Flying with pets is often difficult and confusing. Not all airlines permit pets. Those that do have varying requirements as to which pets can fly and where they will travel. Costs also vary between airlines. Then there’s the matter of accustoming your pet to its carrier and the hustle and bustle of an airport—no small feat, especially if your animal is prone to bark or yowl when confined. The good news, however, is that planning ahead and making careful, wise choices can reduce or eliminate many of these hassles.
Booking a Flight
Before you book your flight, do your homework. Visit the websites of each airline you’re considering and view their pet policies. If you have a small dog or a cat, you may find that some airlines will permit it in the cabin while others would force it to travel in the cargo area.
When possible, choose airlines that allow you to keep your pet with you in the passenger area. If your pet is too large or the wrong species to travel under your seat in a carrier, look for an airline with strict policies about when and how pets may be flown as cargo. If an airline is strict with its passengers about the safety of pets, it will likely also enforce safety regulations strictly once your pet is out of your hands and in the cargo area.
Make sure that your pet will fly in an area that is climate-controlled and pressurized.
Before the Flight
In the days and weeks before you fly with your pet, start putting it in its carrier with a favorite treat for at least a few minutes every day. Teach your pet to drink from the water bottle you’ll attach to its carrier for the flight. Practice carrying the pet first at home and then in crowded areas. Reward it for being calm and quiet in a carrier in crowded, noisy areas.
You’ll also need to obtain a health certificate and proof of vaccinations. Most airlines require that the health certificate be dated no more than 10 days before the pet flies. Make a veterinary appointment well in advance and be sure that any known health issues have been treated before you see the vet to obtain a health certificate. Don’t try to fly with a sick pet.
Update microchip information if you’ve moved or changed your phone number. Make sure your pet’s tags are accurate and its carrier has your name, address and phone number written on it in permanent marker.
Flying with Pets
On the day of the flight, make sure your pet has an opportunity to eliminate immediately before being placed in its carrier. Know before you arrive at the airport where you need to go to check your pet in. Be prepared to remove your pet from its carrier for a security inspection.
Pets should have a water bottle with fresh, clean water for their flight, and should know how to drink from the bottle. Food should be offered pre-flight but not during the flight. Allowing your pet to eat while flying could increase the chance of vomiting. If temperatures are expected to be cold either at your departure point or your destination, consider using a microwave safe heat disk to keep your pet warm. Don’t give tranquilizers or sedatives to your pet, even if it is nervous.
Make sure that your pet’s health certificate and any other required documentation are securely affixed to its carrier. If your pet is boarding with you, keep its carrier under your personal control at all times. A pet set down unattended even for a few moments could be seized as “unattended baggage.”
Once you’ve boarded the plane, relax and enjoy your flight! Air travel is safer than driving so long as safety regulations are followed. Most pets fly well if acclimated to their carriers well in advance. When you’re in the air, it’s time to breathe a sigh of relief and focus on your destination!