Pet Air Travel
Pet air travel is another kettle of fish. I would imagine that most pet owners would only consider this sort of travel if they are moving interstate or moving overseas and aren't really considering air travel for their pets as a regular holiday event. For one thing, the cost for holidaying with your pet and using air travel would be prohibitively expensive and for most pets air travel isn't exactly an enjoyable experience so it's best restricted to being few and far between.
Most airlines will prefer (in fact most INSIST) that your check your dog in as 'cargo' and they won't qualify as 'carry on' luggage no matter how small that animal. So with that knowledge in mind, it would be necessary to 'contain' or 'crate' your animal somehow. Some airlines will insist that you use their crates and will not accept yours - I think that's just to ensure that the quality of the kennel is of a certain calibre and that it won't break open mid flight. So you need to check before your air travel to prevent hassles at the airport when you arrive - some airlines will only accept a certain number of pets during any particular flight so make sure you book your spot early to avoid disappointment. When selecting a dog kennel (dogs vary in size - it's usually simpler for cats as they are generally a one size fits all), you need to ensure that your pet can stand, lie down in a comfortable position and turn around when inside the kennel, you don't want your pet to be stiff and uncomfortable during the whole trip. Generally, the length (nose to tail tip), width and height of the pet is taken into account in selecting a kennel.
Pet air travel regulations for different airlines
- United Airlines
- American Airlines
- Delta Airlines
- Continental Airlines
- US Airways
- America West Airlines
- Spirit Air
- Northwest Airlines
- Southwest Airlines
- Air Canada
- Singapore Airlines
- Air New Zealand
- British Airways
- Cathay Pacific
- Alaska Airlines
- Midwest Airlines
- Airtran Airways
BEFORE you go on your air travel trip, I'd suggest you familiarize your pet with the kennel. Even if you are going to be using the kennels provided by the airline, I think it's best to get your pet used to being 'crated' (caged) so that it's comfortable with the idea of being in an enclosed area for a period of time. I know pet owners who teach their pets to sleep in the kennels a couple of weeks before the trip (I know it's a lot to ask because most owners would be frantic with other arrangements and packing in a big move scenario but leave a thought for your pet - it would save you and your pet a lot of angst if you plan ahead). Cat owners can feed their cats in the carrier - I often suggest that you leave the carrier in the middle of the lounge room (or kitchen) like it's part of the furniture to get them accustomed to seeing that it's not an ominous sign that you're going to take it to the vet...then to start to feed the cat in the carrier with the door open and then gradually progress to closing the door on the cat whilst it's eating. For dog owners ensure that the kennel is identified and your dog is also identified properly. NO choke chain type collars to be left on the dog - it could snag on something and choke your pet whilst in the kennel! Have your dog's lead handy - keep it with you, I know some owners who tape it onto the kennel only to find that it's lost in transit somewhere and they're left with no lead at the destination point. A lot of owners ask that their dogs be sedated thinking that it would make it easier and safer for the pet to just sleep through the whole air travel but it's usually not advisable as high altitudes and sedatives aren't a good mix - it can result in cardiac and respiratory problems. Sedatives in some pets can also leave them disorientated and makes them more injury prone. Pets have to be at least 8 weeks old for air travel.
There are special pet air travel services available which take the hassle out of worrying about all the details. With a lot of pet owners this is a feasible alternative because they have enough on their minds to have to worry about in a big move and want to save themselves more anxiety.
Pet air travel tips - Before the trip
- check with airline about their regulations for air travel, specifically about :
- do they allow pets on their flights - some airlines will not, others like Singapore Airlines will refuse short-snout dogs (brachycephalics) like bulldogs and pugs.
- using their kennels or bring your own?
- book your spot for your pet - book a direct flight whenever possible and try to avoid peak travel times - busy airline staff usually means there's less time they'll have to look after your pet.
- do they require a veterinary certificate to accompany the pet? If so, how soon before the trip does your pet need to get checked ie vet check needs to be done at least 7 days prior?
- do they require food/water bowls to be in the kennels? If the trip is short, having a food/water bowl could mean a dirty and smelly animal on the other end. These often get tipped over or spilt during the trip - making it an uncomfortable ride all round for your pet. Usually there's a requirement that your pet has been fed and watered within 4 hours of travel. The laws state that puppies and kittens between 8-16 weeks old need to be fed every 12 hours, older pets need to be fed every 24 hours and provided water every 12 hours - so you need to provide instructions (usually stuck on the kennel) if the flight is longer than this. A lot of airlines actually make it a requirement that you list the 24 hour feeding/watering regime anyway regardless of the estimated time of travel in case of delays. If your pet needs to be fed or watered during the flight, then the kennel must allow for this WITHOUT the need to actually open the kennel door.
- when do you have to arrive at the airport prior to departure?
- is your pet going to be in the cargo or can you bring your pet in as carry on luggage - usually not possible with larger dogs. Some airlines are pretty advanced in this area and have special cargo areas which are temperature controlled and have priority treatment for pets eg the animals don't get treated like 'normal luggage' and don't get left on the tarmac in scorching conditions for 30 minutes or something whilst loading and unloading.
- what are their regulations about the timing of the flight? Some airlines (rightly so) will only let pets fly in the cooler months or during certain times of the day in the warmer months - they don't want to dehydrate your pet during the trip - the cargo area can be a sauna before take-off.
- find out where the cargo check in area is at the airport - this is usually a separate section of the airport and not the same as the usual check in counter you would go to.
- if using your own kennel or carrier, identify the kennel with your pet's name, your name your address, your phone number. It wouldn't hurt to put a colorful ribbon or some identifying stickers to make it easy to pick out your pet's kennel. You can put 'LIVE ANIMAL' stickers on the kennel - and it wouldn't hurt to put a 'THIS WAY UP' sticker as well - most handlers aren't that clueless but you never can tell...DON'T stick stuff over the ventilation holes on the kennel, they are there for a reason...
- you might want to ensure that the kennel is doubly secure - some owners buy special cords to tie the door shut.
- ensure your pet is identified with your name, his/her name, your phone, your address.
- put a rug in the kennel to keep them warm. You know how your luggage sometimes comes out freezing cold? Well that's where your pet is going to be so give them something snuggly to cuddle up to - one of your old, used jumpers is great (don't wash it!! They'll love your smell - it's comforting!)
- if there's a special toy that your pet is particularly attached to, then put that in there as well.
- if you're flying to another country (or another state for that matter), there could be quarantine and other specific health requirements that don't apply to where you're living now. CHECK before you go - are there any additional vaccinations or tests etc that are required? You need to do this at least 4 weeks BEFORE you fly - ring the relevant consulate or foreign embassy. Some pets are required to be quarantined at the destination country for months before release to you, prepare yourself for this.
- reconfirm 24-48 hours before the flight to prevent stuff ups (we all know they happen).
Dog air travel tips - Before the trip
- sleep your dog in the kennel. Dogs generally take to crating quite well so it should be less traumatic compared to what cat owners have to face.
- if water is required for the trip, a good alternative is to freeze a bowl of water and use that for the trip.
- take a recent photo of your dog to keep with you in your wallet/purse in case it gets lost.
- clip your dog's nails before travel - short nails don't snag on things.
- bring a lead for your dog - keep it with you - do not tape it to the kennel.
Dog air travel tips - At the airport
- walk your dog before check in and after you arrive at your destination. It's advisable that you do this outside the air terminal - do not open the kennel inside the terminal building. Use the lead you have with you.
- you need to remove the wheels on the dog kennel if there are any before checking your dog in to avoid the kennel going walkabouts during the flight.
- if you can, watch to make sure your dog is actually loaded up onto the plane. I know some owners who actually tip the person handling the kennel to get better service.
Cat air travel tips - Before the trip
- get your cat accustomed to the carrier - most cats would have only seen it as you are preparing to take them to the vet so it's not something that brings back good memories. See the air travel tip in the above section on how to acclimatize them to it.
- take a recent photo of your cat to keep with you in your wallet/purse in case it gets lost.
Cat air travel tips - At the airport
- if you can, watch to make sure your cat is actually loaded up onto the plane. I know some owners who actually tip the person handling the kennel to get better service.