Traveling with a pet can be challenging, especially flying with one. There are so many things to think about before finding the right route to transport your pet, then selecting an airline then booking a reservation. Here are a few things you should be thinking about:
Does your airline’s pet policy allow animals? Does the airline fly your route directly? How long should your layover be? Can you change airlines in the layover city? Does your destination country require that your pet enter as air cargo? Can your dog fly in the cargo hold during summer and winter months? Is your dog a larger breed of dog or other animal? Is your dog a breed known to be “dangerous”? Is your dog or cat a snub-nosed breed?
How can your pet fly on a commercial airline?
Before addressing all these questions, you should know that there are three ways that animals can fly on an airplane: in-cabin, as checked baggage or as air cargo.
Flying your pet in the cabin
When flying in the cabin, unless your pet is an emotional support or service animal, your pet will need to fit in an airline-compliant pet carrier that will fit under the seat in front of you. Your pet should fit entirely in the carrier, be able to stand up and turn around and be comfortable in the carrier.
Generally, if an airline’s pet policy allows pets in the cabin, it will allow small dogs and cats. Other animals such as rabbits and birds may or may not be accepted in the cabin. Service animals, those trained to assist with a physical disability or seizures, are always allowed; however, they may be restricted to dogs or dogs, cats and miniature horses as they are covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Policies regarding emotional support and comfort animals vary by airline.
Flying in the cargo hold
When flying either as checked baggage or air cargo, your pet will fly in the cargo hold which will be temperature and pressure controlled. It must fly in an IATA-compliant pet crate, which, hopefully, you have acclimated it to before being transported.
With checked baggage, your pet must be accompanied by a passenger and will be checked in at the terminal ticket counter. Generally, this class of service is for pets too large to fly in the cabin but under 70-80 pounds including its crate (maximum weight varies by airline).
When flying as air cargo, unaccompanied pets, larger pets, and pets other than those allowed to fly in-cabin or checked baggage will be checked in and claimed at your airline’s cargo facility. Air cargo is a more expensive class of service as your pet is tracked at every airport on the itinerary. The airline will also assume more responsibility for caring for your pet during the layover when flying as air cargo and many airlines will require that an agent in the originating airport book international pet travel.
How to select the best route when transporting your pet by air.
Here are 5 tips to finding the best route for your pet’s transport.
1.Know the import regulations of your destination country if flying internationally.
If your pet is flying internationally, you need to know what class of service your pet must fly to enter your destination country. Many countries require that your pet enter as air cargo such as Australia, Hong Kong, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, Ireland and South Africa. Most countries will allow your pet to enter in-cabin or as checked baggage as well.
All countries will require that pets clear customs at inspection points in that country, so you will need to make sure your pet’s first stop in a country is approved to clear live animals. Additionally, if your pet is flying to the United Kingdom, it must arrive on approved airlines.
You can find information on requirements to enter over 200 countries at https://www.pettravel.com/passportnew.cfm.
2. Keep your pet on the same airline
No matter whether your pet is flying domestically or internationally, you need to route your pet’s transport with the same airline company for the entire trip. Once you find an airline that serves your pet’s route, research their airline pet policies and any restrictions they may have regarding flying your pet.
The reason to keep your pet on the same airline is that the airlines do not interline pets, meaning they do not move pets from a plane owned by one airline company to a plane owned by another airline company during a layover.
So, if your pet must change airline companies on a layover, someone must claim it, clear customs (if traveling internationally) and recheck it on the next airline. When traveling internationally, this will mean that your pet must conform to regulations of the layover country. This can really complicate things depending on animal import requirements of the layover country.
If your pet stays on the same airline during the layover, then, if you are flying with your pet in the cabin, you will stay in the secure area of the airport until you board your next flight. If flying in the hold, your pet will transit the layover country and will not need to clear customs. If your layover is over 3 hours, contact your airline to make sure they will hold your pet during the layover. A transit permit may be required.
3. Minimize layovers and keep them short
The third thing to know when routing your pet’s transport is to find an airline that flies your route directly (non-stop). More handling means more stress for your pet. If this is not possible, then layovers should be short, under 3 hours if possible, especially if your pet is flying as checked baggage. Many airlines have facilities in their hub airports to care for your pet (walking, feeding, crate cleaning, etc.) and will do so for layovers exceeding 3 hours if your pet is flying as air cargo.
Pet owners should also be aware of welfare regulations if your trip is very long. Pets, especially puppies or kittens, should not be confined in a crate for very long flights, and your airline may require a rest stop. You should discuss this with them before booking their transport.
4. Leave from larger airport
When flying a pet on a commercial airline, the goal is to get your pet to its destination as directly as possible. The less handling, the better. If your pet is flying from a smaller or regional airport, a direct flight will likely not be possible as airlines generally route through major airports to consolidate their long-haul flights. You may want to consider renting a car and driving to a large, international airport if there is one relatively nearby to catch a direct flight to your pet’s destination, to cut down on the layovers, and to have a larger selection of airlines to choose from.
5. Watch the weather
It is always best to transport a pet in the cargo hold during Spring and Fall when temperatures are not extreme. For the safety of your pet, it should not be exposed to ground temperatures over 85 degrees F* (30 degrees C) or under 45 degrees F (7 degrees C) in any airport on your pet’s itinerary. (origination, layover or destination airports). Holding areas of cargo facilities are generally exposed to the cold and heat. Also, live animals are brought out to the aircraft with other baggage and loaded last, so they can spend time on the tarmac before loading. This is the time they are most at risk; not when airborne, but when on the ground. *75 degrees if your pet is brachycephalic (snub-nosed).
If it is not possible to travel during times of mild temperatures, try to find flights late in the evening or early in the morning (summer) or at mid-day (winter) when temperatures are not at their extreme. You will also need to be flexible as as the airline’s decision as to whether to accept live animals on the flight will come on the day and time of departure.
Flying with a larger pet
Large pets must always fly in the cargo hold in larger crates. Before booking, you will need to check with your airline to see whether the cargo door on the aircraft serving your route is large enough to accommodate your pet’s crate. When flying from smaller airports, this may be an issue, and you may need to drive to a larger airports that are able to serve larger aircraft.
Breed Restrictions and Snub-Nosed Pets
Owners of dog breeds generally classified as dangerous and also those transporting snub-nosed dogs and cats must be extremely careful in routing transport for their pets. All airlines have restrictions on these pets and most, including all US-based airlines, will not fly them in the cargo hold. Also, some airlines will require IATA CR82-compliant pet crates for dogs whose breeds are classified as dangerous.
Contact your airline
Regardless of the airline you select to transport your pet, always contact your airline to confirm that they allow pets on your specific route. Contact their cargo department if your pet is flying as air cargo. Make a reservation for your pet as soon as you can as there are a limited number of pets permitted per flight, no matter what class of service they are transported under.
Keeping these tips in mind when routing your pet’s transport can prevent errors in routing which could result in major consequences for both you and your pet as well as cancellation fees and the possibility of customs clearance in a foreign country. Find more information on flying with a pet.
If you need assistance with booking transport for your pet, email firstname.lastname@example.org, and we would be happy to help you.