Pets aboard! 5 tips for smart and safe airline travel with your pets

Consumer protection, Family/Kids, Safety, Tips & how-to, Travel

The Seattle Times reports that since 2010, hundreds of family pets have died, were injured or were lost while traveling by plane. If you’re considering flying with pets, know the regulations and take precautions to keep your pet as safe as possible.

Airline policies for pet plane travel differ

Depending on the airline, animals may be allowed to fly in the cabin or in the climate and pressure-controlled hold of the plane. All carriers:

  • May refuse to accept your pet for transportation in the hold if it is too hot or too cold outside.
  • Require that animals travel in a plastic, metal or wood kennel approved by United States Department of Agriculture. Kennels made of cloth or mesh are not allowed.
  • Will require a valid health certificate for your pet if it is traveling in the hold.
  • Must allow service animals to fly.

Always make reservations and discuss your plans with an airline representative in advance, especially if your itinerary includes international travel. Be sure to read up on each airline’s policies, as they may differ.

  • American Airlines allows only cats and dogs to travel either in the cabin or the hold.
  • Delta Air Lines will not accept reptiles, amphibians and fish in the cabin, but they may be accepted as cargo.
  • United Airlines allows small, domesticated cats, dogs, rabbits and birds in the cabin; larger animals travel in the hold.
  • Alaska Airlines allows you to travel with dog and cat breeds that other airlines restrict but warns that you do so at your own risk.
  • Southwest Airlines and JetBlue Airways allow small cats and dogs in the cabin.

Many airlines restrict short-nosed dog breeds, such as bulldogs, pugs and the like, as they are more likely to die during air travel.

Smart safety tips for flying with pets

#1 Check your dates

Some airlines have additional restrictions around holiday travel dates, so be sure to check well in advance if you’re planning to bring pets along on holiday trips. 

#2 Prepare the crate

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals recommends attaching a photo of your pet, your contact information and a piece of paper displaying the words “live animal” to the crate.

#3 Prepare your pet

Sedatives are generally not recommended as they can have unpredictable effects at high altitude. Instead, to calm your dog before travel, go for a long walk, recommends dog whisperer Cesar Milan. 

#4 Food and water

It’s not just a good idea to give your pet food and water within four hours of the flight if it’s checked; it’s the law. You will have to sign a document indicating compliance with this stipulation. Provide instructions for food and water administration over a 24-hour period.

#5 Make smart travel plans

Animals are more likely to get lost or injured on the ground, not in the air, so book a direct flight when possible. If you’re delayed on the tarmac, insist that someone check on the live animals in the hold.

Is this the right thing for your pet?

Even an incident-free flight is a stressful experience for your animal, so opt for ground travel, consider boarding options, or leave your pet at home if possible.

Know that if you do have your pet fly, you do so at your own risk. Many airlines explicitly state that animals will not be given first aid or oxygen if there’s a problem. You may only have legal recourse if the airline has acted egregiously; if so, contact an attorney to discuss your case.

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