A Better Flight Plan
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Flying with Fido? How to Travel With Pets

If you’re flying with your pet or need to transport Fido or Fluffy on their own aboard a commercial flight, your airline wants to make sure your furry friend’s trip is as safe and comfortable as possible. Following these tips will help make your pet’s flight as smooth as a Pomeranian’s fur.

Deciding Whether to Fly with Pets

What’s Your Airline’s Pet Policy?

Most airlines permit small pets to be carried in the passenger cabin and larger or exotic pets to be checked and safely transported in the belly of the plane. Airline policies differ so be sure to check with your carrier before deciding to fly with a pet.  Note that separate policies apply to service animals.

Here are links to the pet travel policies for the primary scheduled passenger airlines in North America:

Is Your Pet Fit to Fly? 

Check with your veterinarian to make sure that your pet is healthy enough for air travel and keep in mind that some species such as pug-nosed dogs like Boxers and Boston Terriers aren’t fit to fly because they have difficulty breathing at high altitudes.  Also you may need to obtain a health certificate issued by a veterinarian 7-10 days prior to departure.  Some state and federal regulations require a health certificate and your pet may not be able to fly without one.

If your pet is traveling outside the United States, you’ll need to obtain an international health certificate and comply with the requirements of your destination country.  The Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) lists the regulations by country on its website.

Which Flights are Best for Pets?

When traveling with pets, nonstop flights are best. If you need to book multiple flights, it’s best to book them on the same airline.  It’s also wise to avoid holiday and weekend travel if possible and to choose flights that minimize the chance of temperature extremes.  And be aware that an airline may stop allowing pets to fly in the belly of the plane during the hot summer months or in other cases of extreme heat or cold at your origin, transfer or destination airport. Again, it’s best to check with your airline prior to traveling.

Preparing to Fly with Pets

Get the Right Kennel 

Your pet’s kennel is required by federal regulations to close securely and be sturdy, well-ventilated, and large enough for your pet to sit and stand, turn around, and lie down.  Travel kennels are available at pet stores as well as from some airlines. Kennel policies can vary so be sure to check with your carrier.  Also make sure to familiarize your pet with its kennel before the trip so it can be as comfortable and relaxed as possible during the flight.

Get the Kennel Ready to Fly

Make sure your pet’s kennel is labeled clearly with your name and address as well as other contact information like email or cell phone. Write the words “LIVE ANIMAL” in at least 1-inch letters on the top and one side, and label the kennel with arrows or the words “THIS SIDE UP” on two sides.

Cover the floor of your kennel with bedding or other absorbent material and secure empty food and water dishes to the inside of the kennel, making sure they’re accessible from outside.  And if your pet needs food for the flight, attach an ample supply to the outside of the kennel.  Also keep in mind that most airlines that permit pet travel don’t allow pet toys in the kennel while flying in the belly of the plane.

Note that a kennel may contain only one adult dog or cat.  Two puppies or kittens may share a kennel as long as they’re between six and eight weeks old, under 20 pounds, and socially compatible.

To ensure that your kennel meets the requirements, check out this handy fact sheet from the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

Inform the Airline of Your Pet’s Travel Plans

Airlines can only transport a limited number of pets on each flight so when you book the flight, be sure to advise your carrier that you plan to either carry on or check your pet and remember to reconfirm that you’re traveling with a pet 24-48 hours prior to departure.

On the Day of the Flight

Checking in with Your Pet 

Be sure to arrive at the airport with plenty of time for you and your pet to check in.  If you’re carrying on your pet or checking it to fly in the belly of the plane, you’ll check in at the ticket counter in the passenger terminal.  If your pet is flying unaccompanied through the cargo system, you’ll need to check in at your carrier’s air cargo terminal, which is often located in a different part of the airport.

Keep in mind that advance arrangements don’t guarantee that your pet will be able to travel on a specific flight.  For the health and safety of both pets and passengers, airlines can’t fly an animal that has an illness or one that is in an improper kennel. For their safety, airlines cannot accommodate your pet in the belly of the plane in extreme temperatures.

Security Screening of Your Pet

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) requires all pets and kennels to be screened whether they’re flying with you in the passenger cabin or in the belly of the plane.  No matter how your pet is traveling, you’ll probably have to remove the animal from their kennel during the screening process so be sure to bring a leash. For more information about the screening process, check out the TSA’s tips for traveling with pets.

Interline Transfer of Pets

If your pet is traveling in the belly of the plane and you have an itinerary that includes flights on more than one airline, keep in mind that most carriers can’t transfer your pet to another airline so you’ll need to claim your pet at the connecting airport and check the animal in at the ticket counter for the new airline.  Also note that the agents from the new airline will need to inspect your pet so be sure to allow adequate time.  If you have multiple flights on the same airline, ask your carrier in advance whether you’ll need to claim and re-check your pet between flights.

Have a Nice Flight!

Every airline has policies aimed at helping your furry friend get to his or her destination as safely and easily as possible. Most airports have pet relief areas either inside or outside the terminal and many airports even offer pet boarding or daycare services.  So follow these important tips, make sure your furry friend’s kennel is in the “THIS SIDE UP” position, and sit back and enjoy your flight!

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