USDA pet travel requirements, check. Airline pet travel policies, check. Airport security procedures, check. What else can we do to make sure that our pet’s air travel experience is healthy and stress-free?
According to Travel & Leisure, “Two million pets [...] travel on commercial flights each year.” Pets at airports and on planes are becoming more commonplace these days, indeed. But this fairly new travel practice can still prove daunting for many pet parents. Whether or not the whole experience becomes problematic - for us, our pets, and even our fellow passengers - mostly depends on how well we prepare for the trip.
Frequent flyer or not, we should already know that planning ahead is key to flying with minimal, or even zero, hassles. If we’re flying with our dog or cat, whether they’re in the cabin with us or in the cargo section, it’s even more important to make all the necessary preparations in advance to get our pet ready for the trip. And we should also take into consideration how our pet’s presence on a flight might affect our fellow passengers.
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Getting Cozy in the Cabin
Only pets of certain sizes and breeds are allowed by most airlines in the cabin. And only a limited number of pets can be accommodated in a single flight. So we have to quadruple-check before our flight schedule with our air carrier that our furry buddy is still confirmed to travel in the cabin with us.
Here’s a checklist to make sure our pet can get cozy in the cabin:
- Except for therapy or service dogs, only pets that weight 15 lbs or less are allowed in the cabin because the size of their carrier will fit under the seat in front of us.
- As much as possible, we should select a non-stop flight so our pet can avoid all the stress and hassle that comes with waiting for connecting flights and changing planes.
- We should consult our vet prior to our flight if we know that our pet is prone to anxiety. However, remember that sedating them is not an option. This is not allowed by the ASPCA for pets traveling by air. Sedatives at high altitude are dangerous to their health.
- We must keep our pet inside the carrier for the entirety of the flight, which is one of the reasons it needs to be large enough to fit them comfortably.
- Make sure to pack enough food, treats, and toys to last the entire trip. This includes travel to and from the departure and arrival airport, the flight itself, and waiting times at the departure and arrival airports. Giving our pet something to keep her entertained for an extended period, such as a favorite toy or treat, would be extremely beneficial. It’s also a good idea to put one of our worn shirts inside the carrier with our pet. The familiar smell will give them comfort.
- High-stress environments and new experiences can still cause “accidents” even if our pet is potty-trained. Our pet’s carrier should be covered with a high- quality, highly-absorbent pad in case they just can’t help themselves. If our pet shows their usual “I need to go” signs, we can carry them to the restroom with their potty pad.
- Packing an extra blanket for our furkids in case our plane has AC vents on the floor can help add a little insulation without putting them in a situation where they can overheat, particularly in a high-stress environment.
- If we’re not able to avoid flights with layovers, we should take the time (if we have enough) to bring our buddy to a pet relief station, which luckily for us, all airports are now required to provide.
Snug Like a Bug in the Cargo
Unfortunately, if our pet weighs 15 lbs or more, or more than 11 inches in height, they cannot travel with us in the cabin. We will have to check them in as baggage, and they’ll have to be placed in the cargo hold. This might seem cruel, given these policies treat our living, breathing family member like a bag of ‘things,’ but if we take all the necessary precautions and make all the essential preparations, we can ensure a safe and minimally stressful flight for our buddy.
Here’s a guide on how our furkid can be as snug as a bug while in the cargo:
- Many airlines these days make special provisions for pets that have to travel in the cargo, i.e. providing a temperature-controlled environment. We should find out in advance if this is the case with our air carrier. If we have connecting flights, we should take the extra step and confirm with each air carrier what kind of environment our pet will be traveling in.
- If our airline’s cargo hold is not temperature-controlled, we should try to schedule our flight when it would be optimal for our pet, temperature-wise. We can fly at night during summer, for example.
- As much as possible, we should also avoid air travel with our pet during seasonal extremes. But if we absolutely have to, we can opt for shorter flights.
- It would also be ideal to go on a non-stop flight, as the plane transfers and waiting times in between can be stressful for our pet. Additionally, if we have to switch to a different airline, we’ll have to go through the entire process of checking on our pet again. But for very long flights, stopovers can actually be good as we can give our pet a break and an opportunity to walk and hydrate. We should make sure to schedule our connecting flights appropriately so we’ll have adequate time in between to take care of our buddy’s needs.
- If we have to travel for the holidays, when traffic is at its heaviest, we should try to book our flight in the middle of the week.
- We can take extra measures to ensure our pet’s safety by securing their crate with cable ties.
- Depending on how long we won’t have access to our pet, we should provide them with enough water to keep them hydrated, but not so much that they’ll make a mess in their crate. A good idea is to fill and freeze a drip-style water bottle to help ration their water intake.
- In addition to the required “Live Animal” and directional stickers, our pet’s name, and our contact information, we should also provide a label that includes special instructions. For example, if our pet has a medical condition or special dietary needs, temperament issues (if applicable), and our vet’s contact information.
- Again, sedating our pet, whether they’re traveling in the cabin or the cargo hold, can be dangerous to their health. Both high altitudes and sedatives can affect their breathing, and combining the two can have fatal consequences.
- Upon boarding, we should confirm with the ticket agent that our pet has been loaded. We should also inform the flight crew that our pet is traveling in the cargo hold, so they can more closely monitor the pressure and temperature.
- We should have our pet’s photo and medical information and papers in our carry-on luggage.
- We should make sure to have our pet do their business immediately before and after the flight.
- If our pet is prone to stress or anxiety, it might be safer for them to just stay behind with a sitter. We should always defer to our vet’s advice when it comes to our pet’s health and safety. If they also have a tendency to vocalize excessively, we should seriously consider not taking them with us to avoid unnecessary stress, for us and our fellow travelers.
- If our pet shows signs of distress, such as vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, difficulty breathing, excessive panting, and/or loss of appetite any time during the flight or after being off-loaded (for pets kept in the cargo hold), they should be immediately evaluated by a vet or any medical professional.
- “Pet Travel Services,” Pet travel Services
- “Travel Safely With Your Pet by Car, Airplane, Ship or Train,” The Humane Society of the United States
- “Flying with Pets,” Cheapflights