Your pet is part of your family – so why wouldn’t you want to spend your trip with your best four-legged friend? What do you need to know when flying with your dog or cat? Layover Guide breaks down all the basics to airline travel with pets, including logistics, planning for layovers, and more:
Flying with pets requires planning well in advance of your trip. You probably want to start planning at least three months before you fly. Licensed pet transporters are available if the process is too onerous to take on yourself. Don’t be lax. Always confirm that the information you’re using is the most up-to-date possible. Pets not meeting a destination’s entrance requirements may be quarantined or be given an immediate return flight back.
Most animals other than cats and dogs are considered wildlife by airlines or other countries, and are subject to different regulations. Key to your decision whether to travel with your pet may be your destination’s rabies incidence. A list of countries with a high risk of rabies can be found here.
Once you’ve overcome your trepidation about exposing your pet to the animal equivalent of the plague, you should check the requirements of both your own country and the country (or countries) you’re traveling to or have layovers in. The best place to start is the embassy for each country. Information for more than 240 countries can be accessed here. You will need to comply with the requirements for all countries your pet lands in, except possibly if he or she is automatically loaded onto the next plane during plane changes.
Flying With Your Pets
Next, check your airlines’ requirements for flying pets. And make your reservation — via phone, usually, not online — ASAP, as only one or two animals are generally allowed on each flight. Most airlines further limit pets flying in the cabin to one per passenger. Certain airlines even give frequent flyer miles for pets!
Pets may fly one of three ways: checked baggage cabin, checked baggage cargo or manifest cargo.
Pets traveling in checked baggage cabin must travel with an adult in an airline-compliant carrier under the plane seat in front of the traveler, as any personal item would. Pets accompanied by a traveler, but that are not allowed in the cabin, can travel as checked baggage in the cargo hold. as checked baggage cargo. Finally, unaccompanied or very large (usually more than 75 pounds) animals may travel in the hold as manifest/air cargo. Some countries, such as the UK, don’t allow animals in the cabin to land, but only as manifest cargo.
A fantastic source for pet policies is here. Information on subjects such as type of pets allowed to fly in which manner, pet age requirements (at least eight weeks old and weaned), banned breeds, route restrictions, carrier requirements, check-in procedures, fees, required forms, etc., is provided for more than 160 airlines.
Most airline-compliant carriers hold animals 15 pounds or less, 11” maximum height from top of the ears to the ground and 19” or less length from tip of nose to base of tail. Some minimum requirements for compliant carriers are that they have a waterproof bottom, fasten securely, are large enough for the animal to stand up and turn around, have adequate ventilation, and fit under the seat in front of you (it’s best to call your airline and ask for these measurements). A pet pad can help protect the carrier’s bottom, and soft carriers offer some flexibility when trying to get them under the seat.
Flying as cargo sounds a bit de-humanizing, or de-animalizing, but many airlines have specialists for handling pets flying in cargo. If you have concerns or questions, try to contact them beforehand to allay any fears. Pets traveling in cargo are usually safe, but there are potential dangers, particularly for older or ill animals or snub-nosed breeds–such as Persian cats, bulldogs, pugs, shih-tzus, etc.–which have issues breathing at high altitudes.
Cargo areas that offer pet travel are fully pressurized and heated to a temperature between 50 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Still, if you’re traveling during a time of extreme heat, try to travel in the morning or evening, when it’s coolest, or during the warmest time of cold days so that your pet is at his most comfortable while waiting to board.
Be sure to take accurate measurements and get a crate that allows your pet to be comfortable. It should be compliant with the International Air Transport Association’s requirements. Metal, not plastic, hardware should be used. Cable ties at the corners and door are required by airlines. These attach through the pre-drilled holes you’ll find on most pet crates.
Put your name and contact info, “live animal,” the pet’s name, where the animal is traveling to and from, flight number and airline, and any other pertinent information in readily seen areas on the exterior of the crate and in a way that won’t come off. It’s a great idea to carry a photo of your pet, in the event you’re separated and need help locating him or her.
A pet pad made specifically for crates can make your best friend more comfortable and keep him dry.
Don’t leave anything in the crate that your pet might shred and could choke on. Let your vet know how long your flight is and ask for advice on giving your cat or dog food and water before and during the flight. Not feeding your pet beforehand can reduce pet waste in the crate, but could be uncomfortable or worse for your pet, depending on the length of the flight. If you do opt for food and water bowls for the crate, these may be attached to the door of the crate. Freezing water in the water bowl, so that it melts during the trip, helps your pet stays well-hydrated throughout his travels. A water bottle that offers leak-free access also works well. But again, your vet can give you the best advice on the topic of food and water.
A vinyl, clear pouch that carries your pet’s passport and other documentation should be attached to the crate. Keep copies of these papers in your carry-on, in the event they get separated from the crate. Make sure your pet is wearing a collar that won’t come off and that includes a tag with your cell phone number.
Get to the vet. Probably more than once. Not all vets are experts on requirements for traveling pets, so be sure to take along any paperwork you’ve downloaded from the embassy or airline with you on your vet visit and let the vet know what you’ve learned about your destinations’ shot requirements. If the vet says it’s okay, your pet may need to get a second dose of any shots that aren’t current enough or that can’t be verified.
Many countries require your pet be implanted with a microchip meeting ISO 11784/11785 standards for identification purposes. If you opt for a different type of microchip, you’ll have to travel with your own microchip scanner. You can register your pet’s microchip number at a registry such as PetLink so that you can locate him if he gets lost and his finder checks the microchip number.
With the help of your vet, pull together a passport for your pet. The passport, available at most vets’ offices, lists the shots your pet has received and relevant dates. This is specific to each country, and addresses that country’s requirements. You’ll need documentation, issued not too long before the flight, stating that your pet is in good health and that his shots are current. Check on the requirements of your various destinations and departures for any requirements on how current or old an immunization needs to be, shot requirements, and any other information needed.
Don’t forget to take the pet passport and any other medical papers from the vet with you.
Do not give your pet a tranquilizer unless the vet recommends it. Meds can interfere with your pets ability to adjust to temperatures and turbulence, or even to breathe. If you feel you must give your pet something, a natural pet calmer may do the trick.
Try to get to the airport early, but don’t hand over your pet until the last minute (usually about 30 minutes before flight) to manage stress on him and to take him for a walk beforehand.
Crates get run through the x-ray machine on their own, so you’ll need to have a leash or be able to hold your pet during this.
Never be afraid to be a nervous pet parent. At the gate, try to watch for your pet being boarded. If you don’t see him being loaded into the cargo area, demand the gate attendant radio the baggage area to ensure your baby’s been boarded before getting onto the plane yourself. And as you’re boarding, ask the flight attendant to make sure your pet is okay and in the correct compartment.
At the end of your flight, cargo-traveling pets can be claimed at the baggage area.
A large offering of carriers, crates and travel accessories for your pet can be found here.
Layovers can be stressful for pets, particularly those traveling in cargo (and their owners). Therefore, whenever possible, stick to one airline so that pets traveling in cargo don’t have to be transferred to another plane.
If your plane switch involves a change in airlines, you’ll have to pick up Fido and recheck him as airlines don’t interline live animals.
If you’re traveling internationally, you must pass through customs with your animal and be compliant with that country’s pet regulations if you claim your pet during the layover. So you’d better have a long layover! Of course, you can walk and rehydrate your pet during a layover, which can be a healthy move. See if the airport has a pet relief area.
On the other hand, a layover can allow your French poodle to see her alleged country of origin and your Schnauzer to speak in his native tongue. Okay, it’s really for the two of you to spend more time together, but it’s nice to think your pet is getting some cultural benefits and fodder for conversations at the doggie park as well.