Airline travel with animals requires careful planning on your part to ensure comfort, safety and an uninterrupted trip for your pet. Although airlines transport a variety of animals, this discussion is focused on cats and dogs. A basic understanding of the minimum requirements is essential but there is also a less known issue that may impact your plans.
Cats and dogs can be flown three ways commercially - in the passenger cabin, in the luggage compartment below the aircraft or via air cargo service (which does not transport persons other than the cargo flight crew). In airline terminology "baggage" and "cargo" mean very different things. For any of these modes of air travel, you will need proof of current vaccinations and a certification that the animal is well enough to travel. Your veterinarian is familiar with the necessary paperwork and will know what to provide if you simply indicate that the animal will be traveling by air. Make a duplicate of this paperwork in the event that you misplace one copy or the airline needs to keep the information.
In order for the pet to fly with you in the passenger cabin the cat or dog must be small enough to be placed in a crate that can fit underneath the seat in front of you. Frequent travelers know that this space is very small. Since most airlines limit the number of animals in the cabin to two, check on availability when you purchase your ticket and obtain a seating assignment, and do this as far in advance as possible. Even with good planning there is always the chance that your animal will have to be placed in the baggage compartment so plan for that scenario. A sturdy, airline approved crate is the best choice since the soft (fabric) animal crates will not be suitable for riding with baggage. Crates are sold according to the weight range for the animal and contain adhesive stickers that indicate live animals, the pet's name and your name/flight information. Your veterinarian is the best source of information about food, water and medications prior to and during the flight. For long flights be prepared to provide small pouches of dry food that can accompany the animal; some airlines require that the animal be fed during a stopover if total travel time exceeds a predetermined limit.
The biggest pet travel surprise that I encountered was a pet embargo when I arrived at the airport with my dog and two cats as we prepared to move from LA to Miami in late August a few years ago. If you are considering airline travel with your pet there is a restriction referred to in the industry as heat embargo or pet embargo. In an effort to safely transport animals, most major airlines implement these policies during the warm weather months (May/June through mid-September) to prevent illness or death due to extreme heat. While the temperature in the baggage compartment of an airliner is controlled during flight, conditions may be erratic before the plane takes off or upon arrival at your destination. Prolonged waits on the tarmac are difficult to predict and during this time your pet can be exposed to extreme heat during the summer months.
Before you make plans to fly with your pet call the airline directly and ask about the policy regarding animal travel. The heat embargo is typically put into place in areas where the temperature at either the departure or arrival destination may reach 85 degrees. (There are also a few airlines that do not fly pets at any time.) Be aware that your pet may be refused at the counter as mine were. Despite a meticulously planned trip that included an overnight flight for cooler weather and a non-stop flight to eliminate any chance of my pets being misplaced, the heat embargo was not something I had anticipated. No amount of pleading or offering to sign a waiver was accepted. Finally a different airline offered to fly us all night, non-stop to an alternate destination about 300 miles from Miami where the temperature upon arrival would be barely under the restriction. Thankfully we all arrived safe and well, but it was an experience that I would not want to repeat.
Pets are wonderful companions and friends, and it is natural to want them with you. Try to think of whether or not your pet will truly appreciate and enjoy being put through the flight experience. If you must fly with your pet, talk to your veterinarian about your plans and speak with someone at the airline who can give you the appropriate information regarding pet policies during the specific flight that you have booked. Make sure that you discuss what part of the aircraft will house your pet, the proper crate accommodations and the date/time/location of departure and arrival.
IATA Live Animals Regulations (International Air Transport Association (IATA))
Airlines banning pets as baggage because of relentless heat by Justin Bachman, Associated Press
© Anne Saber and WellPetUSA, Inc., 2001. No part of this article may be reproduced in any form without prior permission of WellPetUSA, Inc. For permission to reprint or reproduce this article, please contact WellPetUSA, Inc. at firstname.lastname@example.org.