A pet owner must research the many requirements before taking a dog on an airplane. Different airlines have slightly different regulations, but most airlines follow the same basic set of rules in regards to flying with a dog.
One universal rule is that dogs cannot fly on a plane without the owner on board. Each airline that was contacted for this article has a rule that outlaws flying unaccompanied dogs from one point to another. Realize that the airline considers dogs to be cargo. Just as you are not allowed to send your luggage across the country without also being present, same thing goes when it comes to your dog. The intent of each rule is slightly different (it's unlikely that a bomb would be inside of a dog), but the bottom line is that the airlines to not want to be responsible for your dog. However, if you absolutely must transport your dog without being present, you can contact a licensed and approved pet transportation company to get the job done for you.
Before you even go to the airport, you need to make an appointment with your veterinarian. All airlines mandate that every dog that boards the plane must receive a full physical examination and be tested for various diseases (rabies is their main concern) prior to boarding. Usually the airline will want the exam certificate be dated within 30 to 60 days prior to the date of the flight, so the exam you had last year will not work for a flight you plan on taking next week.
Also, be aware of weather restrictions. These might be a big inconvenience, but they are in place to ensure the safety of your pet. The cargo area on an airplane can be incredibly hot. Because of this, there are restrictions on what times of the year dogs are allowed to travel to and from certain regions. Virtually all airlines will as well enforce weather and temperature related restrictions. For instance, if the temperature in the arrival or departure city is hotter than 85 degrees Fahrenheit, pets will not be permitted on the plane. Do not argue with the airline staff, because this is for your dog's safety.
Many airlines are currently allowing pets to be transported in the cabin of the plane, as long as they can comfortably fit into the in-cabin kennel cage (usually 22" long by 9"). The price of this service varies by airline but is usually under $100.00. This is considerably cheaper in comparison to the pets flying in the cargo hold which is not as safe and which can cost upwards of $300.00 on some airlines.
When flying internationally, be aware that the customs laws of many countries prohibit the entrance of dogs across their borders. Airlines are required to comply with these laws, and in many cases your dog will not be able to join you on an international flight at all.
Eric Shannon is a freelance author who also publishes the Dog Lovers Report, which is a biweekly newsletter with a very large readership. He also runs Beds For Doggies, which carries a large selection of Dog Beds, Dog Couches, and Dog Furniture.