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Pet Travel - Flying With or Without a Dog or Cat

What do you need to do?

checked baggage It can't be said often enough - traveling in the cargo hold poses dangers for any live animal including your pet. If you have a choice, travel by car or by train. If you must travel by air, use common sense; know that, if your dog is old, unhealthy, or is a snub-nosed breed, you need to take extra precautions. If for any reason you cannot travel on the same flight with your pet or if you are traveling to a country with complicated requirements or dealing with a foreign language issue, you may want to use the services of a licensed pet transporter.

Flying with a dog or cat in the airline cabin

If your pet is small enough to fit in a carrier, which goes beneath the seat in front of you, this method of travel by air is far and away your best bet for a safe, worry-free trip. Most of the major airlines are still accepting one pet per passenger at an average cost of $125.00 each way on domestic flights.

1. You must make a reservation well in advance as only one or two pets per flight are allowed. The reservation should be done over the telephone. In most cases, it cannot be done online.
2. Your pet carrier must fit under the seat. Choose a flexible airline compliant pet carrier which has a waterproof bottom, adequate ventilation, and secure zippers that you pet cannot open. Your pet must be able to stand up and turn around in the carrier. Be sure you measure your pet carefully from tip of nose to base of tail and from top of ears to the ground to pick an appropriate carrier.

Flying with a Dog or Cat in the Cargo Hold

Larger pets must be sent as checked luggage (accompanied) or as air cargo (larger pets or unaccompanied). On airlines that offer this service, this section of the cargo hold is fully pressurized and heated. The cost can run from $50.00 to $500.00 so check with your airline's reservation or cargo department. Pets up to approximately 75 pounds can travel as checked baggage when accompanied by a passenger.

Tips on Flying With a Dog or Cat
  • Fly a reputable airline
  • Don't travel during peak holiday times
  • Unless you absolutely have no choice, take direct flights. Layovers only increase stress on your pet.
  • Don't change airlines as they will move your pet from plane to plane in layover countries as long as your layover is around 2 hours or less. If you must change airlines, be sure you can collect and then re-check your dog at the layover airport as airlines do not interline live animals. Know that you must clear customs and be compliant with the layover country's regulations if you claim your pet. Try to give yourself a long enough layover to take your pet out for a walk or checkout the airport dog relief area.
  • In the summer, travel early or late in the day to avoid heat; in winter, travel mid-day to avoid severe cold. (This has nothing to do with the temperature in the cargo compartment, which is pressurized and kept between 50-70 degrees by law, but when your pet is exposed to extreme temperature in holding and loading areas.)
  • Make sure your dog's collar and ID tags are sturdy and reflect your cell phone number.
  • Make sure you are carrying a veterinarian certificate showing that your pet is in good health and their shots are current. The certificate should have been issued shortly before departure (times vary according to the regulations of your destination country).
  • Use a top-quality airline compliant crate with enough room for your pet to stand up and turn around. Remember that this will be your pet's protection during its travels. Use crate hardware to secure the 2 halves of your crate, not plastic fasteners. Many airlines are now requiring the use of steel nuts and bolts to secure your pet's crate.
  • If the flight is over 3 hours, get a large pet crate bowl and freeze water in it before the flight to be sure your pet has water through the flight.
  • Cover your crate, using stickers or paint or permanent marker, with notices that say: "HI! My name is XX. Please be NICE to me. Thanks!" and " I'm traveling from XX to XX on Flight # XX" and "My Parent's name is XXX. Phone: XXX. Cell: XXX." The more information about your pet, the better.
  • Carry a photograph of you with your dog or cat that you can use to help find him if you're separated.
  • Get to airport at least a half hour earlier than required, check in, but don't let them take your dog away until the last moment (usually 30 minutes before departure). Once you've checked in, take your dog outside for a walk.
  • Be ABSOLUTELY certain that the door of the kennel is SECURE, really secure and attach zip ties to each corner. Just above the door, write: "DO NOT open this door without the permission of owner or a licensed veterinarian!"
  • Don't leave your pet before a baggage handler actually comes to collect them. Give the baggage handler a US $5 tip (or local currency equivalent). Ask him to please be sure the dogs are ok (we don't know if this helps, but it makes us feel better).
  • Be sure not to leave anything in the crate that your dog can rip to shreds, might get sick from, or choke on.
  • Don't give your dog sedatives such as dramamine for dogs or cats unless you have to, and only then on the advice of your veterinarian. Sedatives make it difficult for your dog or cat to adjust to temperature changes and turbulence, and they may impede his breathing. We suggest an all natural pet calmer.
  • At the gate, if you can look out the window and watch baggage being boarded, watch for your pet. If you can't see them being loaded, wait until all the other passengers have boarded then ask the gate attendant to radio the baggage area to make sure your pet has been loaded. Refuse to board unless they confirm that your pet is on the plane.
  • As you board the plane, talk to the captain or flight attendant and say, very politely, " I just wanted to let you know my pet is on this flight, in cargo. It's their first time flying so I'd really appreciate you making sure he's ok and double-checking that they are in the right compartment."

These common sense steps will help to ensure a safe trip for your pet when they cannot travel with you in the cabin.

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