Thinking about bringing your fur kids along when you visit family and friends over the holidays?  If your holiday travel will involve an airline flight, it’s never too early to start planning for a smooth trip for both yourself and your pet.  What do you need to know to book a pet on a flight?  Make sure you check the specific pet policies of each airline you are considering, and be sure to book early, as many airlines reserve a limited number of spots for pets in the cabin (or cargo) section.

What else do you need to know to make flying with dogs, cats, and other pets as stress-free as possible?  Here are some answers to a few frequently asked questions…but always remember to check with your airline for definitive information!

Are there government regulations for pet airline travel?

Yes, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service maintains a website with valuable information on both domestic and international travel with pets.  They also provide a heads-up on which animals actually qualify as “pets.”  Be sure to check the USDA site if you have an exotic companion animal!

How can I compare airline pet policies?

The pet-friendly travel website Bring Fido has a web page that lists most major U.S. and international airline pet policies.  From Aer Lingus to Turkish Airlines, you can easily click between sites to find the perfect pet policy for your needs.

Do I need to see the vet before I fly with my pet?

According to American Veterinary Medical Association, most airlines require a current Certificate of Veterinary Inspection for your pet to travel.  Your vet will certify that your pet is healthy enough for travel, and that it has no diseases that could be passed on to humans or other animals.  Certain vaccines need to be up-to-date before your pet can travel.  Don’t forget that international pet travel health requirements can be more stringent than domestic ones, and your pet may have to go into quarantine upon arrival.  This applies to Hawaii as well.

Is it safe for my pet to fly in cargo?

Many concerned pet owners have heard scary stories about pets’ health being harmed by flying in cargo.  A recent article in Conde Nast Traveler cites a U.S. Department of Transportation report on statistics for pet cargo travel in 2016.  Out of approximately 500,000 pets that flew cargo, 26 died and 24 were injured.  That’s about a 1 per 10,000 pet incident rate.  United and Hawaiian have the highest incident rates.  Flying with your pet in the cabin with you is safer than putting your pet in cargo, but that is only an option for smaller pets.  Large dogs must fly cargo unless they are service animals.  Many experts suggest avoiding placing your pet in cargo unless it is absolutely necessary, such as for a cross-country move.

What kind of pet carrier should I get for airline travel?

Each airline’s pet policy page will have specific dimensions for under-the-seat pet carriers.  Generally, they allow hard or soft carriers, as long as they fit under the seat in front of you.  Remember, you cannot remove your pet from the crate during flight, so the carrier must be large enough to keep your pet comfortable.  Some pet stores sell carriers specifically designed for airline travel.  The carrier company Sherpa Pet works with American and Delta, so you can get carriers specifically designed for those airlines.

Happy travels!


13 thoughts on “FAQs: Airline Travel with Pets

  1. Thank you for sharing the terrific resources in your post. When my son moved to Hawaii, he had to jump through all sorts of rules, regs and red tape. United was no picnic and made him redo his vet certificate so the trip was extra costly. When I came back from Hawaii in May, the lady next to us brought her Labrador retriever. While she said he was a service dog, I suspect that wasn’t entirely true, he was kind of wigged out but did remarkably well, considering the small space he had to occupy. Flying is no picnic for humans or their pets anymore.

    1. Wow, thanks for sharing your experiences! Hawaii does need to be careful about bringing in non-native diseases and critters, but I’m sure it is a hassle for travelers. Agree that a big percentage of the (growing) number of large dogs in the cabin are, um, very loosely-defined “emotional support” animals. Yes, flying with pets is stressful…as is driving for many hours with pets in the car!

      1. The airlines seem to relish making it expensive and unpleasant. At least United seems to take that approach. 😉 Had a seeing eye German Shepherd on a flight to Vegas a couple years ago. Best dog I’d ever seen handle the whole trip. Quite impressive.

  2. My husband and I are considering a permanent move to Czech Republic (or possibly France) from the USA in maybe 3 to 6 years. We just adopted a four month old Hahn’s Macaw, which is a mini macaw the size of a conure or cockatiel. I really hope that they would let us keep him under the seat, or at least somewhere safe in the airplane cabin (not the airplane cargo area). He’s not that big. A large portion of his length is his tail.

    My husband has found some airline approved soft bird carriers online. They are very expensive at around $250. The listing did say that it was still important to check with the particular airline(s) to be sure they accept it, even though it says “airline approved”.

    We have no idea what the requirements are in Czech Republic or France for bringing birds (or other pets). I know we will have to figure those out way way ahead of time, in addition to any airline requirements.

    Our bird is a very long-term commitment. His species could live over 30 years, and obviously we’ll surely be completely attached to him.

    1. Sounds like you’re doing your homework, which is important for international travel. Not just the airlines but also all countries involved so you know what to expect. Thanks for sharing your story!

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