One of the most emotionally zapping parts of moving abroad for us was the arrangements for our pet, Tin Box Dog, to accompany us. Once we had decided we were moving to Oman we immediately started researching what we needed to know about flying with a dog.
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In this post I wanted to share our personal experience of organising this ourselves and some of the resources we found useful.
When we were searching around for information there were big holes in what we read. This was mainly to do with what happened at the airport.
Official websites talk you through the legal process. But they often don’t refer to the more ‘fluffy’ stuff about when you’ll be separated and reunited with your pet.
So, I’ve tried to cover both from our experience of flying from London Heathrow, as a family of four plus a dog, to give other pet owners an idea of what might happen.
I don’t claim to be an expert and experiences may vary depending on airline but this is how it was for us.
Air travel with a pet – our experience
In December 2022 we relocated from the UK to Oman for work, and our dog flew with us.
However, the whole journey started about six months before that when we found out we were moving and started our pet travel research.
Dogs aren’t a common pet in the Middle East – pet shops in Oman more commonly stock birds and fish. But there is a large expat community with dogs. So we knew that it was possible to bring a dog to Oman and continue to give it a decent lifestyle.
Living in Oman with a dog was one branch of our research. Preparing Tin Box Dog’s legal documents and booking the flight were more time consuming.
We needed a clear four months before flying to start the necessary trips to the vets for the vaccinations and tests required to import our dog to Oman.
We also found Oman’s requirements changed with very little notice. It was important to keep checking what was needed so that we complied with the latest version of the rules.
Wherever you are flying to its worth making sure you have the latest guidelines and don’t assume things haven’t changed.
What are the rules for flying with a dog?
There are lots of rules for flying with a dog to ensure they have the appropriate documents for the country you are flying from and to, and that they are being transported safely, as well as your airline’s own rules for shipping live animals.
Here’s what we learnt along with helpful resources for travelling from the UK:
Country specific rules for pet travel
If you are travelling in the EU then your dog needs a microchip, an in date rabies vaccination and an animal health certificate. If you are going to certain countries in Europe they will also need a tapeworm treatment.
Check the most up-to-date requirements for taking a pet abroad in the EU.
As we were travelling outside the EU there were a few more hoops to leap through. As well as microchipping and a rabies vaccination, we needed an export health certificate for the country to which we were travelling.
The export health certificate ensures your pet is ready for export and has the vaccinations required locally.
Our UK vet hadn’t dealt with an export to Oman before but between us we found the right guidance on the gov.uk website.
The crucial thing was that they were registered with Defra’s Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), so they had the authority to sign off an export health certificate.
This is an important question to ask your vets from the start: are they registered with the APHA? Not all vets are, so you may need to find one who is.
We also got a recommendation for a vet in Oman who could help us with the import paperwork. This included detailed vaccination records and a lot of the evidence that went into the export paperwork. It was signed off by the Oman government in the week before we flew.
International Air Transport Association regulations for flying with a dog
The IATA Live Animals Regulations cover everything from the airline’s responsibilities when transporting live animals to correct travel crate sizes and the documents that need to be completed before take off.
As a pet owner the most important part for you to worry about is the specifications for your dog’s travel crate.
It has to be a specific size for your pet to meet international animal transport regulations.
There is a full explanation on the IATA website.
We decided to buy our dog’s crate a few months early to get her used to it. We found a second hand one on Facebook Marketplace. However, we slipped up.
While the crate met the IATA’s guidelines, it was too big for our airline to transport as excess baggage and would have had to be flown as freight. There were only a few centimetres in it.
We ended up buying a second smaller crate that was still in line with the rules. So, check the maximum crate size with your airline well in advance.
It’s important to contact the airline you’re travelling with at the earliest opportunity to check their rules for transporting live animals. Especially maximum weights and crate sizes (see above).
Some airlines will allow pets to be transported in the cabin and others the hold. Meanwhile some will not transport animals at all.
You may also have to be flexible about the day you fly. Some airline animal handlers only work in the week. And if you are travelling to Oman, that’s currently Sunday to Thursday.
If you speak to your airline’s customer service team they should be able to put you in touch with an individual or team that deals with flying pets. They will be able to answer all your questions.
We went around in circles for a bit to find the right person at our airline, Oman Air. They were very helpful once we found them but as they were based in Oman we had the four hour time difference to work around.
It’s also worth knowing that some airlines may have additional requirements over the IATA rules, in our case the crate had to use metal fastenings to hold the 2 halves together, our crate was supplied with these but not all are.
How does flying with a dog work?
So, here’s the bit that gave me the most sleepless nights; how does the flying with a dog work once you’ve got your paperwork in order?
Booking your dog’s flight
We booked our seats in the cabin a month before flying. However it wasn’t possible to book Tin Box Dog’s place in the hold until all the export and import paperwork had been completed 48 hours before our flight.
This was a bit stressful but is standard practice. Our vet couldn’t verify that our pet was fit to fly and sign off the export health certificate any earlier than two days before due to availability but this can be done up to 7 days before.
As we’d been speaking to our airline from the time our seats were booked they were ‘holding’ our dog a space.
Oman Air could fly pets in the hold as cargo or oversized luggage.
We went for the latter as it was cheaper and the process at the airport was shorter.
We only paid for our dog’s flight once we arrived at the airport. Other airlines may ask for payment sooner.
Traveling to the airport with a dog
Getting luggage and kids to the airport is challenge enough. Add a dog and crate to the equation and that’s a big ask for a family car.
You may also struggle to find an airport taxi or taxies that will take a pet/you all.
One solution is to employ a specialist pet transport company to get your dog and crate to the airport.
We opted to make all the arrangements ourselves as the bill for a pet transport company would have cost a lot on top of the hefty vets fees we were already forking out.
See the section on how much it costs to take a dog on a plane below.
Our solution? We hired a car for Mr Tin Box, the luggage and kids, and I drove our car with the dog, crate and my father-in-law who had the task of driving it home and selling it at a later date.
Whichever way you get to the airport, don’t forget to plan your last walkies before flying. As well as the flight time you’ll be hanging around at the airport at either end.
We stopped for a walk at a park 20 minutes before Heathrow.
Arriving at the airport
Something that my mind kept coming back to was the question ‘what happens to our dog at the airport?’.
I wasn’t able to find much about this part while searching the internet. This left me a little uneasy, especially as our original plan was for Mr Tin Box to fly out to Oman a couple of weeks before the rest of us.
I would have been navigating Heathrow solo with two children under 10, several suitcases packed with our worldly goods, a dog and a crate. A few months before we flew we changed our minds and decided to all go together. And I’m very glad we did.
A call with Carrie from Flying with a Baby also helped to put my mind at ease. She is the flying guru and had a contact at Heathrow who gave us a bit of insight into what happens at check-in. This roughly aligned with our experience.
Our airline, Oman Air, had recommended getting to the airport before check-in opened so we had plenty of time. We arrived at T4 four hours ahead of our flight which was fine.
After saying goodbye to my father-in-law at the T4 terminal drop off area, we unloaded Tin Box Dog’s crate, grabbed two trollies for this and our luggage, and walked into terminal.
I asked my father-in-law to take it slow going home so that if things all went wrong at the last minute he could turn around and ‘rescue’ Tin Box Dog.
We decided to keep Dog on her lead as she wouldn’t have been comfortable in her crate, which was now at a funny angle on an airport trolley.
Check-in was already open so we joined the queue. It soon became obvious that a few of our fellow passengers were nervous about dogs. Luckily the Oman Air team spotted us and asked us to move over to the less populated Business Class lane.
The staff made a fuss of Dog and a couple of children in the main line came over to say hello, which all helped to ease our nerves.
We checked in our hold luggage, paid for our dog’s flight and were asked to come back to check-in an hour and a half later when we’d be taken through security.
While we waited we kept Tin Box Dog on her lead and sat in Caffe Nero (there wasn’t a huge amount of choice). She also went for a final walk outside the terminal building.
Going through security
After an hour and a half we went back to check-in where a lovely member of the Oman Air team escorted us through the flight crew security line. This was when Tin Box Dog had to go in her crate on the trolley (at an angle).
We all popped our hand luggage into the trays and walked through the scanner while Dog’s crate was wheeled down the other side of the bag scanner.
The customs office was just on the other side. Mr Tin Box took Dog in to a room where a customs officer quickly checked through the export paperwork and inspected the crate.
And in a flash Dog was being rolled away by an airport animal handler.
That was an hour before our flight took off. There was no time for duty free shopping or grabbing a meal, so that’s something to bear in mind if you are travelling around a dinner time.
Tip: don’t book an airport lounge if you are flying with a dog – you won’t make it!
Food and water
Your airline will give you guidance about water and food for your pet. We provided bowls to hang off the crate door and our airline added water.
We had read somewhere about freezing water in one of the bowls and tried this out but it would have defrosted long before Dog was loaded on to the plane. It ended up in the sink at Caffe Nero pre-security.
The bag of food we left with the crate wasn’t given to Dog. It was just there in case of delays which thankfully we didn’t have.
What happens once your dog leaves you?
If only pets could talk! I’d love to know what our dog thought of her experience. She’s a bit of a nervous thing so we know she wouldn’t have enjoyed it.
Something we did to give us some extra reassurance was to put Apple AirTags* on her collar and on her crate.
This allowed us to see where she went in the airport and that she had been delivered to our plane before we took off.
We were also able to track her in the airport when we landed in Muscat.
We bought a pack of four AirTags – two for Dog, one to go in a suitcase and another for our belongings that were being shipped by sea.
You can get dog collar attachments* for AirTags on Amazon.
Arrivals and the reunion
Our vets in Oman had given us a handy step-by-step process of what would happen at the airport when we arrived.
Once we’d been through passport control we headed to the luggage carousel where we were told Tin Box Dog would be waiting for us with other ‘oversized bags’. She wasn’t there so we checked her Apple AirTag location and could see she had left the plane.
A few minutes later (although it felt like an age) we saw her crate being rolled through the luggage hall towards us. What a relief!
Inside her crate Tin Box Dog looked bemused but unscathed and happy to see us. I may have had a little sob at this point. I’d had very little sleep on our red eye flight.
Next we went through the ‘Goods to declare’ lane at customs where an officer checked our paperwork and charged us a small import fee. The brief from our vet in Oman said an airport vet might be called to sign off the import paperwork, but they weren’t on this occasion.
This was a relief as we were also told this could cause a long delay.
So, about an hour and a half after landing we exited the airport to begin our adventure in Oman!
Follow me on Instagram to see how Tin Box Dog is getting along!
How much does it cost to take a dog on a plane?
The price of a dog’s flight will vary depending on their size, whether they are traveling as freight or cargo, your airline and the destination.
Our medium-sized dog’s one way flight from London Heathrow to Muscat International Airport with Oman Air cost £245 in December 2022.
Of course, there are many more costs to flying with a dog than the flight. We estimate that we spent £2,250 on getting our dog to Oman.
As well as the flight we had to pay for:
- a rabies vaccination and a Titer test to prove the antibodies were in Tin Box Dog’s blood.
- Buying an IATA standard crate.
- UK vets bill for the export health certificate.
- Oman vets bill for the import certificate.
Our overall bill was inflated because our dog needed a second rabies vaccination and Titer test because the first test came back showing less antibodies than needed.
This caused us a last minute flap because the second Titer test could not be done until a month after the second vaccination. And by that point we had just over a week do go before our flight. As results usually come back within seven working days we opted to fast track them, costing a whopping £850.
So, If you were to do the same flight as us with a medium sized dog, and didn’t have the bad luck we did with Titer tests, the overall cost could be somewhere around £1,200.
It’s also worth saying that there are many companies that will facilitate travel door-to-door and do all the leg work for you. It’s probably a less stressful option but the quotes we received would have added thousands of pounds to the cost. This was something we couldn’t afford.
Tips for flying with a dog
To wrap up, here’s a few extra snippets of learning to save in case you ever find yourself moving abroad with a pet:
Speak to someone who has already done it
If possible, get in touch with someone who has already moved to your new home with a pet.
On the ground advice was super helpful to us, from finding a local vets to arrange the import paperwork, to what it’s like to live with a pet in the country.
Once you are confident you have found the right travel crate, introduce your dog to it ahead of flying.
We bought ours a few months before and it became Tin Box Dog’s bed, so was a familiar space. She didn’t seem to notice when we downgraded it to a slightly smaller size.
Medication for flying dogs
The IATA advises against sedating or tranquillising pets when they fly. Some airlines will also not accept tranquillised animals. This is because when they are immobile they are more likely to suffer an injury.
However, there are other things you can do.
Tin Box Dog can be quite nervous in situations where there’s loud and sudden noises, like firework night. So when we’ve known something like this was coming up we have given her pheromone tablets prescribed by our vets. These help to calm her.
She’s previously taken these tablets when we did a four hour ferry crossing to Jersey in the UK.
We gave them to her again in the weeks before and after our move, as well as using an Adaptil pheromone diffuser plug*.
It’s difficult to know if these complimentary treatments are really effective but they seemed to help.
So, that’s our experience of flying with a dog. We have only ever done it once so I’m not an authority on the subject and other people may have different experiences with different airlines, airports and destinations.
This is why I have provided links to official government and agency websites where you can check the latest guidance.
Have you flown with a dog? I’d love to hear how it went.
Disclosure: this post contains affiliate links marked with *. If you click on one of these and make a purchase I may earn some commission. This does not affect the price you pay.