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Traveling With Pets - What You Need To Know

If you can't bear leaving Fluffy or Fido at home while you travel, you're not alone. Each year, millions of pet owners bring their furry family members with them on vacation. But before you put your pet in the car or on the plane, you should understand some important guidelines.

By Car

While transporting pets by car is an extremely common practice these days, many pet owners often neglect to keep their animals safely restrained in their automobiles. Each year, there are numerous reports of animals causing accidents by distracting their owners while driving. One notorious example made headlines last year when horror author Stephen King was<a>struck and nearly killed by a driver of a van who was distracted by his dog.

So how can you transport your pet in a way that's safe and comfortable for both you and your pet? Veterinarians and<a>AAA recommend that you use a pet kennel to transport your pet. These kennels should be secured by a seatbelt or other means to keep the kennel from shifting..

AAA has published a great book called Traveling With Your Pet. The book includes detailed information on traveling by car, preparing for the trip, selecting a travel kennel, and many other great tips. This book can be purchased at any AAA office or online bookstores such as Amazon.

By Plane

Last year, over two million pets and other live animals were transported by air. While most animals travel in cargo bins, some of them—usually small dogs, cats and other little creatures (see below)—are permitted to ride in the cabin with their owners (for a fee). On international flights, however, pets are not allowed in the cabin. Larger animals, as well as international animal shipments, can be shipped (also for a fee) in the forward cargo bins, which are climate-controlled.

So what kind of pets do the airlines allow in the cabin?

  • American allows cats, dogs, and birds. The number of animals varies by aircraft and class of service.
  • Continental allows cats, dogs, birds, rabbits and pot-bellied pigs. The number of animals is limited to three per cabin
  • Delta allows cats, dogs, birds, rabbits, hamsters, ferrets and guinea pigs and is limited to three per cabin.
  • Northwest allows only cats and dogs and the limit is four per cabin.
  • TWA allows cats, dogs, and birds. Their limit is four animals per cabin.
  • US Airways allows cats, dogs, and birds. Their limit is two animals per cabin.
  • United allows cats, dogs, and birds. Their limits vary by aircraft type.
While most animals arrive to their destination happy and healthy, this is not always the case.

On a recent United flight, Dakota, a 10-year-old Basenji, didn’t experience the friendly skies. Unfortunately for Dakota, he was loaded into the wrong cargo bin on a flight from Washington, D.C. to San Jose. Thankfully, United’s dispatchers caught the error and notified the pilots, who then made an unscheduled landing in Denver to try and save Dakota. He ended up being one lucky dog; he probably would have died if the flight had continued on to San Jose. Shivering from the experience, Dakota was carried by his owner into the cabin and flew the rest of the flight bundled in blankets. He even got to watch a movie—appropriate for the occasion—titled My Dog Skip!

As you can see, there is a risk in shipping your pets, especially during the summer months. The past two years most airlines have been limiting, and even placing embargoes on, pet travel in cargo holds. The time animals sometimes spend in the cargo hold along with checked baggage before takeoff or after landing can lead to serious injuries or death, particularly if flights are delayed. Airlines have stated they will not accept live animals as checked baggage if temperatures on a trip rise above 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

Airlines currently with embargoes:

As of this writing, Northwest and US Airways do not have embargoes but decide on a case-by-case basis whether or not to ship animals. Both airlines will determine if the weather temperatures are in acceptable ranges at the time of check-in. If your pet cannot be accommodated due to temperature limitations, both airlines will work with you to arrange alternate dates for your pet to travel.

If you absolutely must ship your pet and cannot find an airline to do so, you can contact your veterinarian for referrals to local commercial shippers and animal breeders that can safely transport your pet.

Your Responsibility

If you are going to take your pet on a flight, reserve a space for it well in advance of your trip. Try to schedule a non-stop flight and avoid connections through airports with heavy traffic (if at all possible). Also avoid shipping your pet on mid-day flights during the summer and morning and evening flights during the winter. At any point during your trip, if weather conditions should subject your pet to extreme temperatures (high or low), make sure additional precautions are taken to ensure the animal's safety.

Once on the plane, ask a flight attendant or pilot if it's possible to check to make sure that your pet is safely onboard the aircraft (most flight crewmembers are happy to help).

Guidelines To Follow

Here are some useful guidelines to follow when shipping your pets:

  • If your pet is in heat, pregnant, under eight weeks old, or elderly, do not subject it to air travel.
  • Pug-nose dogs and cats should never travel as cargo. Even passenger cabin air can inhibit their breathing due to the structure of their faces. Most airlines will not ship pug-nosed dogs if the temperature reaches above 70 degrees.
  • Dogs and cats must be at least eight weeks old and must have been weaned for
    at least five days.
  • Make an appointment with your pet's veterinarian for a check-up, and make sure all vaccinations are up to date. Obtain a health certificate from your vet no earlier than 10 days before departure. Your pet cannot travel without this documentation.
  • You should feed and offer water to your pet four hours before delivery to the airline.
  • If puppies and kittens less than 16 weeks of age are in transit more than 12 hours, food and water must be provided. Older animals must have food at least every 24 hours and water at least every 12 hours. Written instructions for food and water must accompany all animals shipped regardless of their scheduled time in transit.
  • Animals may not be exposed to temperatures less than 45 degrees unless a certificate signed by a veterinarian stating that they are acclimated to lower temperatures accompanies them.
  • Exercise your pet before putting him or her in the kennel.
Pet Carriers

Most airlines have a limit on the number of pets allowed per cabin, so be sure to inform the airline when you make your reservation. Also, ask for the allowable dimensions of your pet's carrier. Usually a 16" x 21"x 8" carrier works best for the cabin. Out of respect for fellow passengers, let the person sitting next to you know that you have a pet with you. He or she may be allergic and may want to switch seats with someone else.

In the aircraft cabin:

  • Make sure the carrier is big enough to insure comfort for your pet.
  • Line the bottom of the carrier with a towel to absorb any accidents.
  • Bring food and water for your pet.
  • If you can, try to exercise your pet before putting him or her in the carrier.
  • For your pet's safety and the safety of other passengers, make sure that the carrier is secure under the seat in front of you and do not take your pet out of the carrier. This is an FAA law.
Dakota the dog was able to travel in the cabin without a kennel carrier. It ended up being the Captain who insisted the dog be allowed in the cabin after the incident. I applaud this Captain’s decision, as it was the humanitarian thing to do; however, it did violate a federal air regulation. More than likely, United will be fined for the incident of mishandling the dog and then allowing him to travel without a kennel in the cabin.

In the Cargo Hold

If you are shipping your pet in the cargo hold, you’ll need to purchase a USDA-approved shipping crate that is large enough for your pet to stand, sit, and change position in comfortably. You can purchase crates from many pet supply stores and airlines.

Be sure to write the words “live animal” in letters at least one inch tall on the top
of the crate and on each side. Draw arrows to prominently show the upright position of the crate. It is essential that you write down the name, address and telephone number of the destination point of your pet, whether you are traveling with your pet or not. Be sure to secure this information to the top of the crate.

Line the crate bottom with some type of bedding (i.e. shredded paper or towels) to absorb accidents. The crate must have two dishes—one for food and one for water—attached
inside, and they must be easily accessible to airline personnel. Freeze the water you provide for your pet so that it will not fall out during loading, but will melt by the time the animal is thirsty. Do not lock the door of the crate. Make sure it is securely closed, but not locked, so that airline personnel can open it in case of emergency. Get your pet accustomed to the crate before the day of departure. Make sure your pet is wearing a collar and an identification tag. Pets flying cargo should not wear collars and tags that can get hooked on metal grates (breakaway collars are best for cats). For trips longer than 12 hours, attach a plastic bag containing dry food and feeding instructions for airline personnel to the top of the crate. Tranquilization is not recommended.

With some proper planning and just knowing the ropes, you can minimize your pet's stress when he/she travels.

Related Sites Of Interest:


U.S. Department of Transportation

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