Flying with dogs
I would be interested in hearing people’s experiences flying with their dogs.

I have been flying a non-owned Remos (light sport), but the owner is ready to sell the plane. That means that I have some serious decisions to make. Buy that plane? Buy a different plane that could accommodate the family (for a lot more money?) “The family” consists of a reluctant husband and two Siberian huskies who travel well in the car.

How do people restrain their dogs? Crates wold be ideal, but it would have to be a pretty large plane to accommodate two large dog crates. Seat belts and harnesses may be the only solution, but that doesn’t work well in the car, and you can’t just pull over when the dog gets tangled or chews through the harness. Could you rig a sturdy barrier between the back area and the front seats? Maybe somehow use a car barrier, or have something similar custom made?

Do the mutt muffs work to protect their hearing? (How could you possibly know?) But at least do the muffs appear to work and do the dogs tolerate them? I won’t subject my dogs to that much noise without hearing protection.

Thanks for any insights and experiences.
11 Replies
First of all, I just don't see any way to put one Siberian, no less two, in a Light Sport Aircraft.  The baggage area behind the seats of all the LSA's I've seen isn't big enough, and I'd never put a dog like that in the right seat (although I have had a chihuahua in a fishing tackle box-sized crate there).  If I were looking to carry two Siberians in separate crates, I'd think you'd need a Piper PA32 Cherokee 6/Saratoga, Cessna 206, or Beech 36 Bonanza, all with the big rear doors to load those crates.  Beyond that...

My wife and I have flown with ten different dogs of our own over the last 40 years.  We find that a dog does in a plane exactly what it does in a car.  If that includes barfing, be ready (or don't try it).  If that includes barking continuously, be ready for that, too (including some comments from ATC if they hear a dog in the background).  If that including racing around the vehicle like a maniac, put the dog in a travel container.  If that includes hanging his head out the window and barking, either keep the window/canopy shut or be ready for stares and pointing while you taxi.

We've seen no indication that the noise bothers them, but I suppose that if you flew a lot with them, they could sustain the same type of hearing problems that pilots do without ear protection.  I've heard of some folks putting cotton in their dog's ears -- personally, I'd hate to try it on ours (remember the last time you had to give your dog medicine?), and anyway, I think they'd dig it out as fast as they could.  I've also seen the "Mutt Muffs" on the internet, but the dog wearing them in the picture looked ready to rip the arm off the person who put those things on his head.  That said, some folks I know say their dogs are happy with them, but others say otherwise.  I suppose you have to try it and see how it works.

Tranquilizers have never seemed necessary for our beasts, but I'd say that if their behavior in the car is such that you couldn't stand it in the plane, you'd best trank them.  But experiment with this - you'd be amazed how those things affect a dog, and how long it takes to a) take effect, and b) wear off.  When we shipped two dogs on TWA from
England to the U.S., the airline required them to be crated and tranquilized.  The vet gave us pills, and suggested half a pill for each dog (and these were both retrievers – not small dogs) a couple of hours before flight.  We gave the dogs the pills, and there was no immediate effect.  About an hour later, the dogs, well, melted.  They just slowly sank into a heap and z'd out.  We got to the airport and tried to give them one last walk to drain the sumps before flight.  They walked up to this fire plug outside the terminal that had obviously been used by many other dogs for the same purpose, and sniffed it intently.  Then they tried to make their final salute to the British Empire – and were unable to get a leg up without collapsing.  The poor beasts just stood there, looking sadly at the fire hydrant, and then at us, as if to say, "I really want to, but I just can't do it."  It then took two of us to stuff the virtually limp dogs into their crates.

As far as crates/restraints, again – judge by car experience.  If the dog moves around too much to stand in a plane, you’d best either crate or restrain them.  There are a number of restraints available for automotive use, and they should work fine in the plane, although our Black Lab would immediately set to chewing through such restraints – she was either loose or crated to the day she died.  The other point is that an unsecured dog can become a missile hazard.  We were cruising along in IMC over BDR with our Chocolate Lab Chewbacca.  He was curled up in the back, sound asleep (as he normally did in cruise flight).  We hit a downdraft and dropped about 50 feet.  I looked back a
s we dropped, and saw a) daylight between the dog and the floor, b) two big yellow eyes the size of dinner plates, and c) four legs splayed out trying to find something on which to hold.  Shortly after the airplane stopped descending, the dog caught up with a thump.  Chewie spent the rest of the flight wide awake, trying desperately to dig in and hang on to the floor.

Cats are a whole ‘nother story.  The worst one I heard was a guy ferrying hi
s wife’s cat from NY to Florida in a Bonanza.  Somewhere over North Carolina the uncontained cat got spooked and went crazy, tearing all over the cabin, clawing/scratching/biting him.  By the time he got on the ground (after declaring an emergency), there was blood everywhere – all his.  No way any live cat gets in my plane other than in one of those cat boxes.

As for the pressure changes, yes, I have noticed one effect.  Some years back, we had Chewie in the back of the Cheetah as we climbed up to about 11,000 feet or so from sea level (summer day, looking for smooth air).  We forgot how much methane gas is trapped in the digestive tract of a
Labrador, and that the gas expands in volume as outside air pressure decreases, while the dog's gut is limited in size.  Passing about 5000 he began to whimper and look uncomfortable.  Passing about 8000 feet the smell hit us (gas only -- no solid waste).  We turned around and he settling down, looking very satisfied.  Fortunately, a Cheetah has a canopy that can be opened in flight, providing the necessary ventilation for us to survive.

Duke, a Golden Retriever, was my principal pooch passenger for several years in the Cougar.  He thoroughly enjoyed going ANYwhere, and was a delight in the plane.  When we arrived at the airport, he hopped up on the wing, and went right into the back seat where he sat up watching the world out the window until takeoff, and then sprawled across the back seats, snoozing until he felt the wheels go down.  Then it was back up to that beautiful Golden Retriever sitting position for landing, watching out the window until we stopped, then out the door and down to see what there was new at this airport that he hadn’t seen before.  But when we went back to the airplane, it was hippity-up onto the wing, and he was ready to fly again.

Of late, we have begun flying rescued Aussies for the Aussie Rescue Placement and Helpline (ARPH), making us the charter members of ARPHAir, of which
Bill Greenburg was the second pilot, and others have now joined the effort.  In that situation, not knowing the dogs, we mount a crate in the back of the plane (Grumman 4-seaters have flop-down rear seats) and that's where they go.  After an hour or so in cruise, if the dog is relaxed, we may open the gate for a bit of reassuring petting, but if any doubts arise, the dog stays locked up.  We had one who oozed his way into the front seat, and then wanted to sit in my lap while I was flying -- not cool.  He got stuffed back in the crate and left there for the rest of the flight, during which he stared long and hard at the latch, trying to figure out how to open it.  As far as sedation, I know that the effects of sedatives are increased with altitude, and without knowing for sure the effect on any given dog or the altitude at which we'll fly, we do not sedate them. We give specific instructions to that effect to the sending ARPH volunteer, and will not accept the dog if sedated (don't want a bad reaction at 7000 feet). We put the dog in the crate before engine start, and then see what happens when we crank. If the dog really freaked, that would be the end of the flight right there, but so far, there hasn't been a significant reaction.
I fly with the Basset/Beagle mix.  He's got floppy ears so I never thought he would need additional ear protection.  I think the ear protection thing is a little overblown.  It is not like they are subjected to it 24/7 or that it all that load.  He loves to fly, to him I don't think it is any different then being in the car.  I just put him in the back seat.
Thank you for the experiences. To be clear, I had no intention of trying to fit the dogs into the light sport plane! There are two localish clubs that I could buy into. They both have Cessnas - a 177 and a 182. 
I have flown several dogs for Pilots N Paws in my Piper Warrior.  I mostly use medium sized crates in the luggage area.  I can stack two and use the luggage straps to tie the crates down.  A small crate can fit in the back seat.  For larger dogs, I would use harnesses secured to the back seat. I never let dogs in the front seat area because of risk to the flight controls.  If you use the medium sized crates with the plastic clips on the side, be sure to use some some luggage straps to keep the crate bottoms from coming loose.  Most of the time, dogs just sleep during the trip but I had one pair of small dogs that barked for the whole trip.
My wife and I often fly with our 2 goldens in our Cherokee Six with no issues.  I removed the mid-row seats to give them more space, and my wife typically sits in back with them to keep them entertained, give them water or treats, etc.  I installed a removable lightweight cargo net just behind to front seats to keep the dogs from hopping up in front with me.  We generally only fly 2-hour legs, generally on 4-hour trips, and the dogs do fine.  The Six is relatively quiet at cruise so no mutt muffs needed (we tried them once and the pups had them off in 2 seconds - that was fun!), and I typically cruise at 10,000' +/- with no altitude issues.  They usually just sit and look out the windows or sleep.  Crates would work if you could get them to fit - we have never needed one.  If your dogs do OK on longer car trips they should be fine - keep them cool, provide good ventilation, keep the bumps to a minimum, no problem.  We started out with one at a time on short hops to see how they would do, then took them to a small local airport to try the get-out-and-pee routine, that worked fine as well.  One of them is shy about ramp noise, so we stay away from busy airports for our stops.  The Six has a rear door that's fairly low to the ground, but I have a folding ramp since one of them is older and has arthritis, and the other never really learned how to jump in. 
Sterling is my 3 year old black and white Labradoodle.  We fly out of Herlong KHEG on Jacksonville FL’s West side near Navy JAX and Cecil Field.  I took him on his first cross country trip to Punta Gorda in January in the Cherokee 180 I share with 3 other owners.  Prior to that flight I did a couple of orientation flights with a short leash secured to back seat belts.  Adjoining hanger tenants said he was quite a sight sitting up in the back seat.  He fell asleep on the ride home.
Thanks for the recommendations, I fortunately have small pets - a Scottish Shepherd and a pure-bred trash gremlin that people around insist on calling a "cat", so they'll sit in boxes during the flight. 
I still have a question, although I think I'll ask the vet as well: during how long of a flight can I keep them in boxes? Because I'm planning to travel regularily from Belgium to Spain, as I'm eyeing these houses in Alicante, and since my plane isn't exactly supersonic, I wondered whether it'd be too harsh on my pets to keep them in boxes for the entire duration of the flight.

Olivier Vandebroucke:
I still have a question, although I think I'll ask the vet as well: during how long of a flight can I keep them in boxes?

I think that's mostly a question of your pets' bladder duration, and your willingness to either make intermediate landings versus cleaning up the pet and the box.

Because I'm planning to travel regularily from Belgium to Spain, as I'm eyeing these houses in Alicante, and since my plane isn't exactly supersonic, I wondered whether it'd be too harsh on my pets to keep them in boxes for the entire duration of the flight.

Our dogs did about 10 hours in their crates in the cargo hold of a 747 when we returned to the States from the UK, none the worse for the wear other than the towels in the crates needing laundering and the dogs being a bit smelly. I don't see 3-4 hours in a crate in your well-lit cabin with their humans close at hand as a big issue.  Of course, if you fly with someone else to handle them, you can let them out for a bit of lap time during flight, although for reasons mentioned above, I urge extreme caution about letting a cat loose unless it's securely tetherd on a short leash, and maybe not even then.

39 Posts
I have always had dogs - large dogs, a Lab Retriever, Great Dane and now a Mastiff.  But I have never felt compelled to take them with me in either of the PA 28s that I have owned.  I do not think that flying in a small plane is advisable for dogs or the owners.  Yes, I understand how we want them with us, and I fully expect many to disagree with me.  I had a close friend, President of a major airline,  crash on take off in his Cessna 182, with his dog and both were killed.  Neither aircraft issues, or weather could be pointed to as the cause.  The cause can only be speculated that he became distracted by the dog on take off and veered off into a tree.  Yes, one can become distracted for a variety of reason, but I don't want my dog to be that source of distraction for me.  
I know a farmer who flies a Citrabria , Blue heeler in the back seat . Not sure it has harness or not.