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Flying with Pets

When traveling with your pet, the most important thing on your mind is your pet's comfort and safety. Doing a little homework and making a checklist in preparation for your airborne adventure will ensure a successful flight.


Plan early. Book your and your pet's reservations well in advance. Nonstop flights work best to avoid plane changes, which will minimize your pet's anxiety. Think about the time of year you are traveling. Early morning or late evening flights work best in warmer weather. Midday flights are better in colder months.

One of the first things to consider when thinking about traveling with your pet by air is to make sure your pet's physical condition is conducive to flying at all. An ill, injured, pregnant, very young, or senior pet has a higher risk to travel. According to the Animal Welfare Act, you will not be able to fly with your dog or cat if your pet is less than eight weeks old. Pets must also be weaned at least five days before traveling by air.

Certain breeds of dogs, such as collies and pugs, have special respiratory considerations because of their long or short snouts, and flying in the cargo area of a plane can lead to breathing difficulties because of poor ventilation. These types of dogs, as well as cats, should fly in the cabin, if allowed.

Meeting Airline Requirements

Make sure you meet your airline's requirements regarding your pet's travel. This means you need to have the appropriate carrier, supply of water, and the necessary paperwork from your veterinarian, and understand where and when to drop off and pick up your pet. For help with choosing an airline compatible carrier, see How to Select the Right Pet Carrier.

Necessary Paperwork

If you are going on a domestic flight and your pet will be traveling in the cabin with you, there is usually no paperwork required (check your airlines requirements to be sure), although it is always a good idea to have your pet's shot records on hand. But when your furry friend flies as a checked-in item, you must have a Certificate of Health form your veterinarian (must be obtained no more than a month prior to your flight).

For international flights, there is a little more required. A Certificate of Health is required regardless of where your pet is traveling (as a check-in or carry on). In addition to this, you will need a copy of their shot records and a pet passport. If there will be a layover in another country, you also need to check any customs requirements that country may have (in addition to your destination), as they differ from place to place.

Air Travel Essentials

When it comes to water, you will need to find a water dispenser that can be accessible to the airline workers, attached to the outside of the carrier (this is only if your pet will be traveling as a checked in item). This will allow them to provide water for your pet without having to open the carrier.

Check-In Time

The hustle and bustle of the airport can be stressful to humans and pets. Generally speaking, if your pet is traveling with you in the cabin, board the plane as late as possible. However, if your pet is going into the cargo hold, check them in as early as possible so they can be placed in a quiet and place in the baggage area which will help them to relax a bit. In either case, double check with your airline to make sure you've allowed enough time.

During the Flight

There are a few things that may plague your mind during your travels, especially for long flights. Some questions you may have are: Will my pet be able to eat? Will they be able to use the bathroom during layovers? What happens during the security check point?

Most of the answers to these questions vary as to how your pet is traveling. If your pet is going as a carry-on, you will go through security with your pet. You remove your pet from the carrier and hold them as you go through the x-ray scanner. Their carrier will go on the belted scanner with the other carry-on items. You will also be able to feed your loved one and take him/her to use the bathroom during layovers (given you have the time to exit the airport and get back through security in time to make your connecting flight).

If your pet is flying as a checked-in item, then you will not have to worry about security. They will be taken by airline personnel before you go through the security checkpoint. You can attach a bag of food to the outside of the carrier for longer international flights. Just like watering your pet, airline personnel have to be able to have access without opening the carrier. Unfortunately, they will not remove your pet during layovers to allow them to use the bathroom, so most airlines require puppy pads in the carrier so your pet has a designated place to go.

Do not let these things worry you though. Your pet's health will not be affected if they go the duration of the flight without food. It can actually be a beneficial thing for them, just in case they suffer from motion sickness or anxiety.

Before leaving to pick up your dog there are a couple of important things to find out. Check to see if your dog has made all the connections and is in fact on the flight you expect. Make sure you have all the necessary paperwork to identify your dog such as the shipping documents you received. If your dog is arriving via any special handling services check with both the airport and the handling service to make sure you know where the actual pick-up location is. Airlines and airports vary quite a lot in this area and the location could be in the main terminal or some distance away in the cargo terminal. It is best to call ahead of time so you don't spend a lot of time driving around the airport. If you have arranged for someone else to pick up your pet (must be done in advance), make sure they bring proper identification or the airlines may not release your pet to them.

The airlines really do care about your baby and will do everything possible to make sure he/she makes the trip as comfortably as possible.

International Pet Travel

If you need more information about traveling with your pet internationally, be sure to check out these rules and regulations.

Airline Pet Policies

View airline pet regulations for all carriers.

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