Unless your pet is small enough to fit under your seat and you can bring her into the cabin, taking her on a commercial flight can result in a difficult trip for both of you. That said, here are some tips that can make the trip less stressful for both you and a pet of any size.
Pets on Planes
Safer Air Travel for All Pets
▪ Many airlines allow only a limited number of pets per flight, so it's best to reserve a slot for her early. Get a list of your airline's requirements for in-cabin or cargo pet travel.
▪ Take your pet to the vet for a checkup. You'll need a health certificate that includes vaccination information, and is dated within 10 days of departure. For travel outside the U.S., contact the foreign office of the country you're going to, for any additional requirements. (Note: international air travel can be much more complicated then domestic flights.)
▪ Microchip your pet and have her wear a collar and ID tag. The collar should also include destination information in case your pet escapes.
▪ Buy a shipping crate (from a pet supply store, your airline, or online) that is large enough for your pet to stand, sit and turn around in. For in-cabin flight, your pet will need a soft-sided crate that can fit under a cabin seat; for in-cargo flight, the crate must be rigid. Crates must be USDA-approved and meet your airline's requirements.
▪ Get your pet accustomed to her carrier before the flight.
▪ Tranquilizing your pet can be dangerous, and is generally not advised. If you feel your pet needs extra help, consult your veterinarian.
▪ Don't feed your pet at least 4 hours before traveling, and give her an extended bathroom walk and romp period before leaving for the airport.
▪ Book a direct flight whenever possible. For smaller pets, you'll avoid having to carry your pet in her crate as you rush to your connecting flight. For larger pets, a direct flight decreases the possibility of your pet being left on a tarmac in extreme weather and eliminates the chance that, like other luggage, she can end up being left behind or at some other destination.
Safer Air Travel for Your Larger Pet
▪ A pet that doesn't fit under your seat will end up traveling in cargo. Some airlines have a cargo section reserved for pets; others put pets in with regular luggage. Look for an airline that offers the best physical environment for your pet.
▪ Write the words "Live Animal" in letters at least one inch tall on the top and on one side of the crate. Use arrows to indicate the upright position of the crate. On the top of the crate, write the name, address and telephone number of your pet's destination point, and who will be picking her up. Make sure that the door is securely closed but not locked so that airline personnel can open it in case of an emergency. Line the crate bottom with some type of bedding—shredded paper or towels—to absorb accidents.
▪ The night before you leave, freeze a dish or tray of water for your pet. This way, it can't spill during loading and will melt by the time she's thirsty. Tape a small pouch, preferably cloth, of dried food outside the crate so airline personnel can feed your pet in case she gets hungry on long-distance flights or a layover.
▪ Affix a current photograph of your pet to the top of the crate for identification purposes. Should your pet escape from the carrier, this could be a lifesaver. You should also carry a photograph of your pet.
▪ If the plane is delayed, or if you have any concerns about the welfare of your pet, insist that airline personnel check on the animal periodically. In certain situations, removing the animal from the cargo hold and getting off the plane may be necessary.
Pets Who Should Not Fly
▪ Short-nosed dogs such as pugs who cannot breathe well in airplane cargo areas and are too large to fly in the cabin.
▪ Pets who are ill, violent, or in physical distress.
▪ Pets who are under eight weeks old and/or not fully weaned.
This article has been reviewed by Dr. Ashley W. Priddy, BVMS