Air Travel For Your Pet Pets, mostly dogs and cats, can and do travel safely aboard commercial aircraft. This document is designed to provide general guidelines to assist customers with safely transporting their pets by air. Please keep in mind that not all airlines accept pets for travel, either in the cabin or cargo bin. Those carriers that do accept pets for travel have their own pet transportation policy. Customers need to contact their airline directly when making travel plans for their pet. Most airline Web sites will provide detailed information on pet transportation policies. Also, different rules apply for service animals.
The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) sets and enforces regulations for the transportation of live animals. These regulations apply to customers and their pets, as well as to the airlines. If you transport your pet by air, you must comply with the applicable laws, which are designed to ensure pet safety and comfort.
How to Transport Your Pet by Air
There are a number of ways to transport your pet by air.
First, some airlines will allow you to travel with a small pet in the cabin of the plane if your pet will fit in a carry-on kennel or approved carrier under a passenger seat. For animals other than dogs or cats, contact your airline for its acceptance policy. Note that carriers have very specific rules. For example, a pet cannot have an offensive odor, nor will it be allowed to disturb other onboard travelers and must adhere to FAA rules.Also, the pet must remain in the carrying case throughout the entire flight.
A second option offered by many airlines is "accompanied baggage," where your pet travels in the cargo hold alongside your checked luggage. What's important to know is that the airlines allow you to transport your pet as accompanied baggage only when you are a passenger traveling on the same flight as your pet.
A third option available through most airlines is to transport your pet as a "live animal" cargo shipment. In the cargo system, your pet travels either through regular cargo channels or special expedited delivery services that many airlines have developed. Pets in the cargo system are transported in the same pressurized holds as those in the checked-baggage system. Many airline cargo departments employ pet transportation specialists who can assist you with answers to questions.
These methods are safe and humane ways to transport your pet. Contact your airline directly to determine the best option for you and your pet.
Questions to Consider When Your Pet Travels
Q) Is your pet old enough to travel? A) APHIS requires your pet to be at least eight weeks old and fully weaned before traveling by air.
Q) Which flights are easier on your pet? A) Whenever possible, book a direct, nonstop flight and avoid holiday or weekend travel. Consider schedules that minimize temperature extremes. For example, try to avoid travel during excessively hot or cold periods. Morning or evening flights are preferable during the summer. In the cargo system, it is possible to reserve space on a specific flight by paying for either priority or special expedited delivery service. Note that carriers reserve the right to embargo pet travel during extreme conditions.
Q) Is your pet healthy? A) Check with a veterinarian to be sure that your pet is fit to travel. Some species ñ for example, pug-nosed dogs (e.g., Boxers and Boston Terriers) simply do not fly well because they may have difficulty breathing even under normal conditions. You will need a health certificate, provided by your veterinarian, in order to comply with the rules of most airlines, as well as state and federal rules. To be valid for your trip on most airlines, the certificate should be issued no more than seven to 10 days prior to departure. Be sure to check with your airline to get the exact amount of time they require before your pet's trip.
Q) Should you sedate your pet? A) Most veterinarians advise against sedating your pet since the effects of tranquilizers on animals at higher altitudes are unpredictable. The decision to prescribe a tranquilizer for your pet should be made by you and your veterinarian. If you believe that some form of sedation might be helpful, be sure to obtain and follow a veterinarian's advice.
Prepare in Advance
Q) Do you have the proper kennel? A) You and the airlines must follow APHIS regulations on the size of kennel for your pet. The kennel must be sturdy, properly ventilated and large enough for your pet to freely be able to stand, turn around and lie down. The kennel must close securely with a mechanism that requires no special tools to operate. APHIS regulations require that the kennel have projecting rims or spacers to ensure that the kennel's ventilation slats cannot be blocked by adjoining kennels or cargo. Appropriate kennels are available at pet stores and from most airlines. Remember to check with your airline because airline policies can vary.
Q) Is your pet comfortable in the travel kennel? A) As far in advance of the trip as possible, let your pet get to know the travel kennel. Veterinarians recommend leaving it open in the house with an old sock or other familiar object inside, so that your pet will spend time in the kennel. It is important for your dog or cat to be as relaxed as possible during the flight. At the time of travel, be aware that most airlines do not permit pet toys in the kennel during transport in the cargo hold.
When your pet travels, the kennel should:
Clearly display your name and address
Use arrows or other marking to indicate the top of the kennel
Include food and water dishes (both empty), which are secured inside the kennel and accessible from outside
Show a food and water schedule and, if any food is necessary, include an ample supply in a bag attached to the outside of the kennel
Contain no more than one adult dog (or puppy between eight weeks and six months old that weighs more than 20 lbs.) or one cat per kennel. (Two puppies or kittens that are between the ages of eight weeks and six months old and under 20 lbs. Each may share the same kennel if they are personal pets of comparable size and are socially compatible with one another)
A general rule of thumb is that your pet must be able to stand comfortably in the kennel and be able to turn around while standing in the kennel
Contain absorbent material or bedding, such as newspaper
Display labels on top and on at least one side with the words LIVE ANIMALS printed in 1-inch-high letters
Q) Have you made advance arrangements for your pets? A) At the time you book a trip on which you plan to transport your pet, advise the airline directly that you will be traveling with a pet either in the cabin with you, as accompanied baggage in the cargo hold on your flight, or as cargo. Be sure to contact your airline again 24-48 hours prior to departure to reconfirm your pet's transportation plans. This is important since airlines will transport only a limited number of pets on each airplane.
Please note that advance arrangements do not guarantee that your pet will travel on a specific flight. Airlines reserve the right to refuse to transport a pet for reasons such as illness, poor kenneling or extreme temperatures at origin, transfer or destination airports.
Q) Are you traveling outside the 48 contiguous states in the United States? A) If you are flying to a foreign country or Hawaii, be sure to find out whether there are quarantine or other health requirements at the destination. For example, rules in the United Kingdom are very strict. It is essential to comply with such requirements. A full-service travel agency or pet travel service should be able to assist you with this information. You should also contact the appropriate embassy or consulate at least four weeks before the trip to verify these requirements; most countries have Web sites that can provide information about pet travel requirements, or you can find them through the APHIS Web site. You are ultimately responsible for the required documentation that will allow your pet to complete its trip.
Ready for Flight
Acceptance of Pets An airline cannot guarantee that it will accept a pet that it has not seen. Since an airline cannot transport a pet that is violent or dangerous, important considerations for acceptance of pets include the pet's health and disposition. A health certificate will help to address any concerns. An airline must also determine that all paperwork is in order and that the kennel meets all requirements.
Food and Water USDA requires that you offer your pet food and water within four hours before check-in with the airline. Do not overfeed your pet at this time. A full stomach is not good for a traveling pet. When you check in with the airline, you must sign a certification of the time when you last offered food and water to your pet. (Do not leave food or water in the dish in the kennel. It will spill and make travel unpleasant for your pet.)
Arrival and Check-In Get to the airport with plenty of time to spare so that there will be no rush. If your pet is traveling as unaccompanied baggage or by special expedited delivery service, check-in will usually be at the passenger terminal. If your pet will be traveling through the cargo system, you may need to go to the air freight terminal, which typically is located in a separate part of the airport. Be sure to check with your airline for the acceptance cutoff time for your flight, and the location from which you can retrieve your pet at the destination airport. Note: You may not give your pet to the airline more than four hours before flight time (six hours by special arrangement).
Finally, airlines are required to must make sure that the facilities at the airports of transfer or final destination are able to handle pets. APHIS has set clear guidelines on allowable temperature limits for animal holding areas, which airlines must obey.
Security Screening of your Pet Transportation Security Administration (TSA) regulations require physical screening of all pets and their kennels whether transported in the passenger cabin, as accompanied baggage or air cargo.
If your pet is traveling with you in the passenger cabin or as unaccompanied baggage, TSA will likely require your pet to accompany you through the passenger screening equipment at the security checkpoint. You will usually need to remove your pet from its kennel to allow for TSA screening of the kennel or pet carrier. In most cases, the kennel will be subject to the same security procedures as your carry-on luggage or checked bags.
For pets transported as cargo, the airline may require you to remove your pet from its kennel to allow for security screening of the kennel before your pet can be accepted for transport.
Interline Transfer of Pets (Multiple Airlines on One Itinerary) When your pet travels as accompanied baggage, most airlines cannot transfer your pet from their own systems to a final destination served by another airline. Each airline must inspect your pet at the time it accepts your pet for transport. On a trip involving more than one airline, therefore, you may need to claim your pet at the connecting stop or stops where you change airlines and check in your pet with the agents at the new airline. Be sure to plan adequate time for this transfer. A good rule of thumb is: if you booked your trip through separate airlines or through a travel agent, you will likely need to retrieve and re-check your pet when making connections. If you booked the entire trip though one airline, verify with them whether you will need to re-check your pet when transferring from one airline to another.
However, when your pet travels in the cargo system, airlines can transfer your pet from one airline to another. Adequate time for transfers between airlines will be necessary, so be sure to consult the airlines involved, since you will need to make advance arrangements with the connecting airline. The minimum transfer times will vary by airport and sometimes by airline.
It is a good idea to carry a leash or cat harness with you on a trip so that you may walk your pet before check-in and after arrival, and so that you can secure your pet during security screening. (Do not keep the leash with your pet, either inside or attached to the outside of the kennel.)
Do not take your pet out of its kennel inside the airport unless TSA personnel ask you to do so. In keeping with airport regulations and out of courtesy for other passengers, you should let your pet out of the kennel only after you leave the terminal building. Some airports offer special pet relief areas. Check with your airline or the airport information desk when you arrive at the terminal.
You should clearly mark the kennel with your pet's name.
In addition to showing your name and address as required by APHIS, you must mark the kennel with the telephone number of a person at the destination who can be contacted about your pet. This is especially important if you are sending your pet unaccompanied through the cargo system, because you will not be at the airport to claim your pet upon arrival. It may be helpful to contact a pet travel service to handle an unaccompanied pet, since these services manage pick-up and delivery and can advise on quarantine requirements for international travel.
If your pet is traveling in the cargo system, remember that there is a processing period for cargo after arrival, which may vary depending on the airline, the airport, and whether your pet is arriving from a domestic or international location.
If you have questions, be sure to contact your airline.
Remember: Even under the best conditions, air travel can be stressful on your pet. Be sure to talk to your veterinarian before transporting your pet by air to make sure that your pet is sufficiently healthy to withstand the stresses associated with air travel.