Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Flying with your dog: 5 things that happen at airport security

Sinead the Boston terrier in her carrier

Last year, when I took my dog on an airplane for the very first time, I was a nervous wreck. And there was one point of the journey that seemed to cause me the most anxiety. That one point: Airport security.

TSA screeners are under a lot of pressure to move air travelers through lines as quickly as possible, and as a result, they don't tend to be a friendly lot. They bark and point and wave their hands around. I was just sure I'd do something wrong, and Sinead the Boston terrier and I would hang up the whole line and get ridiculed.

As it turns out, I had lovely screeners in every airport I went through last year. And I have no reason to expect any different this year.

But, I also think that I might not be the only person with security worries this travel season. So I thought I might outline what happens at the screening checkpoint when you have your little dog with you. If I can reduce your anxiety, my job is done!

So let's get started.

You've checked your baggage at the counter, paid your fees and have walked up to the screening checkpoint. Here's exactly what happens.

Sinead the Boston terrier prepares for an airplane trip

Step one: Your dog's paperwork is inspected.

Dogs traveling in the cabin with their peeps aren't issued tickets. But, the ticket counter agent or the airline website should provide you with a receipt for any fees you've paid to bring your dog on the trip. The security team often wants to see those receipts, so they can ensure that you're not sneaking a pet on board.

In addition, a TSA agent can ask to see something called a Health Certificate (see an example of one here). This is a piece of paper issued by a veterinarian that asserts that your dog is healthy enough to fly. Last year, no one asked to see my certificate. But I've heard horror stories of people turned away at security because they didn't have it. A cert costs something like $30, and it's good insurance, if you ask me. Have it with you, just in case.

Step two: Your dog comes out of the carrier.

You can't just keep your dog in the carrier and slide the carrier through the x-ray machine. You'll be asked to take your dog out of the carrier, and the team will require that your dog is 100 percent naked. That means no shirts, no collars, no harnesses and no booties. I take everything off of Sinead before we get in line at security, just so I can ensure that I won't have to take that step and hold people up. 

Step three: You'll walk through a special gate.

When you have an animal with you, the TSA asks you to go through a different x-ray machine. I have no idea why, but they ask you to do so. You'll walk through the machine with your arms outstretched and your dog in your hands. 

When you've walked through that gate, the TSA screeners will mark your hand with a powder and ask you to hold your hand up for inspection. Apparently, they're looking for some kind of igniting residue here. Then, you'll do the same with your other hand. Going through this test means passing your dog from one hand to the other, and the team will not hold your dog for you. I use commands like "wait" and "stay" to keep Sinead from wiggling out of my arms during this test. 

Step four: Your dog carrier will move through the scanner. 

Your dog's carrier will be x-rayed, along with your carry on bags, as you go through that hand test with a screener. I saw one or two people who had pets run into trouble with the scanning, as they had gel-like treats and gel-like foods in the pockets of their dog carriers for their pets to snack on during the flight. Remember: Anything they'll take from your luggage they will also take from your pet's luggage. That means no alcohol, no gels and no weapons. 

Step five: Your dog goes back in the carrier.

When all that work is done, you have a ton to accomplish in a short period of time. You have shoes to put back on, bags to pick up and a dog to deal with. You might be frantic about grabbing your bag first. But, the TSA team will want your dog in the carrier before you do even one more thing. Airport rules require dogs to stay in their carriers while they're in the airport. Pop your dog in first, or else you'll get some TSA ire. 

And that's it! All of this takes just minutes to complete, and while it's a little nerve wracking, it really is over fast. And once you know what to expect, it's not very stressful. 

At least, I hope not!

Have you flown with your dogs before? Did I miss any steps? Shoot me a note in the comments! Love to hear from you.


  1. Very informative post! I wonder how smaller airports would do it, as I don't recall seeing a separate scanner in some. I don't recall ever seeing a pet in a security line, in fact. I bet the screeners were so nice because they have their day brightened by a dog! :-)

  2. Interesting for dog owners ! I don't have these problems with my 4 cats, they stay home !