By Air

Flying is really the only major alternative to car travel when traveling with pets. Amtrak, as well as Greyhound and other interstate bus lines, do not accept pets. Many airlines do accept animals in the passenger cabin or cargo hold. Be sure to inquire about animal shipping and welfare policies with the airline before making reservations.

Opinion is divided as to whether air travel is truly safe for pets. Statistically, it is less dangerous than being a passenger in a car, but some experts warn of potentially deadly conditions for animals. The truth lies somewhere in between: Most pets arrive at their destination in fine condition, but death or injury is always a possibility. Before you decide to fly, know the risk factors and the necessary precautions to keep your pet safe.

  • Determine whether your pet is fit to fly: The Animal Welfare Act (AWA) specifies that dogs and cats must be at least 8 weeks old and weaned at least 5 days before air travel. Cats, snub-nosed dogs (pugs, boxers, etc.) and long-nosed dogs (shelties, collies, etc.) are prone to severe respiratory difficulties in an airplane’s poorly ventilated cargo hold and may be subject to certain restrictions.

  • Do your homework: Investigate the airline’s animal transport and welfare policies, especially if you are flying with a small or commuter airline.

  • Understand the potential hazards: Because a plane’s cargo hold is neither cooled nor heated until takeoff, the most dangerous time for your pet is that spent on the ground in this unventilated compartment. Both summers and winters potentially expose pets to the possibility of serious injury or death from heatstroke or hypothermia.

  • Decide where your pet will fly: Most animals fly in the hold as checked baggage when traveling with their owners, or as cargo when they are unaccompanied.

    • Small pets may be taken into the passenger cabin with you as carry-on luggage if your pet is very well-behaved and fits comfortably in a container that meets standard carry-on regulations. Keep in mind that the carrier — with the animal inside — must be kept under the seat in front of you throughout the flight.

    • If your pet will be flying in the hold, travel on the same plane, reserve a nonstop flight and avoid holiday travel whenever possible. In summer, fly during the early morning or late evening when temperatures are cooler. Alert the flight crew and the captain that your pet is aboard. NOTE: Additional precautions may be necessary when traveling outside the United States and Canada. Other countries may impose lengthy quarantines, and airline workers outside North America may not be bound by animal welfare laws. (See Across the Border)

  • Make stress-free travel arrangements: Reserve space for your pet when you arrange your own tickets, preferably well in advance of your travel date. Prepare to pay an additional fee, about $50-$200 each way; the cost is often greater for large animals traveling on a flight without their owner.

  • Prepare for the flight: Keep in mind that traveling with an animal will require additional pre-flight time and preparation on your part. Exercise your pet before the flight, and arrive at least 2 but not more than 4 hours before departure.

    • Make sure your animal’s crate is properly labeled and secured, but do not lock it in case airline personnel have to provide emergency care.

    • Include an ice pack for extra comfort on a hot day or a hot water bottle on a cold day and wrap in a towel to prevent leaking.

    • Do not feed your pet less than 4 hours before departure, but provide water up until boarding.

    • Your pet should wear a sturdy collar (breakaway collars are recommended for cats) and two identification tags marked with your name, home address and phone number, and travel address and phone number.

    • Attach food and water dishes inside the carrier so that airline workers can reach them without opening the door.

  • Be prepared for emergencies: Carry a list of emergency contact numbers and a current photograph of your pet in your wallet or purse, just in case.

  • Protect your investment: Inquire about insurance — an airline that won’t insure animals in its care may not be the right one for your pet. Always read the fine print before purchasing any insurance policy.

  • Service animals are normally exempt from most of the regulations and fees specified in this section. Check policies with the airline when making reservations.

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Air Travel with Your Pet

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