Airline pet travel can be an enjoyable experience, but can also be stressful without the proper preparation. It is important to remember (especially on international flights) that there is specific documentation that will need to be completed in advance of travel.
Identify Your Pet
First thing is to get a pet microchip for your dog or cat. The chip should have 15 digits and thus will be ISO 11784/11785 compatible and accepted worldwide. Microchips are required to enter many countries and also used as the official identification of your pet. (Don’t forget to register your contact information.)
Research Your Destination’s Import Requirements
If you are traveling internationally by air, you will need pet passport forms for the specific country you are traveling to. Do not procrastinate! Some countries such as Japan, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Australia, Norway, Iceland, Ireland and the United Kingdom all have quarantine policies ranging from up to six months. There are ways to avoid your pet being quarantined in these countries, but you must prepare in advance.
Find Your Air Carrier
The next step is to find the airlines which serve your origination and destination cities. Once you have a few airlines to choose from, take a look at their individual pet policies. Each airline is different with regard to pricing and pet policy. Doing your homework at this stage of the process is very important. Find an airline that flies your entire route. The airlines do not interline pets and, if you change airline companies, your pet will need to clear customs in your layover country.
Here’s a tip! Once you find the airline that suits your needs, (and those of your pet) print out a copy of their pet policy. This will ensure a hassle-free experience once you get to the airport. You can find airline pet policies at PetTravel.com.
The next step is to decide whether your pet needs to fly in the cabin of the airline or in the cargo area. This will depend solely on the size and type of your pet. Most airlines that permit pets in the cabin specify cats, dogs, and small birds only. (rules on birds vary, however). If your pet is small enough to travel in the cabin, you will need an airline compliant pet carrier. Your pet will need to be able to stand up and turn around in the carrier. It must have adequate ventilation, a waterproof bottom, and secure fasteners. A general rule is that your pet needs to be less than 10” high and 18” long to be able to travel in-cabin.
Another tip: call your airlines and ask them how much room there is under the seat in front of you on your specific flight. This will tell you if you will have problems with your pet’s carrier.
Larger cats and dogs and other pets not approved for in-cabin will fly in the cargo area of the plane. There are many myths about pets traveling as cargo such as “the area is a dark cold place where your pet is going to suffer.” This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Did you know that the cargo area where pets fly is temperature and pressure controlled just like the regular cabin? Also, all airline personnel who handle your pet have been specifically trained for this purpose. Airlines have to report all incidents to the US Department of Transportation for recording. Certainly, they want to avoid any problems with traveling pets.
If you cannot accompany your pet, or your pet is too large to travel with checked baggage, you need to contact the cargo department of the airline. You will need to check your pet in at their cargo facility located on airport grounds, but likely not in the terminal.
Your pet will have to travel in a pet cargo crate that is compliant with International Air Transport Association specifications. The crate will have to have adequate ventilation, (all 4 sides on international flights) a spring lock door, sturdy fasteners, (steel in some cases) food and water bowls attached to the door, no wheels, and live animal stickers on the outside of the crate. Your pet needs to be able to stand up and turn around in the crate. Here is more information on IATA-compliant pet crates. If the flight is a long one, we would also recommend a pet pad to keep your pet dry and comfortable.
No matter whether your pet travels in-cabin or cargo, it is crucial to call the airlines before booking your flight to let them know you will be traveling with a pet. Most airlines only allow a certain number of pets on each flight, so it’s best to make your pet’s reservation early.
Visit the Vet
The final step is to visit your vet for a health certificate. We highly recommend this although not all airlines require it. The form should be completed less than 14 days before your date of departure. The health certificate will state that your pet is up to date on immunizations and exams and is free of ticks, fleas, and diseases communicable to humans and other animals. The cost varies depending on your veterinarian, but it’s something you have to do if you want your best buddy to travel with you.
Groom your pet before traveling. Your pet will feel and look better after a bath and combing. Cut back on your pet’s food and feed them about 2 hours prior to flight time. Be sure they are hydrated, and take them for a long walk before heading out to the airport.
Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? Most of it is common sense. We cannot stress enough the importance of preparation. Give yourself enough time to prepare the documentation and acclimate your pet to his/her carrier or crate. Simple steps such as these will go a long way in insuring a pleasant flight for both you and your pet.
More information on flying with your pet dog or cat.