Everything you need to know about flying with pets, straight from the experts.
Flying with your pet requires more than one extra bag. A flight with animals takes extra preparation well before the airport. It can stress your pet — and you.
It's also more difficult now that federal laws last year restricted the definition of service animals. Airlines are no longer compelled to accommodate ESAs. No more emotional support peacocks or your dog sitting on your lap.
So we may all have a smoother ride. experts gave their best tips for flying with a pet, from booking your flight to keeping your pet quiet throughout transit.
Small pets such as cats and dogs must be transported in a carrier small enough to fit under a seat. Larger animals can fly as checked luggage or as air freight, but fewer airlines are doing so due of the pandemic.
Traveling with your pet via car, plane, or hotel
Flight nanny Jennifer Kopczynski says customers should call their airline after booking to check space for their pet because airlines may limit the quantity allowed on a specific flight. (Some airlines don't allow pets at all.)
A flight with the fewest feasible stops, according to Susan Smith of PetTravel.com. Greater layovers means more stress for your pet, added Smith, who has done it herself. She recalls travelling with Emily, her Wheaten terrier. She traveled well, Smith remarked.
This is crucial if you can't bring your pet along, says Tracey Thompson, owner of PetFriendlyTravel.com. You don't want your cat lost, she continued. Changing aircraft is a poor idea.
Aspects of your pet's disposition Thompson's site caters to pet owners, although she has never travelled with hers. Her pets were “too high-strung or had abandonment issues” to fly in cargo, she added.
Smith advised pet owners to fly in the spring or fall, when temperatures are milder. Book a flight on a weekday to avoid busy travel days and boost your chances of getting a seat; baggage handlers will have more time to care for your pet.
Booking a window seat will keep pets away from the activity in the aisle, she advised. Those seats may also be deeper.
In addition to dogs and cats, several airlines allow birds in the cabin. She claims “99%” will accept any animal as checked luggage. Some airlines allow rabbits and guinea pigs in the cabin, Smith said.
Placing pets in the cargo hold has been the topic of investigation about its safety. These dogs are more susceptible to changes in air quality and temperature in that area of the plane than dogs with longer snouts, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. They may also be more prone to respiratory issues.
Preparing your pets
Like people, animals that have never flown may take some time to adjust. Get your pet used to their carrier or container. Putting it in the crate on travel day isn't enough, Smith says. She suggested starting a month before your trip.
It should have enough room for the animal to lie down, sit up, stand, and turn around, according to Smith. Smith says that if your pet is over 18 pounds or 18 inches long, it is too big to fly in the cabin.
Owners should “leave it out and open in the home to let the pet to go in and out at their leisure,” said Laura MacLean, medical director at VCA Old Town Animal Hospital in Alexandria, Va.
For his French bulldog, Miles, founder and CEO of the Points Guy, Brian Kelly put treats in his carrier weeks before a vacation “so he linked it with a joyful place.” Kelly put Miles' blanket in the carrier to make it familiar, and owners may practice at home.
Kopczynski suggested a similar role play. If you work from home, she suggests putting the carrier under your desk. “It's like you're in an aircraft seat and they're under the seat in front of you,” she explained.
Give new leash or harness wearers more time to get used to it, MacLean advises. She advised training at home before traveling.
Ask your vet
Experts advise vacationers to bring their pets along. Inform your veterinarian well in advance of your plans, “because there may be occasions where flying is not in the best interest due to a health problem or something,” said Douglas Kratt, a veterinarian and former American Veterinary Medical Association president.
If your pet is cleared for travel, be sure your vet has their current information, including medical history and microchip information. Keep the record on your phone or print it out. Check your phone for a recent snapshot of your pet and check for nearby veterinarian clinics in case of an emergency.
A veterinarian inspection certificate is required for out-of-state travel, according to Kratt.
Traveling abroad is more difficult. If you are traveling internationally or to Hawaii, MacLean advises researching the pet policies of your location. Thompson emphasizes that your pet must meet U.S. admission requirements when you return.
Moving to Rome was simple. Next came logistics.
When in doubt, ask your veterinarian for guidance,” MacLean advised. Kopczynski stated that the APHIS website can assist you find state and country-specific guidelines
How to soothe your pet
Air travel is stressful for animals. For example, Thompson points out that pets are exposed to noise and unusual environments while traveling.
After a trip to the dog park, Kelly said Miles was tired and ready to snooze anyway. Kopczynski, for one, constantly encourages her dogs before traveling.
Smith advised against feeding your pet within four to six hours of the journey (you should still give them water).
Find a calm area in the airport to wait before the flight. Avoid taking your pet into the midst of a crowded food court,” Kratt advises. He also advised reducing the amount of people who approach to pet the animal and get in their face and space.
Airlines do not allow animals to wear any form of clothing in the cargo hold, thus anxiety wraps like ThunderShirts can be helpful for pets traveling in the cabin.
If your pet is extremely nervous, ask your vet about a moderate sedative. Many airlines will not transport a sedated pet, especially in the cargo hold.
Kratt advised against it due to the unknowns and risks. They haven't been tested, he remarked. They've been screened under very severe drug testing rules.We don't know how the metabolism will influence those drugs when used in travel circumstances with various stressors, temperature fluctuations, etc.
Pets must remain in carriers on board. If they are frightened, owners can reach inside to comfort them, as Kopczynski did with a restless Japanese Chin on the voyage to Boston. The dog kept whining, but it stopped when I put my hand in the carrier and paid attention, she said.
You can also aid your pet by reducing your own stress. I always advise folks that their pets pick up on their tension or anxiety, Kratt added.
How to Pass TSA
Travelers should remove animals from carriers and X-ray them before entering TSA. Only leash your pets when going through the metal detector.
The TSA allows solid pet food (dry or moist) and wet food (3.4 ounces or less) in carry-on bags. Also, even for service animals, the size requirement applies.
According to Kratt, interacting with security officers can help. “It was just extremely easy that we had the chats as I was walking through the line, saying, Hey, I'm bringing my dog through, it's in this carrier, he added. You want to handle it?
Kratt advised travelers not to be late to avoid being hustled.
Smith stated that removing a pet from a carrier can be difficult for some owners, especially those with cats. In that scenario, she advised arriving early and requesting a secure room. If a TSA agent refuses, explain the case to their supervisor. They will, she said. Just allow a little extra time.
Where to locate pet relief
Thompson said airports used to have barely a bit of grass outdoors for pets. Airports that board 10,000 or more passengers per year must now offer wheelchair-accessible service animal relieving areas in each terminal. They've gotten more complex, she says, some resembling dog parks.
It should be obvious from the signage or you can look up terminal maps online.
Owners can also arrive early to the airport and stroll their dogs, according to Kratt. With cats, he continued, you may put litter in the container and toss it.