Taking your pet along when you travel by air is relatively easy if you are bringing a small dog or cat along; just get a carrier, inform the airline, pay the fees and carry your companion onto the plane with you (find all you need to know about doing that in our article on Flying High with Fido).
When your dog is too large to carry on, however, or your favorite pet is a good-sized pot-bellied pig, a boa constrictor or any other animal that cannot easily (or allowably) be carried on, you will have to transport your pet in the cargo hold of the airplane.
Be aware that the Humane Society of the United States is against shipping animals by airplane, stating on their website that "Animals flown in the cargo area of airplanes are killed, injured or lost on commercial flights each year. Excessively hot or cold temperatures, poor ventilation and rough handling are often to blame."
However, if you have no alternative but to transport your pet in the cargo area of the plane, follow these tips.
- Do not ship any dogs or cats under eight weeks old. Be certain that the animal is weaned before the trip, too. Brachycephalic, snub-nosed or mixed breeds of snub-nosed animals should never be shipped in cargo. Those dog breeds include: Tibetan Spaniel, Shih Tzu, Shar-Pei, all breeds of Pug, Presa Canario, Pit Bull, Pekingese, all breeds of Mastiff, Lhasa Apso, Japanese Chin, English Toy Spaniel, Dogue De Bordeaux, Cane Corso, all breeds of Bulldog, Brussels Griffon, all breeds of Boxer, Boston Terrier and Affenpinscher. Cats of this type – Persian, Exotic Shorthair, Burmese and Himalayan – also should not be shipped in the cargo hold. Most airlines specify on their websites as to which breeds they will not ship, so be sure to check that, as well as all the other regulations of the specific carrier you are planning to use. The Humane Society strongly encourages pet owners to fly with their animals, and to book nonstop flights to lessen the possibility of problems with transiting the animals from plane to plane.
- Be sure to provide a sturdy kennel for your pet. The container should have adequate ventilation on at least three sides and allow your animal to stand without touching the top. Acclimatize your pet to the kennel for weeks before the trip by leaving it open in a place in your home where your loved one can come and go, getting used to it as their “den” before the trip.
- Securely label the kennel with all your information. Include your name, permanent address and telephone number on the tag, as well as your final destination and where you or a contact person can be reached as soon as the flight arrives. Put a collar on your pet that has the same information affixed to it.
- Schedule an appointment with your vet. Most U.S. airlines require a signed health certificate from a veterinarian dated within ten days of the flight, so be sure to make the appointment within that time frame. Bring along the pet’s rabies vaccination certificate as well.
- Provide water and food in dishes attached to the inside of the travel kennel. The Humane Society suggests using ice cubes for the water, so that spillage is kept to a minimum and your pet can drink as the ice melts during the trip.
- Check the pet transport costs with the specific airline you will be traveling with. All United States airlines charge a fee for transporting your pet, usually ranging from $200 and up (depending on the weight of the animal) for a one-way flight within the U.S. Prices rise dramatically when sending a pet overseas in cargo (it can cost well over $1,000 to ship a seventy-pound dog to Europe from America on United Airlines, for example), so it is important to confirm that before committing to the trip.
- Pre-book your animal's spot before the date of the flight. Remember, just like humans, pets need a reservation to fly.
We hope these tips will ensure a carefree flight for both you and your furry friend. Bon voyage!