We get asked a lot of questions from pet owners about traveling with a pet by air. After all, we live in a mobile age and people move all over the world every day. Certainly, they want to bring their pet with them and knowing airline pet policies and the services offered will help save a lot of headaches on travel day.
All services for live animals offered by airlines based in the United States are covered by the Animal Welfare Act and Animal Welfare Regulations issued in November, 2013. There are 3 ways that dogs and cats can travel on an airplane: in-cabin, checked baggage and manifest cargo.
Travel in the cabin: most airlines based in the US allow only small cats, dogs and (maybe) household birds to travel in the cabin on flights and generally only on flights under 8 hours (US-based airlines). Your pet should not exceed approximately 11-13 pounds in weight and 19 inches in length from tip of nose to base of tail. Your cat or dog will need to travel in an airline compliant carrier which has a waterproof bottom, adequate ventilation and zippers for security. Pet owners usually opt for soft sided carriers like those found here because they will offer your cat or dog additional room and will compress to go under the seat in front of you. See airline compliant pet carriers.
When flying with your pet in the cabin, you will notify the airline in advance (when you make your booking is best). On travel day, you will bring your pet to the ticket counter where you will pay for your pet’s passage. You will need to clear security on your way to the gate. Refer to this article on clearing airport security with a pet.
Travel as checked baggage: If you or your designee (over 18 years of age) are traveling with your dog or cat, then, as long as your airline offers this service (most do), your pet can travel as checked baggage in the cargo hold. This service is for pets that are too big to travel in the cabin or are pets other than dogs or cats. You need to inform your airline that you are traveling with a pet ahead of time and usually a minimum of 48 hours is required.
Your cat or dog must travel in an IATA compliant pet crate with a waterproof bottom, secure, spring latch door and adequate ventilation. On travel day, you will bring your pet in its crate to the ticket counter (or PetSafe desk if you are flying with United) where you will pay for your pet’s passage. Staff at the reservation desk will take your pet to the loading area and you will proceed on to your gate. When traveling with a dog or cat as checked baggage, you should arrive at the airport in plenty of time to process your pet. Your pet should fly on the same plane as you do. You will pick up your pet in the baggage claim area of the terminal.
Travel as manifest cargo: Dogs and cats traveling as manifest cargo travel in the cargo hold as do those traveling as checked baggage. Animals traveling as manifest cargo may be too big to handle at the ticket counter, be traveling unaccompanied by their owner or be required to do so by the country they are traveling to. Many countries require live animals to arrive as manifest cargo including the United Kingdom, Japan, United Arab Emirates, Australia, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Angola, South Africa, Namibia, Mozambique and Tongo.
If your pet is traveling as manifest cargo, you will need to contact the cargo department of your airline for details. Your pet will need a health certificate issued within 10 days of travel and, like checked baggage, your pet must travel in an IATA compliant pet crate. You will take your pet and its crate to your airline’s cargo facility (United may have a PetSafe Desk in the airport). Most airlines have cargo facilities on airport grounds. There, your pet will be weighed and crate inspected and you will complete an Airway Bill which will travel with your pet. Here is lots of information on preparing your pet crate for travel.
Your pet will travel on the same plane as you do unless there is an issue with cargo scheduled with your flight. Be sure and be proactive and ask whether your pet was loaded on the plane before you get on. Tell the Captain and crew that there is precious cargo in the hold and be sure and monitor pressure and temperature levels.
When you arrive at your destination, you will pick up your pet at the cargo facility or at another processing location. You should clarify this with cargo staff when you check in your pet.
Hope this helps to clarify the ways your pet can travel by air. You can always email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with additional questions. Additionally, you can find more information on pet transport on www.PetTravelTransport.com if you need help with travel arrangements or cannot travel with your pet.