Whether you are flying with your pet or it is flying without you, it is important to choose an airline that serves the entire route from beginning to end. After finding your airline, you will need to know their pet policies. Will the airline allow your dog or cat to fly in the cabin with you? What are the restrictions? Will your pet need to travel in the cargo hold?
Pets can travel on a commercial airline in one of 3 ways: in-cabin, checked baggage and manifest cargo.
- checked baggage cabin: Pets traveling in the cabin must fly with an adult passenger and travel in an airline compliant carrier stowed under the seat.
- checked baggage cargo: Pets traveling with a passenger that are not permitted in the cabin can be transported as checked baggage in the cargo hold.
- manifest cargo: Unaccompanied or very large pets will travel as manifest cargo in the hold.
- service/comfort animals: Service can travel in the cabin with a disabled passenger on many airlines.
How to clear airport security with a pet
You and your pet are traveling in the cabin of an airplane together. You have checked in at the reservation desk, your pet is quietly lying down in their airline compliant pet carrier, you have tickets and possessions in hand. Everything is going according to plan. You proceed to the TSA security checkpoint. As you wait in the line, you wonder – what is coming next? How will TSA officials deal with your furry traveling companion? Certainly, with all the confusion at security checkpoints and the flow of passengers intent on clearing the line and proceeding to their gate as quickly as possible, it is helpful to know how you and your pet will be cleared through security.
According to TSA: “Our security procedures do not prohibit you from bringing a pet on your flight. You should contact your airline or travel agent, however, before arriving at the airport to determine your airline’s policy on traveling with pets.”
Security Screening: Information from TSA
“You will need to present the animal to the Security Officers at the checkpoint. You may walk your animal through the metal detector with you. If this is not possible, your animal will have to undergo a secondary screening, including a visual and physical inspection by our Security Officers. Your animal will NEVER be placed through an X-ray machine. However, you may be asked to remove your animal from its carrier so that the carrier can be placed on the X-Ray machine.”
You will be asked to remove your pet from the carrier so that the carrier can be run through the x-ray machine. You will walk through the upright metal detector with your pet. If you are traveling with a pet who is high spirited or scares easily, you can request a room so that your pet will not escape should you not be able to contain them when out of the carrier or get them back in the carrier once clearing security. You should allow extra time for this.
There has been a lot of news lately regarding the introduction of the controversial body scanners in many airports. If the old stand up metal detectors have been replaced with body scanners, both the pet and the owner are subject to pat down. Again, you will remove the pet from the carrier and make it available to security officers should they decide to inspect your pet. Should you require a pat down, you should put your pet back in the carrier first.
Being prepared is key to traveling with your pet. Give yourself plenty of time to get to your gate. Keep your accessories (coat, purse, laptop or other items you must carry) at a minimum so you will have free hands to handle your pet at security checkpoints. Take your pet out of the carrier after you have removed your shoes, belt, etc. and put your items on the table to be scanned. Be sure and carry a non-metallic leash in the carrier to loop around your wrist to be sure that your pet cannot escape when you remove them from the carrier. Even calm pets can get nervous and scared when around groups of people and in unfamiliar environments.
You can either carry your pet or let it walk beside you through the scanner. Once cleared, you can put your cat or dog back in the carrier.
Keeping your pet calm during airline in-cabin travel
The first thing to consider is that, under no circumstances, can you remove your pet from its carrier during the flight. However, the key here is to keep your pet calm, to isolate them from all of the crazy activity of people loading their gear in the overhead compartments and finding their seats. This is the perfect opportunity to keep your pet in its carrier on your lap, turn it towards the window, and hug it tightly (if your pet allows for hugs) and stroke it through the carrier (assuming you are using a soft sided carrier which we highly recommend). Keep your voice low and close to your pet while assuring it that everything will be ok. Lots of “good girls” and “good boys” are certainly a welcome sound for a nervous pet.
The attendents will tell you that your pet must be stowed under the seat in front of you during take off and landing and we must all comply with that. Hopefully, your pet is laying down at this point because you need to get the carrier under the seat in front of you. Leave the carrier between your feet for a minute and then slowly slide the carrier under the seat all the while offering plenty of vocal assurances.
Once the plane is in the air, you should be allowed to keep the carrier between your feet. If your pet is fussing, offer them a pet calmer by unzipping the carrier an inch or two and extending the treat to your pet. This should calm them down. The drone of the engines should encourage them to rest unless there is too much activity in the cabin. You should be able to extend a finger or two into the carrier for a head scratch so that your pet will know that you are still there. Also, a finger tip that has been dunked in a glass of water is a good way to keep your pet occupied.
Because you are traveling, you have not given your pet a full meal, so offering one piece of chow at a time can keep you connected with your pet as long as they will accept it. Don’t feed them too much; the object here is to keep them occupied, not to fill their belly. Remember not to open the carrier so that your pet can escape. This will never turn out to be a good thing.
Other tips for traveling pet owners: put a worn t-shirt or piece of your clothing with your scent on it in the carrier with your pet. Your scent is very calming to your pet. Pack light so you don’t have to fumble with other luggage and can move quickly to turn your attention to your pet. Groom your pet prior to travel. A clean, well groomed pet is a happier traveler. Also, try to prepare in advance for your trip. Get your pet accustomed to being in the carrier. It will pay off on travel day.
How to select a pet carrier that is airline compliant?
If you consider traveling with your pet in the cabin of an airplane, you will definitely need an airline compliant pet carrier. What you must know you can read on the list below:
- Your carrier must have a waterproof bottom
- Your carrier must have adequate ventilation
- Your pet must be securely fastened in the carrier, the best option are zippers.
- Your carrier must fit under the seat in front of you.
- Your pet must be the proper size for the carrier. It must be able to stand up and turn around in the carrier.
The last criteria is the most important on the list and may mean the difference of getting on the airplane with your pet or not. Measure your pet from top of head to the ground and from the tip of the nose to the base (not tip) of tail. Use these measurements to select a pet carrier. Generally, if your pet’s weight exceeds 15 pounds and is more than 19″ long, it will be too large to fit into an airline compliant carrier.
Many airlines post carrier requirements on their websites. Many of the size requirements are for hard sided carriers as opposed to soft sided carriers which we stock in our store. With a soft sided carrier, the height can be “squished” down when your pet is laying down to get the carrier under the seat without harming your pet.
If you are unsure of the amount of area under the seat in front of you, call your airline. They will be able to look up your route and tell you what kind of plane will be flying and how much room there will be.
It is not a good idea to buy a cheap pet carrier when traveling. Both you and your pet are under a bit of stress as it is without worrying if your carrier will fall apart. Check our airline compliant pet carriers. Thousands of pet travellers use them every year to travel worldwide with their pets without any problems. And last, but not least important, get a pet pad to protect your carrier against nervous accidents. It is a small investment to keep your carrier in good condition.
Airline pet cargo crate: all requirements
The rules regarding approved types of containers for cats, dogs, ferrets and birds flying in cabin and as cargo are created by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and have been accepted by the world’s airlines. Keep in mind that all the airlines have added their own individual requirements to it.
Pets traveling as cargo
Whether your pet is flying as checked baggage or cargo, it will travel in a temperature controlled and pressurized compartment right under the cabin. Most airlines flying larger aircraft (not commuter planes) accept live animals as cargo and have made special provisions for their handling. Exceptions to this are Southwest, AirTran, JetBlue, Frontier, Virgin America, and those airlines that do not accept pets in the cargo hold.
Requirements for pet cargo crates:
Your pet must travel in an IATA compliant pet crate and meet certain other requirements depending on the airline. It is considered best to have only one animal per container, but the IATA rules state that two animals can share the same container if the animals are under 14kg (30lbs) and are of the same species and compatible. It is up to the airline to set their own rules and most of them do.
- The pet crate must be large enough for your pet(s) to stand, turn around, and lie down comfortably. Brachycephalic breeds (snub nosed) will require one size larger than normal for most airlines that permit them to fly in cargo.
- The crate must be made of fiberglass, metal, rigid plastics, weld metal mesh, solid wood or plywood (not all airlines will accept crates made of wood)
- The floor must be solid and leakproof.
- Handling space bars or handles must be present on the long side of the crate.
- The container door must have a secure, spring loaded, all around locking system with the pins extending at least 1.6 cm (5/8 in) beyond the horizontal extrusions above and below the door. Many airlines will also require that the door be further secured with cable ties at each corner. Doors must be constructed of heavy plastic, welded or cast metal strong enough so that a pet cannot bend them. The door must be nose and paw proof so as not to injure your pet in any way.
- The crate should be should be sturdy in design and not collapsible. Roof should be solid but can have ventilation as long as the strength of the roof is not comprimised. (We do not recommend crates with doors on the top.)
Airline Cargo Crate Hardware:
Although this is not an IATA requirement, many airlines are now requiring steel crate hardware instead of plastic fasteners. We would recommend that you use this hardware on your pet’s crate to be sure there will be no problems. Also, many airlines require cable ties in the corners of the crate. Plastic clips are not recommended. All hardware and fasteners must be in place.
- Both water and food bowls must be attached to the inside of the front door and be refillable from the outside of the crate without opening the door. Small funnels attached to the door by cable ties make it easier for airport handlers to refill water bowls. Food can be attached to the top of the crate in a plastic bag.
- The container must have ventilation on a minimum of two sides (domestic flights) and 4 sides (international flights). The openings must be a minimum of 1 in(2.5 cm) over the upper two thirds of the opposite end and the remaining two sides, at a distance of 4 in (10 cm) from centre to centre of each opening. The total ventilated area must be at least 16% of the total surface of the four sides. Additional holes on the roof or sides are permitted as long as they do not affect the strength of the crate. The ventillation holes must not be taped over or blocked in any way.
- The container must have LIVE ANIMAL stickers on the top and sides in letters at least one inch tall as well as directional stickers. Also, there must be a sticker adhered to the top of the crate called a Shipper’s Declaration stating when your pet was last watered and fed. These stickers can be found in our Accessory Kits.
- NO WHEELS. If the container has wheels, they should be removed or taped securely so that the kennel cannot roll.
- The container must be identified with you pet’s name and owner’s contact information. The best way to do this is to attach your pet’s information to the outside of the crate with duct tape or other sturdy tape.
- Forklift spacers must be provided when the pet exceeds 132 lbs. (60kg)
Extra Crate Recommendations:
- Attach a leash and collar to the outside of the kennel. (put in a plastic bag and tape)
- Tape or print your pet’s name on the outside of the crate as well as the owner’s name, address and cell phone number.
- Include a pet pad or shredded newspaper. This is a requirement of many airlines.
- Include an unwashed t-shirt with your scent on it. This will provide comfort to your pet.
- Tape the original health certificate and any other papers required by your destination country to the top of the crate in a plastic bag marked “DO NOT REMOVE! ORIGINAL DOCUMENTS”
- Do not include any hard toys or objects that could bounce around and injure your pet.
Sizing Your Pet Crate
This is a crucial step in ensuring your pet’s safety and comfort and can make the difference between being accepted or refused by your airline. Measure your pet according to the chart below for domestic flights. See below for international requirements. Compare your findings with the interior measurements of the crate.
- A= length of animal from nose to root of tail
- B = height from ground to elbow joint
- C = width across shoulders
- D = height of animal in standing position (top of head for pets with non-erect ears – from tip of ears for pets with erect ears)
- The length of the kennel must be equal to A + 1/2 B.
- The width of the kennel must be equal to Cx2
- The height of the kennel (top flat or arched) must be equal to D.
Some airlines will require the following measurements on international flights.
- The length of the kennel must be equal to A + B.
- The width of the kennel must be equal to (C+1) x 2
- The height of the kennel (top flat or arched) must be equal to D + 3″.
Snakes: Snakes require a crate measuring at least their length. More information on transporting a repile can be found by clicking here.
Rabbits and hamsters: All small rodents as well as hamsters will travel in the cargo area in a cargo container as described above. A few airlines will allow rabbits in the cabin. Do not put objects in the cage as the airlines frown upon non attached items in the crate. A pet pad and old t-shirt is fine.
Turtles: Turtles traveling in the cabin (call the airline to ask if they will allow it.) will need a sturdy container with absorbent material (shredded newspaper) and a place for your turtle to hide. Traveling in the cargo hold may require protection from the cold. Container must be a sturdy material (not cardboard) such as heavy plastic or wood and be of a minimum size set by the airlines.
Birds: Containers for birds can vary by airline, so we would suggest that you contact the reservations desk (in-cabin and checked baggage travel) and cargo department (manifest cargo travel) of the airline you are using for details. Adequate clearance must be allowed for the bird’s tail and crown, and a perch must be attached to the crate. It is advised that the ventilation holes be covered with loosely woven material to allow for ventilation while providing privacy for your bird. There must be water available to your bird in a bowl attached to the door. Keep any unattached items to a minimum.
Keep the animal safe:
People need to travel with a pet for many reasons: vacation, business, and relocation to name a few. Although all of us would like to be able to fly with their pet in the cabin of an airplane, this is not possible if your pet is much over 11 inches tall or 15 pounds in weight. The only option left is for your pet to travel in the cargo hold.
Despite all the fears about airline pet cargo travel, millions of pets are shipped every year with relatively few incidents. Granted, any incident is serious when it comes to our pets, but many are avoidable. There are things you can do to maximize your pet’s safety when traveling in the airline’s cargo hold.
Choose your route carefully. It is always more stressful for a pet to be transferred to another plane. If possible, select an airline that offers a non-stop route to your destination. Also, remember that airlines do not interline pets. If you are switching to another airline during stopovers, you will have to pick up and recheck your pet. This can be helpful during a long trip, but be sure and give yourself plenty of time between flights to walk and hydrate your pet. Additionally, if you are on an international flight and change airlines, you must clear customs and thus meet all appropriate requirements for entry to the layover country.
Travel during spring and fall. Avoid booking airline cargo travel for your cat or dog during periods of extreme temperature. Most airlines will not transport pets between mid-May and mid-September or when temperatures exceed 85 degrees F. The danger to your pet is not so much when they are in the air, it is before and during storing, loading and taxiing. This is for the safety of your pet. Also avoid holidays and high-traffic periods. Fly mid week when airline employees are not as busy.
Know your airline’s pet policy. Print a copy of your airline’s pet policy and bring it with you should you have any problems at the check in desk or cargo area. Your pet will not be stacked on top of suitcases. Airlines have special places for pets so that they will be protected from cargo and luggage. It is temperature controlled and pressurized just like the cabin.
Visible identification and documentation. Name of pet, your name and cell phone number, any medical considerations, temperament issues (if any), and a picture of your pet are the most important information you must include on a plastic sleeve. You can also include your pet’s veterinary information.
Visit to your veterinarian. A trip to the veterinarian prior to pet air travel is a very good idea. Unhealthy or very skiddish pets should not be subjected to the stress of travel. If you have to travel, leave them at home and have a pet sitter or relative care for them.
Tranquilizing your pet. Tranquilizing a pet prior to airline cargo travel can be very dangerous. Many airlines will not accept a pet who has been tranquilized. It is important that a pet’s breathing is not affected during flight and this is a common side effect in tranquilizers. Consult with your veterinarian if you feel it is unavoidable. Better to use an all natural pet calmer.
Get good equipment. IATA regulations require a sturdy pet crate with adequate ventilation, waterproof bottom, spring locked door, disabled wheels, and no handles (except for smaller crates). Size your pet’s crate generously: The airline rules for pet air travel require that your pet be able to stand up erect and turn around in the crate. Do not compromise on your pet’s comfort. Give them room to stretch.
Attach a large water bowl. It is important to keep your pet hydrated when flying. If you have a larger dog, get a large pet crate bowl. Fill and freeze the night before travel for dripless hydration.
Use metal hardware! More and more airlines are requiring metal hardware instead of plastic fasteners to secure both halves of the crate. We strongly suggest that you take that extra step whether your airline requires it or not. Cable tie the door and crate corners. Adding cable ties to the door and corners of the crate will add an extra level of protection for your pet. Although spring locks are hard to get open, it has happened, and the results can be serious.