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Airline Pet Travel in Cargo

Pet Travel: How to Help Keep Your Pet Safe When Traveling Air Cargo

People need to travel with a pet for many reasons: leisure, business, and relocation to name a few. Although all of us would like to be able to fly with their pet in the cabin of an airplane, this is not possible if your pet is over 11 inches tall or 15 pounds in weight. The only option left is for your pet to travel in the cargo hold. Despite all the fears about pet cargo travel, millions of pets are shipped every year with relatively few incidents. Granted, any incident is serious when it comes to our pets, but many are avoidable. There are things you can do to maximize your pet’s safety when traveling air cargo.

Make sure your pet is healthy: A trip to the veterinarian prior to pet air travel is a very good idea. Unhealthy or very skiddish pets should not be subjected to the stress of travel. If you have to travel, leave them at home and have a pet sitter or relative care for them.

Choose your route carefully: If possible, select an airline that offers a non-stop route to your destination. It is always more stressful for a pet to be transferred to another plane. Also remember that airlines do not interline pets. If you are switching to another airline during stopovers, you will have to pick up and recheck your pet. This can be helpful during a long trip, but be sure and give yourself plenty of time between flights to walk and hydrate your pet. Additionally, if you are on an international flight and change airlines, you must pass customs and thus meet all appropriate requirements for entry to that country.

Purchase a good pet crate: IATA regulations require a sturdy pet crate with adequate ventilation, waterproof bottom, spring locked door, disabled wheels, and no handles (except for smaller crates).

Size the crate generously: The airline rules for pet air travel require that your pet be able to stand up erect and turn around in the carrier. Do not compromise on your pet’s comfort. Give them room to stretch.

Use metal hardware! More and more airlines are requiring metal hardware instead of plastic fasteners to secure both halves of the crate. We strongly suggest that you take that extra step whether your airline requires it or not.

Cable tie the door: Adding cable ties to the door will add an extra level of protection for your pet. Although spring locks are hard to get open, it has happened, and the results can be serious.

Identification must be present and visible: Live Animal and Directional Stickers are mandatory. In addition, you should attach the following information to your crate in a plastic sleeve: name of pet, your name and cell phone number, any medical considerations, temperament issues (if any), and a picture of your pet. You can also include your pet’s veterinary information.

Adequate Hydration: Your pet should be offered hydration prior to going to the airport. Your pet’s crate bowl [link to crate crock] should be filled and frozen prior to attaching it to the crate.

No tranquilizing: Tranquilizing a pet prior to pet cargo travel is very dangerous. Many airlines will not accept a pet who has been tranquilized. It is important that a pet's breathing is not affected during flight and this is a common side effect in tranquilizers. Better to use an all natural pet calmer.

Know your airline's pet policy: Print a copy of the policy and bring it with you should you have any problems at the check in desk or cargo area.

Your pet will not be stacked on top of suitcases. Airlines have special places for pets so that they will be protected from cargo and luggage. It is temperature controlled and pressurized just like the cabin.

Be proactive! If you are traveling with your pet, the day of travel, tell the ticket agent that you would like to get confirmation that your pet has been loaded in the plane if you cannot see the baggage handlers load the plane prior to boarding yourself. Inform the captain (or have the crew inform the captain) that there is a live animal in the hold and to be sure to monitor the temperature and pressure at all times.

Relax and enjoy your flight: Remember that airline employees who handle your pet have been trained to do so. Many of the airlines have pet programs to attract your business. They are required to report all pet travel incidents in cargo to the Department of Transportation. It is to their best interest to treat your pet with care and safety in mind.

Many of the stories that we hear about incidents during pet air travel could have been prevented had the pet owner had taken the necessary precautions for their pet's safety. Give your pet the best chance to arrive safely by taking these steps in advance of traveling in the cargo hold.

More information on pet cargo travel in our blog.