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Airline Pet Travel Tips


Millions of animals travel safely aboard aircraft every year. Airline personnel make every effort to handle these animals with the care they deserve. This pamphlet is designed to assist you in safely transporting your pet. Please keep in mind that each airline has its own guidelines, and it is important to notify an airline about your pet travel plans as soon as possible.

The International Airline Transportation Association (IATA) administers regulations for the transportation of live animals worldwide. These regulations apply to you, the shipper, as well as to the airlines. If you decide to transport your dog or cat by air, there are some points to check for compliance with applicable laws, and to assure the safest and most comfortable trip for your pet.


Animals traveling internationally should have a pet microchip that meets ISO standards 11784/11785. This is a 15 digit non-encrypted microchip that operates at 134.2kHz.

The microchip number should appear on all health and vaccination certificates. The microchip should meet the ISO standards or the owner must provide a compatible microchip scanner.

How to Transport Your Pet by Air

Some airlines allow passengers to carry their pets in the cabin of a plane if your pet is capable of fitting in an airline-compliant pet carrier under the seat in front of you. Carry-on pets are not regulated under the Animal Welfare Act; however, the airlines will require that your pet be able to stand up and turn around in the carrier. For animals other than dogs or cats, contact the airline for their acceptance policy. You can also send us an email at or post an inquiry on our pet travel blog.

If your pet is too large to fly in the cabin, dogs and cats typically are transported as accompanied checked baggage if your airline offers this class of service. What is important to know is that you may only transport your pet as accompanied checked baggage if you are an adult passenger traveling on the same flight as your pet.

If your pet is a very large animal or something other than a cat or dog or is traveling alone, it will travel as manifest air cargo. You will need to check your pet in and pick it up at the cargo facility of your airline which is typically located on airport grounds but not in the airport terminal.

Sometimes these terms, checked baggage or air cargo, create a false impression, but both describe humane ways of transporting animals. Animals traveling in the cargo hold are transported in the same pressurized and temperature controlled holds as those in the checked baggage system.

Many airline cargo departments have specialists in the movement of animals who can assist you with answers to your questions. Also, you may consider hiring a pet transporter to assist you with the transport of your pet. They are trained to handle your pet with care and experience.

Is your pet old enough?
Pet Airline Information - Airline Travel Tips

IATA states that your animal must be at least eight weeks old and fully weaned before traveling with the airlines. Many airlines require that your pet must be at least 15 weeks of age before traveling internationally. As for best practice, the longer you wait before transporting a puppy in the cargo hold, the more their resperatory systems will develop.

Which Flights are Less Stressful for Your Pet?

Whenever possible, book a direct, non-stop flight and avoid holiday or weekend travel. Consider schedules that minimize temperature extremes. For example, try to avoid travel during excessively hot or cold periods. During periods of excessive cold, an Acclimation Certificate may be accepted. Morning or evening flights are preferable and necessary during the summer from or to locations that are hotter during summer.

Is Your Pet Healthy?
Pet Airline Information - Airline Travel Tips

Check with your veterinarian to be sure that your animal is fit to travel. Some species such as snub-nosed dogs (e.g., Pugs, Tzi Shuhs, Bulldogs, Boxers, Boston Terriers) - simply do not fly well, because they can have difficulty breathing even under normal conditions. In cases like these, you need to get a crate that is one size larger than normally required. Be sure and tell your airline that your pet is a snub-nosed breed as many airlines will not accept them.

You will need a Airline Veterinary Health Certificate in order to comply with the rules of mmany airlines. Your veterinarian will be able to complete this. Most airlines ask that it be issued no more than seven to ten days before departure. Be sure to check with the airline to get the exact amount of time they require before your pet's trip.

Use of Tranquilizers

Sedation is not advised for traveling pets as the effects of tranquilizers on animals at higher altitudes are unpredictable. The decision to prescribe a tranquilizer for your pet should be made by your veterinarian. Many airlines such as United will not accept a pet that has been tranquilized in the cargo hold. We suggest that an all-natural pet calmer will help in relaxing your pet, but not affect its breathing when administered according to directions.

Thundershirts or other calming devices that pets wear will not be permitted by the airlines.

Do You Have the Right Crate?

You and the airlines must follow IATA regulations on the size of crate for your pet. The crate must be sturdy, properly ventilated and large enough that your pet may freely stand, turn around, and lie down. The top of your pet's head or the tips of their ears (if their ears stand erect) cannot touch the top of the crate if standing or sitting. Measure your pet before purchasing its crate to be sure that you are getting the correct size pet crate.

The crate must close securely with a spring lock mechanism that requires no special tools to operate. It must be made of sturdy plastic or wood (if your airline will accept it), have a waterproof bottom, metal door and ventilation on 3 sides for domestic flights and all 4 sides if traveling internationally.

IATA compliant pet cargo crates made by Petmate are available in 7 sizes in the Pet Travel Store. Remember to check with the airline when in doubt, because the USDA assigns full responsibility for accepting the proper crate to the airline. Crate must be provided with spacers to ensure ventilation openings are not blocked by adjoining kennels or cargo.

How do you acclimate your pet to its crate?

As far in advance of the trip as possible, let your pet get to know its crate. Start with just the bottom half of the kennel. After a good walk, when your dog is tired, or after playing with your cat, encourage them toward their crate. Give them time to walk into the crate. Stay with them until they settle down. Leave familiar bedding, an old sock or other familiar object inside, so that your pet will spend time in the crate.

As your pet becomes accustomed to being inside, assemble the top half and leave the door open. Keep working with your pet every day until it is comfortable in its crate. Then start taking your pet out of its environment in its crate. Take a car ride to the dog park or around the block. Once home, take them inside, let them out and give them lots of treats and praise.

It is important for your dog or cat to be as relaxed as possible during the flight and getting your pet accustomed to the crate is crucial in making that happen.

When your pet travels, the crate should:

  • Clearly display your name and address;
  • Use arrows or other markings (Live Animal Stickers) indicating the top of the kennel
  • Include food and water dishes (both empty) secured inside the kennel and accessible from outside
  • Show a food and water schedule (Shipper's Declaration) and, if any food is necessary, include an ample supply in a bag attached to the outside of the kennel
  • Contain no more than one adult dog or cat (some airlines allow two puppies or kittens, younger than six months and under 20lbs. each)
  • Contain crate pet pads
  • Attach your pet's collar and tag in a plastic bag to the top of the crate.
  • Mark your pet's name on the crate or a sticker attached to the crate.
  • Attach a close-up photo of your pet
  • Do not include any toys or treats in the crate as the airlines will not permit loose objects in the crate.
  • You can find everything discussed here in our crate accessory kits.

In addition to showing your name and address, you must mark the kennel with the telephone number of a person at the destination who can be contacted about your pet. This is especially important if you are sending your animal unaccompanied through the cargo system, because you will not be at the airport to claim your pet upon arrival. It may be helpful to contact a pet travel service to handle an unaccompanied shipment, since these services manage pick-up and delivery and can advise on quarantine requirements for international travel. If your animal is traveling in the cargo system, remember that after arriving at their destination, there is a processing period for cargo, which may vary by airline and airport. If you have questions, be sure to contact your airline.

Have you made advance arrangements for your pet?

At the time you book your trip, call the reservations number of the airline (in-cabin and checked baggage) and tell them that you will be traveling with an animal. In many cases, you cannot book your pet's reservation online. Be sure to reconfirm with the airline 24-48 hours before departure that you will be bringing your pet.

If you are transporting your pet as cargo, contct their cargo department and find out how far in advance they require you to check-in your pet.

Please note that advance arrangements do not guarantee that your animal will travel on a specific flight. To be as humane as possible, airlines reserve the right to refuse to handle an animal for such reasons as illness, behavior or poor kenneling of the animal or extreme temperatures at origin, layover or destination airports.

Traveling outside the United States?
Traveling with a pet

If you are flying to a foreign country or Hawaii, be sure to find out whether there are quarantine or other health requirements at your destination. It is essential to comply with such requirements and sometimes it requires attention as much as 6 months prior to travel. You should find pet import regulations well in advance of travel. Further instructions and forms required for international pet travel can be found in the Pet Travel Store.


Acceptance of Live Animals
Because they care about your pet, no airline will guarantee acceptance of an animal it has not seen. This is to protect both your pet and the airline.

Since an airline cannot transport an animal that is aggresive or dangerous, important considerations for acceptance of animals include health and disposition of your pet. A health certificate will help to minimize questions. An airline must also determine whether all paperwork is in order and that the pet crate or pet carrier meets all requirements.

Food and water to feed a pet prior to travel

The International Air Transport Association requires that your pet be offered water within four hours before check-in with the airline. Do not feed your pet within 4 hours of flight and feed them less than they normally receive. A full stomach is not good for a traveling pet. When you check in with the airline, you must certify with a signature the time when your pet was last offered food and water. You can attach some of your pet's dry food to the top of the crate in a plastic bag. Freeze water in the water bowl the night before travel to avoid spillage during handling.

Arrival and Check-In

Get to the airport with plenty of time to spare, but no more than 4 hours prior to departure, so that there will be no rush. If your animal is traveling in the cabin or as excess baggage or by the special expedited delivery service, check-in will usually be at the passenger terminal. If your pet is flying as air cargo, pet owners or their agents will need to go to the air freight terminal, which is located in a separate part of the airport. Be sure to check with your airline for the acceptance cutoff time for your flight. Note: by regulation, an animal may be tendered no more than four hours before a flight time (six hours by special arrangement).

Finally, your airline must assure that facilities are able to handle your pet at the airports of transfer or final destination. The Animal Welfare Act has set clear guidelines on allowable temperature limits for animal-holding areas, which airlines must conform to.

Transfer of Live Animals Between Airlines

When pets travel as accompanied baggage or as air cargo, it is unlikely that one airline can check an animal through from its own system to a final destination served by another airline. For this reason, we do not recommend changing airline companies during a layover. This may cause you to claim and recheck your pet and clear customs in the layover country, making your pet subject to the regulations of the layover country.

When your pet travels as air cargo, an interline transfer is not possible unless airlines have a contracted arrangement between each other. this is why it is important to keep your pet on the same airline for the entire route.

Since each airline cares about and is responsible for the animals it accepts, airline agents will need to inspect your pet at the time of check-in.

Pet Airline Information - Airline Travel Tips
Helpful Tips
  • It is a good idea to carry a leash with you on a trip so that you may walk your pet before check-in and after arrival. (Carry your pet's leash or attach to the outside of the crate in a plastic bag.
  • Do not take your pet out of its crate inside the airport. In keeping with airport regulations and out of courtesy for other passengers, you should let your pet out only after you leave the terminal building.
  • You should clearly mark the crate with your pet's name.
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