10 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Booking a Flight with Your Pet

Flying with Pets

Whether you're planning to fly with your pet for the holidays, moving with your pet, or taking a vacation, it's important for you to take the time to  determine if flying is the best option for you and your furry traveler.  Before you book your flight, here are some questions you should ask yourself.

1.  Is your pet healthy enough to fly?
If your pet is physically sick or injured, or has any condition that will make flying uncomfortable for him, it’s best to either leave him at home with a sitter or postpone your trip until he is healthy again.

2.  Is your pet brachycephalic?
Pets that are brachycephalic –those with short muzzles and flat, “snub noses,” such as Persian cats, pugs and bulldogs – are more susceptible to breathing problems, and may have a harder time adjusting to pressure and air changes during flight. Conditions in the plane’s cargo hold are particularly risky for snub-nose pets. If you do choose to fly with your pug or Persian, check with your airline first, as some have banned brachycephalic pets completely from commercial flights.

3.  Is your pet’s temperament well-suited for flying?
If your dog is shy, intimidated by crowds, aggressive, or highly anxious in new situations, flying – or even extended travel with your pet -- may not be a feasible option for you. It might be wise to consider hiring a pet sitter that your pet knows and trusts, or leaving him with a trusted friend or family member. He can stay somewhere he’s comfortable and cared for, and you won’t have to spend our trip worrying over him.

4.  Does your pet meet the USDA guidelines?
According to USDA regulations, your pet must be at least 8 weeks old and fully weaned for five days in order to travel by air.

5.  Will your dog fly with you in the cabin?
While every airline has different regulations, generally speaking, pets who weigh less than 20 pounds -- kennel included -- and whose kennel fits securely under the seat can fly in the cabin with you as a carryon. If your pet meets your airline’s criteria for staying in the cabin, this is probably the best option for him.  Keep in mind that if your pet cries or barks when confined, he may disturb other passengers.

6.  Will your pet fly in the cargo hold?
Checking your pet as cargo is a bit more complicated than taking him in the cabin with you. It also carries some additional risk, as loss and injury are possible in your absence. However, 2 million pets take to the skies each year, and the vast majority arrive at their destinations safe and sound. If you have concerns about your airline’s track record, the Department of Transportation requires airlines to create a report of any issues that occur with pets on their flights, and publishes a monthly Animal Incident Report that’s available for public viewing. Keep in mind that the reports are posted about a month after the month in which they occurred, so incidents in February will be posted in April.

Every plane is different, and featured different cargo area conditions and load capacities. In addition, every airline has different procedures for dealing with pets. In most cases, baggage handlers strap animal crates in place in a climate-controlled section of the cargo area – usually right below the passenger area. Some airlines will wrap the crate with perforated air-cushioned rolls, while others won’t.

While the section of the cargo area that houses perishables and pets is climate-controlled, temperatures can and do vary. However, during average weather temperatures do tend to stay in a range that’s safe for pets. If your dog is particularly sensitive to temperature or pressure, or has breathing issues, the cargo area may not be safe. One thing you don’t have to worry about is pressure. Every compartment of every plane is pressurized for safety.

7.  Do you have (or need) a health certificate for your pet?
Every airline requires passengers to present a valid health certificate completed by a licensed veterinarian for any pets that will be checked in as baggage. Some airlines will accept health certificates completed within 30 days of travel, while others require them to be completed within 10 days. It’s better to err on the side of caution and have your pet checked out 10 days before you travel.

If your pet is traveling in the cabin, he may not require a health certificate (check with your airline to be sure of their specific regulations). That being said, most states require that pets who cross into their borders have proof of up-to-date rabies vaccines and valid, recent health certificates. To be on the safe side, it’s probably best to get a health certificate for your pet, even if your airline doesn’t specifically require one.

8.  Are you flying during extreme temperatures?
While the cargo area may be climate controlled during flight, this is not the case while the plane is parked on the ramp with the engines off. Many airlines have a first-on, first-off rule for pets to minimize the time they stay in exposed to the weather, but there’s no real way to guarantee that they will be safe from extreme heat or cold.

To ensure the safety of pet passengers, most U.S. airlines won’t even accept pets in the cargo area if the forecast calls for temperatures below 45 degrees or above 85 degrees, unless you prove your pet is used to these temperatures with an acclimation certificate. If you plan to fly during periods of extreme cold or heat, your pet may be better off left boarded in a kennel, or left at home with a sitter.

9.  When will you be traveling?
If you need to fly during peak travel hours, such as late afternoon or early evening, or peak travel seasons, such as summer or spring break, expect more crowds, less space, more stress and less comfort for your pet. Late-night and early-morning flights are less likely to be crowded, as are fall and winter flights that don’t fall on or around holidays.

10.  Are you planning to take a direct flight?
Layovers increase the chances of something going awry with your pet. Taking a direct flight will reduce the possibility of complications and minimize stress on your pet.

You know your pet and your travel needs best, so you are the best person to decide whether or not flying is the right choice. Whether you take to the skies or hit the road, always follow established pet safety guidelines to ensure that he has a happy, healthy and fun trip.


Photo credit:  istock/Ирина Мещерякова