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fluffy white dog looking out window of small planeOur world is slowly returning to normal, or what passes for normal post-pandemic. We are seeing a sharp increase in the number of people once again comfortable traveling by air. Those of us who have spent the last 18 months constantly with our pets, both newly adopted and well established, may want to consider taking our pets with us when we start to travel again. With the holiday season is coming up we’d like to give you some safety tips for air travel with your pet.

Tips for Airplane Travel

Check for costs.

The cost of flying with your pet varies greatly between airlines. Flying your pet in cargo depends on the size and weight of your pet in it’s crate as well as how far the destination is. For a pet in the cabin with you, some airlines charge $125 each way while others may charge as much as $500 for the trip. Be sure you understand all of the travel fees for the airline you have chosen.

Choose your carrier.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has a list of pet carrier requirements that are utilized by most airlines. All carriers, regardless of whether your pet will be in cargo or in the cabin, must have good ventilation, strong handles, and a leak proof bottom. Most airlines will have specific dimensions and weights for pet carriers. JetBlue, for example, states that “Your pet carrier cannot exceed 17″L x 12.5″W x 8.5″H and the combined weight of your pet and the carrier must not exceed 20 pounds.”

Choose your airline and flight wisely.

Each airline has different rules about pets on board, both in cargo and in the cabin. Choose the airline that fits your needs the best. According to Cleveland.com’s article, when rated on average pet fee and airline safety records, Alaska Airlines is the most pet friendly with low fees and flexible pet policies. Hawaiian and American Airlines tied for second place, with Frontier and Southwest coming in third. Spirit, JetBlue, and Delta have more strict/expensive pet policies and fees, while United was their least pet friendly airline. Click on any of the airlines to look at their pet policies and fees in more detail.

Try to find non-stop flights to minimize the duration of travel as well as the chances of anything going wrong during a layover. If you are traveling over a holiday, try to travel on off hours when the airport is not so busy. If your pet is traveling in cargo, try to gauge the temperature both at your departure and arrival destinations. For warm destinations, try to fly in the cooler hours of the early morning and evening. If it will be cold for your departure or arrival, try to fly during the middle of the day when it is warmest.

Know the rules.

If you think the rules for flying as humans are complex, the rules for flying with your pet are even more complicated. Check with your chosen airline to see if there are breed and size restrictions for both cargo and cabin pets. Many airlines do not allow brachiocephalic (snub-nosed) pets in cargo and some will not allow bully breeds to fly at all. Some airlines also have restrictions on the number of pets that can be on board each flight, so call your airline ahead of time so that they know you will be traveling with an animal.

It’s important to read all of the rules your airline provides to make sure you won’t be turned away at the airport. See our sections below for some updated information about domestic and international flights with pets.

Take your pet to the vet.

Consult with your veterinarian about air travel before booking your flight. Be sure to discuss food, water, and medications during travel. The issue of sedation or tranquilization is still contested and even the American Veterinary Medical Association does not provide clear advice, so discuss the pros and cons with your veterinarian who knows your pets and their needs. Some airlines prohibit sedation so make sure you know your airline’s rules before talking to your vet.

Not only is it a good idea to take your pet to the vet to ensure they are healthy enough to travel (and have enough of any medications needed during travel) and are up to date on their immunizations, your pet is required to have a health certificate before traveling by air. This certificate lasts for 30 days but many airlines require you to have completed the health check within 10 days of travel so make sure you know what your airline requires. And keep in mind that if your trip is longer than that time period, you’ll need to make a vet appointment at your travel destination to get a health certificate for the return trip.

Consider your destination.

If you are traveling internationally, or to some U.S. states (like Hawaii), you’ll want to look into any animal importation laws. Know if your pet will need to quarantine and for how long. You also want to know about any laws or regulations about animals at your destination, so that you know where you can bring fido or fluffy on your travels.

What to do at the airport, departure and arrival.

tan pug with aviator goggles and pilot hat onBe sure to prepare yourself and your pet prior to arriving at the airport. Know where the pet relief areas are (if there are any) for all airports you’ll be in. Familiarize your pet with the carrier they will be traveling in. Make sure it is a space where they feel comfortable and safe. You may even want to take your pet to the airport departure area to help them become familiar with the smells and sounds.

Arrive at the airport with plenty of time before your flight so you don’t feel rushed. If your pet is flying cargo most airlines require that you arrive 3 hours early for domestic flights and 5 hours early for international flights. You’ll need to take your pet to a specific cargo drop-off location. That’s where you will pick your pet up as well. Attach a photo of your pet to their carrier (you may also want to have up to date photos of your pet and their microchip information on your phone just in case). Also consider attaching a small bag of food and a container for water so that airline personnel can feed your pet in case of a long delay. As soon as you arrive, grab your baggage and head to the cargo area to pick up your pet. Typically, airlines say you must pick up your pet within 3-4 hours of offloading before they’re taken to a boarding facility or local veterinarian.

If your pet is flying in the cabin with you go to the airline check-in desk to submit your paperwork for your pet. As you go through security make sure you deal with your bags, coat, shoes, etc before dealing with your pet. Take your pet out of their carrier (that must go through the x-ray machine) and carry them through the metal detector. You may want to have a metal free collar/harness on your pet ahead of time so you don’t set off the alarm but are able to maintain control if you have a squirmy or nervous pet.

Once you’ve arrived at your destination make sure your pet has access to fresh water and take them for a walk to do their business and stretch their legs immediately. Now it’s time to enjoy your destination with your furry friend!

Domestic Travel Updates

Flying with your pets has become increasingly difficult over the past few years. In December 2020 the Department of Transportation (DoT) cracked down on service animals on board airplanes. Previously, any passenger could bring a pet on board as long as they had obtained a note from a licensed medical professional declaring the pet to be an emotional support animal. Due to the large number of pets, including a kangaroo, being designated emotional support animals, the DoT limited service animals to trained dogs only. Many airlines, including Delta, American Airlines, JetBlue, United Air, Frontier Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, and Alaskan Air, no longer allow any emotional support animals, even dogs, on board.

Animals without a service dog designation must fly in the cargo hold or in under the seat pet carriers. While flying an animal in the cargo hold of a plane is not the same as it was 50 years ago, it is still an unpleasant and potentially dangerous experience for your pet. While airlines may try to make it as comfortable as possible for your pet, some even have heated and ventilated cargo holds, your pet is crated in an unfamiliar and loud space far from you where items may shift and fall during flight. Many animals are still shipped in the cargo hold of airplanes each year, most without incident. But keep in mind what could happen when being loaded/unloaded, during travel, or if the plane sits on the tarmac for 2 hours during a delay. Many travelers have shared horror stories of their pets being injured, getting sick, or even dying in the cargo hold of airplanes, so consider if traveling with your pet is worth the risk.

International Travel Updates

One important new detail to note is that the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recently placed a travel ban on the import of dogs from 113 countries, beginning October 14, 2021. This ban applies to both foreign dogs as well as dogs who have been traveling with their American owners and are seeking to re-enter the country. The CDC has seen a large increase in falsified health documents from international importers since the pandemic and are tightening requirements for pets traveling internationally. The new ban is intended to prevent pets at risk for rabies from entering the country.

Starting in January, the CDC is also restricting the number of ports where pets from that list of countries are allowed to enter to just 3: John F Kennedy International Airport, Los Angeles International Airport, and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. So those of you who will be traveling overseas, it may be best to leave your pet home for the foreseeable future.

Many other countries have restrictions on the number of pets in aircrafts, the duration of travel for pets in cargo, or where they can enter/depart a country, so be sure you know about your travel destination’s animal regulations as well.

If you don’t want to deal with the hassle of pet airline travel and are in need of someone to watch your pet while you are away, check out our website to see how a professional pet sitter can help you!