No one wants to be unnecessarily separated from their pet, even when anticipating a carefree vacation. The costs for a boarding kennel or pet sitter might go a long way toward assuring your animal’s safety, but they don’t buy away the loneliness you feel leaving him behind. The guilt and paranoia (and genuine risk, let’s face it) intensify if your pet is very old or has a chronic health condition. What if something happens while you are away? Wouldn’t it be easier, safer, and more fun to travel with your dog or cat by your side?

Most people and many pets don’t mind a road trip together. Some animals love to ride in the car, and plenty of humans have purchased their current vehicle with their pet’s comfort in mind. As long as you can locate a pet friendly hotel, you’ll probably come out ahead financially and enjoy the best travel companion imaginable. If air travel is necessary, though, the excursion becomes exponentially more complicated.

Many airlines will allow you to bring your animal on board the flight, but they will generally not allow you to purchase a separate seat for your friend. He’ll actually need to fit under the seat in front of you, and he will have to prove himself with a weight check and tape measure at the departure gate. Each flight has a limited number of spots for non-human passengers, so you’ll want to make reservations as early as possible. Many types of dogs and cats are prohibited from flying altogether, due to safety/liability concerns over breed-related respiratory difficulty. This no-fly list will differ slightly from one provider to the next, but the main characters will tend to be short-nosed breeds. Any animals exceeding 20 pounds must travel alone in the cargo hold, and that can only be done if the outdoor temperature is appropriate at the time of takeoff. All pets will have to pass a veterinary exam within a few days of traveling, and you will need to produce that official certificate for airline officials on demand. Of course, a number of fees will apply—for the privilege of bringing your animal along, for insurance coverage if you would choose to purchase that, and for extra pieces of luggage (since your in-cabin pet counts as your carry-on). Your pet can never, ever come out of the carrier while inside the cabin of the plane. Be prepared for any awkward issues that may arise if one of your neighbors fears animals or just plain hates them, or has a severe allergy, or even just claims to be allergic. People can behave very strangely on an airplane.

Air travel with an animal is not a simple matter, so be sure your pet really needs to go on this trip. Your research into the regulations of your specific carrier must be exhaustive, to prevent ugly last-minute surprises. Your plans will need to be finalized as far in advance as possible. Be prepared for additional expenses and unexpected changes. And give yourself one final chance to back out. Do you really, really need to bring your pet on this trip?

Dr. M.S. Regan