For pet owners, traveling with your pet is sometimes necessary, but the process of transporting an animal in an airplane can be taxing and slightly risky. Your pet must be healthy and up-to-date on all required vaccinations for air travel (with proof via a health certificate).
Moreover, the task of finding a flight with an airline that takes animals on board is challenging.
Small animals, such as small dogs and cats, may be permitted to ride in the cabin of the airplane, as long as their pet carrier fits under the seat as a carry-on item.
However, most pets that do not travel in-cabin will travel in crates loaded into the luggage compartment. While generally safe, traveling in the cargo hold of an airplane can be dangerous for your pet, if you fail to take the proper precautions. Here is what to expect when traveling with a pet.
Make sure you take every preparatory action necessary prior to check in so that your pet can travel safely.
Note: Airlines like Delta Airlines, American Airlines and United Airlines have specific rules and regulations surrounding animal transportation. On their websites, you should be able to find valuable information regarding cargo temperatures and other pet safety rules.
Luggage Compartment Conditions
Luggage compartments in cargo areas are usually pressurized and heated on most major airlines that take pets as cargo. This climate-control makes the trip more comfortable for animals flying at high altitudes.
Check with the airline to confirm that the temperature in their cargo area will be safe and comfortable for your pet to prevent issues like dehydration, heat stroke or hypothermia during the flight.
The flight itself is typically secure for animals. Most problems actually occur while the plane is on the ground.
Dangers on the Ground
Unfortunately, a lot can go wrong for your pet from the time you check it in with baggage handlers to the time that your flight touches down at its final destination. The animal may be sent to the wrong place due to a routing error. And being separated from your pet may be problematic, depending on its food and water supply as well as the climate conditions of its holding facility.
Weather conditions also pose a significant threat to pets traveling as cargo. Animals may be left in extreme heat, cold or rain while handlers transport and load them into airplanes from the tarmac.
Even after loading, pets may sit in sweltering or frigid conditions until the airplane takes off and the climate control kicks in. Finally, there's also the chance that your pet's kennel may get tipped, crushed or opened accidentally during transport, loading or unloading.
Dangers in the Sky
The flight itself is generally the least dangerous part of the trip for your pet. In most cases, the animals simply ride in their pet crates, waiting to land.
However, two major risks exist during this stage of the journey. First, an unexpected change or malfunction in the temperature and pressure control may subject your pet to harsh and even deadly conditions. Secondly, the animal may escape from its kennel.
There's a small chance that the transport container might be damaged during loading or as the contents of the airplane cargo bay shift, leading to the accidental breaking or opening of the container.
Book a nonstop, direct flight, if at all possible, to minimize the amount of time your pet spends on the tarmac and in loading areas.
If you must take a connection, book your trip with ample time between flights (aka, a longer layover time) to make sure that baggage handlers can get your pet to the next plane and check on its well-being.
Avoid traveling with your pet during peak seasons, such as holidays and during extremely hot or cold weather. Consider getting pet travel insurance from the airline or a third-party provider just in case something happens.
International travel may have more extensive rules for air travel with your pet, and you should look into these rules thoroughly before booking an international flight with your pet.
Purchase a quality, pet safe travel kennel for your pet. Airlines require that the crate be International Air Transport Association (IATA) approved.
Sizing requirements are very important; the pet safe travel kennel needs to be big enough for the animal to stand up, lie down and turn around comfortably.
The pet safe travel kennel must also have multiple ventilation slots and a clip-on water dish and food tray. Securely attach a highly-visible note on the outside of the cage listing your pet's name, your name, your flight itinerary and contact information.
Outfit the animal with a collar and identifications tags. Display "Live Animals" and "This End Up" stickers on the kennel. Most airlines provide these.
Check with airline personnel and flight attendants prior to boarding and take-off to inform them that you have a pet traveling in the luggage compartment.
Politely ask them to confirm with baggage handlers and pilots that your pet is on board and secure before taking your seat.
Note: brachycephalic dogs and cats are prohibited from flying in cargo by all airlines. This term refers to pet breeds with snub noses (short noses), which can cause respiratory issues while in the air. Brachycephalic dog breeds include pugs, bulldogs, boston terriers, shih-tzus and more.
Overall, safe air travel with your pets can be done, but there are risks involved. Under no circumstances should a pet be placed in overhead luggage compartments, and cargo luggage compartments are not to be confused with overhead bins.
The two options available for traveling pets are in the passenger cabin or below the passenger cabin in the cargo area. If you are uncomfortable with either or both of these options and don’t find the trip worth the risk for your furry friend, you may want to make arrangements with a pet sitter.