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Airline Pet Travel in the Cargo Hold

Airline pet cargo travel - keep your dog or cat safe
How to keep your dog, cat or other animal safe when traveling in the airline cargo hold.

People need to travel with a pet for many reasons: vacation, 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 much 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 airline 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 in the airline's cargo hold.

Visit to your veterinarian

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

It is always more stressful for a pet to be transferred to another plane. If possible, select an airline that offers a non-stop route to your destination. 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 clear customs and thus meet all appropriate requirements for entry to the layover country.

Travel during Spring and Fall

Avoid booking airline cargo travel for your cat or dog during periods of extreme temperature. Most airlines will not transport pets between mid-May and mid-September or when temperatures exceed 85 degrees F. The danger to your pet is not so much when they are in the air, it is before and during storing, loading and taxiing. This is for the safety of your pet.

Also avoid holidays and high-traffic periods. Fly mid week when airline employees are not as busy.

Get good equipment

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 your pet's crate generously: The airline rules for pet air travel require that your pet be able to stand up erect and turn around in the crate. 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 and crate corners. Adding cable ties to the door and corners of the crate 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.

Attach a large water bowl. it is important to keep your pet hydrated when flying. If you have a larger dog, get a large pet crate bowl. Fill and freeze the night before travel for dripless hydration.

Visible identification and documentation

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.

Tranquilizing your pet

Tranquilizing a pet prior to airline cargo travel can be 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. Consult with your veterinarian if you feel it is unavoidable. Better to use an all natural pet calmer.

Know your airline's pet policy

Print a copy of your airline's pet 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 at the gate 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.

Other Pet Travel Information
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