Our pets are like family. We enjoy their companionship and want them to share in the fun of traveling. Before making the decision to travel with your pet, consider their health and well-being to make sure it will be good for them. Due to stress and changes in altitude, pets can experience an adverse reaction to air travel—some breeds are affected more than others. You don’t want your pet to become ill (or possibly even worse), so check with your vet to ensure your pet will be up for traveling.
Before booking your ticket, make sure pets are allowed on the same flight. Airlines are only allowed to transport a specific number of animals per flight (on board and in cargo). Make sure you notify them in advance and arrive at the airport early. Pets are taken on a first-come basis. You don’t want to risk arriving at the airport only to find out your pet cannot fly with you.
Weather conditions will also determine whether or not your animal is allowed to fly in cargo. If you are forced to cancel your flight (if your pet is unable to be on your flight), you may also want to look into Travel Insurance with “Cancel for any Reason” coverage that will reimburse you for travel expenses.
Pets in the Cabin:
Many airlines will allow pets (small cats, dogs, rabbits, and domesticated birds) that are typically under 20 lbs. to travel in the passenger cabin in a pet carrier for an additional fee (estimate around $125 each way). Check with your airline for specifics. That is the best way to travel with your pet since you do not have to be separated from them. All larger animals have to fly in the cargo area of the plane as checked baggage.
Most airlines will accept either a hard-sided carrier or a soft-sided one (which may be more comfortable for your pet), but only certain brands of the soft-sided ones are acceptable to certain airlines. Make sure your carrier is airline-approved. Check on the size restrictions for carriers that are allowed in the cabin — they may need to fit under your seat.
If traveling abroad (or even within the U.S.), find out what the requirements are for animals. You don’t want to find out after the fact that your pet is not allowed in that country, or that it has to be quarantined for a lengthy period of time.
Breeds Requiring Special Precautions:
Brachycephalic animals are more susceptible to increased risk of heat stroke and breathing problems when exposed to stress or extreme heat. Some airlines may restrict these types of animals or may limit them from flying during the summer months.
These pets include Bulldogs, Boston and Bull Terriers, Boxers, Pugs, Shih Tzus, Spaniels, Pekinese, and Persian cats as well as others. Elderly or overweight animals or those in poor health are more at risk of experiencing health problems while flying as well
Microchip Your Pet:
You may want to check with your veterinarian regarding putting a microchip into your pet. These are about the size of a piece of rice and are injected with a needle. The chip has a unique number on it that can be picked up and read by a scanner used by veterinarians or animal shelters, and they are hooked into a national database. If you and your pet get separated during your travels, you may stand a better chance of getting reunited.
Packing for Your Pet:
• Pack supplies for clean-up (baby wipes and plastic bags) after “accidents”. Even the most well-trained pets can get stressed in a new environment and may have accidents.
• Bring your pet’s favorite toys, blanket, pillow or whatever else they enjoy at home to reduce their stress.
• Pack your pet’s food supply in checked baggage (bring a can opener and spoon if you use canned food), and keep a day’s worth of sealed food and treats in your carry-on bag to feed your pet when you arrive at your destination (in case your luggage gets delayed).
• Bottled water for your pet to drink.
• Your pet’s health certificate from the veterinarian and proof of their rabies shots (if required).
Pet Safety in Hotel Rooms:
• It’s not a good idea to leave your pet unattended in your hotel room. Even the most docile and well-behaved pets can cause damage, bark or meow nonstop, or scare the hotel staff when they are left in an unfamiliar place. The animal could also run out the door and get lost when the maid opens the door to clean your room.
• Check with the hotel in advance on their policy for allowing your pet to be left in the room in their carrier. Some hotels may or may not permit this.
Pets Flying in Cargo:
It can be very stressful for your pet when they are away from you and flying as cargo in the plane. With some pre-planning, you can make it a little easier on them and adhere to the airline’s requirements. The cargo fee is oftentimes based on your destination and the weight of your pet and carrier (estimate around $200 on up per flight).
• Book a direct flight. You don’t want your pet to get lost or be stressed out any more than it already is. If it has to be transferred from one flight to another, your pet could get mishandled and frightened.
• Travel on the same flight as your pet. You can ask the airline if it is possible for you to watch your pet being loaded and unloaded.
• Allow extra time for check-in at the airport and try to take your dog on a walk prior to boarding.
• When you board your flight, notify the flight attendant that you have a pet in the cargo area and ask that they inform the pilot.
• If traveling during the summer or winter months, choose flights that will accommodate the temperature extremes. Early morning or late evening flights are better in the summer, and afternoon flights are better in the winter.
• Make sure your pet’s collar cannot get caught in the carrier doors.
• Label the carrier with your name, home address, and telephone number (include your cell), final destination, and where you or a contact person can be reached as soon as the flight arrives.
• Affix two pieces of identification on your pet’s collar—a permanent ID with your name, home address, and telephone number (include your cell number), and a temporary travel ID with the address and phone number where you or a contact person can be reached (for example, your hotel or family or friends that you are visiting).
• Make sure your pet has a bone or toy to help occupy their time.
• Some experts suggest you affix a brightly colored note to the front of the cage with the pet’s name and a message like, Hi…my name is Fido, and this is my first time flying, so I am kind of nervous. Please treat me with care. Thank you! That may encourage the baggage handler to treat them with more care.
• Have a sturdy leash and keep it in your carry-on bag.
• Make sure your pet’s nails are trimmed, so they do not get hooked in the carrier or any other crevices.
• About a month before traveling, help your pet get familiarized with their carrier. Encourage them to get in it by putting their toys or treats in it. That will help lower their stress when traveling.
For insightful travel ideas, check out my book:
Know Before You Go: Traveling the U.S. and Abroad