happen that more than one person wants or needs a particular time slot. Because those flying have the least amount of flexibility with regard to their flights, I will give those flying priority within reason over those driving. Those who have long distances to travel, I will make sure that you are able to leave early if that is what you need to do, but it may not be quite as early as you’d prefer or I may ask you to come a little earlier than would be ideal for you if there is a conflict with someone else needing to be here. Those who are close by, I do ask that you have the most flexibility. Weekends, and especially Sundays, tend to be the most popular times for people to come, so I ask anyone wanting to come on a Sunday to please be prepared to be flexible. If you are driving, you can let me know whenever you’d like what time you’d prefer to come. I will pencil you in at that time, but know that I may need to change your time to something an hour or two earlier or later. All of this just so you are prepared if I need to change your time. Sometimes it does happen, but usually, I’m able to be available whenever you like!
Because we have so much early morning work needing to be done on an ongoing basis with dogs and puppies, I don’t book appointments before 9:00 a.m. If you are flying or driving in one day and want to leave early the next morning, we can have our visit time and you can see our place and meet our dogs on the afternoon you come in. Then you can leave your puppy with me overnight and come back as early as needed for a quick pick up and go the next morning.
As I’ve mentioned to everyone, please don’t book anything until puppies are at least 2 weeks of age. Check with me about the time you’d like to be at my house to make sure that I am available to meet with you during the time frame that you need to meet me before actually making your flight reservations.
Looking forward to meeting you!