Most people would consider their pet as a part of the family. Lovable cats and dogs often get stockings on the fireplace mantel at Christmas, bejeweled collars, and are given gourmet food. Adoring pet owners love spoiling their four-legged companions and only want the best care possible for them. It should come as no surprise, then, when owners wish for their pets to accompany them on their travels. Flying with pets can be complicated; every airline has its own criteria for getting your pet to their destination and it isn’t always the most enjoyable experience. The owner can help the pet become comfortable with the procedure by taking the necessary preparations for the flight. With the proper research, you can ensure that your pet’s travel experience will be as simple as possible.
Every airline has its nuances, but generally the pet policies are the same. The airline specifies how much the pet may weigh, where the pet’s carrier will be stored, how old the pet must be, and so forth. Before you book a flight, you should contact the airline you wish to travel with to make sure that your pet can be accommodated. Not all airlines cater to larger pets and most will only accept cats and dogs. The airline is not liable for your pet’s health while traveling, so if you have any concerns that your pet will be exceptionally stressed out during the flight, you should discuss it with your vet.
Southwest Airlines accepts small, vaccinated pets over two months old to travel in the main cabin with their owners inside a small carrier with an additional fee of $75 for each leg of the trip. The owner must be an adult, with one pet per traveler. They will not permit Fido to travel without a chaperone. The carrier, which must be small enough to fit under the customer’s seat, counts as either the passenger’s carry-on or personal item. Southwest Airlines sells carriers, but you may also use your own as long as it fits the required dimensions depending on your seating assignment. Your pet must be able to shift around in the carrier comfortably, able to both sit and stand in their confinement. If your pet gets too feisty, Southwest Airlines reserves the right to turn them away. Southwest Airlines doesn’t offer their customers an option of traveling with larger pets in the cargo area, thus travelers with large dogs will have to purchase a ticket with another airline.
United Airlines has implemented a program in which pets can travel safely in the cargo area, called PetSafe. Small pets may continue to travel in the cabin with their owners with much of the same regulations as Southwest Airlines, but PetSafe is a nice alternative for pets that don’t fit in your lap. With the program, you can check on your pet’s status through online updates throughout the duration of the journey. Unlike Southwest, which provides no emergency considerations for your pet in case of illness, United shows concern for your pet and gives the worried pet owner peace of mind with their dedicated 24-hour live animal desk. They also transfer pets in climate-controlled vehicles when your pet needs to make a connecting flight at any hub where they will be sitting in warmer temperatures for extended periods of time. In terms of cost, PetSafe is more expensive than traveling with your pet in the cabin. Rates vary based on the weight of the pet, weight of the carrier, and where you’re traveling. Domestic flights can range from $75 to $659 per leg of the flight.
American Airlines offers both cabin and checked pet travel for a flat fee on each. Checked pets cost $175 per kennel for all domestic locations, while pets within the cabin fly for $125 per kennel. The airline suggests that you give yourself extra time upon check-in to get your animal situated and you will be required to fill out a questionnaire regarding the pet with an airline agent upon your arrival. The questionnaire is a standard checklist to ensure that you have complied with the usual animal travel regulations, such as whether or not the pet can move about the crate with ease and whether you’ve provided the correct paperwork for its vaccination information. American Airlines has a somewhat lengthy list of breeds that they will not accept for traveling in the cargo, mainly consisting of “snub-nosed” dogs and cats. These are pets with short, stubby snouts such as pug dogs or Persian cats. These animals, referred to as brachycephalic breeds, often have breathing problems which could be compromised in the air.
If you’re moving to another country, traveling with your pet can be tricky. The U.S. State Department website has some vital information on traveling internationally with your pet. In order to determine the requirements of the specific country you’re traveling to, contact the country’s embassy. Many countries have quarantine requirements, in which your pet may enter a country but must stay kenneled in an arranged area for several days, weeks, or months to ensure they do not spread any diseases. Some countries simply will not allow you to import your pet. If you plan on traveling internationally with your pet, do not put your arrangements off until the last minute because the laundry list of papers you need to fill out, shots you must schedule, and airline planning can be expensive and complicated.
PetTravel.Com breaks down the quarantine restrictions for individual countries. Countries that require quarantining tend to be countries that do not yet have any incidences of rabies, countries with a high incidence of rabies, and third world countries. Some countries require your pet to be micro-chipped or receive a blood titre test. If you are traveling to the United Kingdom, which is a rabies-free country, from a country with high incidences of rabies, your pet may be denied entry completely or will be quarantined for the duration of six months.
In some cases, home quarantine can be accomplished. Pets that would otherwise spend several months at a quarantine facility upon arriving in another country may do better with home quarantine because it supplies them with familiar comforts. Their owners must simply administer a rabies vaccination and blood test before waiting out the stipulated period before the animal can travel safely abroad. Countries with unavoidable quarantine policies such as Australia tend to have very clean facilities for pets with designated visiting hours so their owners can see them on a regular basis. However, they can be difficult to book as they fill up quickly on a first-come-first-serve basis. If the idea of completing all of the shots, paperwork, quarantining, and booking of flights just to get your pet safely relocated is making your head spin, you can contact a pet relocation specialist, such as the International Pet and Animal Transportation Association. They can help you understand the requirements and assist in getting your dog abroad safely with minimal stress to you.
According to the 1996 Department of Transportation guidance document, service animals are “any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability. If the animal meets this definition, it is considered a service animal regardless of whether it has been licensed or certified by a state or local government.” The Final Rule on Air Carriers Access Act was published in the Federal Register in May 2008 and runs over 300 pages in length as an addendum to the previously written “Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability in Air Travel” regulations written by the Department of Transportation in 1990. When the laws were first written, service animals were primarily used as guide and hearing dogs. Now, service dogs are used for a myriad of disabilities, such as for hearing loud noises, seizure alerts, psychiatric services, and emotional support as well as the typical seeing-eye dog. Not all service animals require documentation and not all service animals demonstrate a specific activity that visibly assists their handlers, such as those who have service animals for emotional support. As a result, the rules for traveling with a service animal aboard an airplane are somewhat complicated.
Service dogs are able to accompany their handlers directly onto the aircraft and may sit on the floor in the legroom area free of charge. Bulkhead seating can usually be arranged so that the dog is not cramped. Otherwise, they can give the passenger an additional seat so the dog has room on the floor. The service animal must be permitted if it has proper identification, but identification can mean a variety of things, including cards or other documentation, presence of a harness or markings on a harness, tags, or the passenger’s verbal assurance. The only instance in which an airline may demand to see documentation is if the passenger’s service dog assists them with a psychiatric disability, in which case a doctor’s note must be supplied, or if they can’t give credible assurance. Credible assurance would be proven if the handler could demonstrate the dog’s training ability or could explain how the animal directly assists them. The airline representative is not allowed to ask the customer what their disability is.
Unfortunately, since the rules for service animals are so flexible, they are often abused by customers that do not need a service dog and simply wish for their pet to gain access to the plane without a carrier or fee. Airline representatives take note of a dog that doesn’t seem properly trained and may deny access to any dog that doesn’t behave as a service dog should. A service dog always stays at its owner’s feet and will not run freely, bark, growl, bite, urinate or defecate outside of designated areas, or disrupt the rest of the cabin during the flight. Likewise, the airline isn’t required to house service animals undergoing training. The airline may also rebook a flight for a disabled person if the service animal presents a problematic allergy to another customer.
Preparing Your Pet
Traveling can be stressful for pets. When you check your pet like luggage, pet carriers wind up in the cargo area, which means the ride could be somewhat tumultuous for your furry companion. The cargo area of the plane isn’t as smooth a ride as the cabin. It could be likened to the back of the bus, where every bump is felt. Stressed out cats have been known to lose fur in clumps, and both cats and dogs may vomit in the crate from the turbulence. In order to reduce some of the discomfort to your pet, you may think that you can give your pet a mild sedative to keep them calm. However, the American Veterinary Medical Association discourages use of sedatives aboard an aircraft because the pet’s natural ability to maintain equilibrium is affected. Respiratory and cardiovascular problems may ensue for a pet that travels at increased altitude while under sedation.
Try to make the trip easier on your pet by booking flights without any layovers or connections. Fly to and from destinations that do not suffer temperature extremes, as your pet will be exposed to the temperatures when being transported to the cargo area on the plane from the airport. Ensure that your pet is in good health to begin with and that traveling won’t make them unnecessarily stressed. While the USDA requires that your pet be given access to food and water within four hours of check-in, you don’t want your pet to travel on a full stomach. Some veterinarians will even suggest that your pet fast for a brief period while traveling, although airlines will need a note from your vet in order to comply. Prior to your flight, give your pet a chance to relieve themselves in the designated area at the airport to minimize the chance that they will have an accident in their crate.
Kelly Robins’ love for travel and pets has fueled her writing career. She currently writes for TravelInsurance.org, a travel insurance website, while residing in San Antonio with her dog Deuce. Article reprinted with permission of TravelInsurance.org. Illustration inserted by Best In Show Daily.