By Kim Salerno 

Flying with pets, while convenient and – in the majority of cases – safe, can add stress to a trip. Fortunately, I have some tried-and-true tips that will help make traveling with your pet a happy and safe adventure for both of you.

Know the Rules

Flying with Pets Tips for a Stress-Free Trip - Know the Rules

First and foremost, pet parents should familiarize themselves with the pet policies, rules and regulations of the airline on which they intend to fly. Questions to ask include:

  • Does the airline allow pets to ride in the cabin with their people? If so, are there any breed or weight restrictions? Most airlines only allow small pets to ride as carry-ons.
  • If flying along with your pet isn’t an option for you, can you transport your pet below cabin as checked baggage? If so, does the airline have any pertinent restrictions?
  • Does the airline have any requirements having to do with the health or immunization records for your pet?
  • What are the airline’s specific requirements for the types of pet carriers it allows?

Know your Pet

Flying with Pets Tips for a Stress-Free Trip - Know Your Pet

It’s so important to note that pet air travel is not a one-size-fits-all solution, as not all pets are well-suited for the trip. Think carefully about your pet’s temperament, and any physical impairments or illnesses they may have that would make air travel especially stressful or problematic for them.

Before you begin your trip, take the time to visit your veterinarian. Make sure that your pet is in tiptop physical health and is up-to-date with all necessary vaccinations, and tell your vet about your travel plans. He or she can give you a professional opinion about whether or not your pet is well enough to fly.

Be Well-Prepared

Flying with Pets Tips for a Stress-Free Flight

An ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure. Here is my list of things to do before your flight that are sure to help your trip go more smoothly.

  • Get a Health Certificate. During your pre-travel trip to the vet, have a health certificate issued for your pet. Certificates must typically be dated within ten days of your departure date. Carry the certificate with as you travel, as it may be required several times throughout your trip.
  • Consider a Non-Peak Flight. Off-peak flights typically mean fewer passengers, fewer crowds, more cabin space, and consequently less stress for your pet.
  • Choose a Direct Flight. Layovers and plane changes may cause your pet undue stress, especially if there isn’t time for a pet walk and a potty break between flights.
  • Prepare for Extreme Temperatures. If you choose to travel during summer or winter, select a flight that will accommodate temperature extremes, especially if your pet is traveling in the below-cabin area. Most airlines institute pet travel embargoes for summer months.
  • Be Vigilant. Always travel with your pet on the same flight. Ask the airline if it’s possible to watch your pet being loaded and unloaded into the plane. Also, upon boarding your flight, notify a flight attendant that your pet is traveling with you, so that they are aware and can take any precautions necessary.
  • Consider your Pet’s Breed. Pug or snub-nosed dogs or cats, including Pekingese, Chow Chows, and Persians, should not travel by air in the cargo hold. Due to their short nasal passages, these breeds are vulnerable to both oxygen deprivation and heat stroke in these close quarters.
  • Arrive Early. Pack everything well ahead of time, and leave early enough to allow ample time for both the typical boarding process and your pet’s needs. Stay relaxed before and during the flight, as your pets can sense and absorb your stress and anxiety.
  • Choose the Right Carrier.  There are two main types of airline approved pet carriers available: hard-sided and soft-sided. Soft-sided carriers make better carry-ons, as they have some “give” and tend to fit better under the seat.  Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations carefully as far as the appropriate size carrier for your pet. 

    Flying with Pets Tips for a Stress-Free Trip - Be Well Prepared

    Your carrier should be spacious enough for your pet to stand up, turn around, and lie down comfortably. It should also be well ventilated and comfortable in general. Triple check to ensure that your pet can in no way escape the carrier.

  • Prepare your Pet. Begin familiarizing your pet with the travel carrier at least a month before your flight. Feeling at home in the carrier will minimize her stress during travel. Including an item with your scent in the carrier will also be of great comfort to your pet.
  • Label your Pet: Secure a travel label to your pet’s carrier with their name; your name, cell number, final destination address and phone numbers, and the name and number of a contact person.
  • Update your Pet’s ID and Collar. Make sure that your pet wears a collar that can’t get caught in their carrier door. Secure two pieces of identification onto their collar: a permanent ID with your name, home address, and home phone number, as well as a temporary travel ID that contains the address and telephone number where you or a designated contact person can be reached at your destination. It is also highly recommended that your pet is microchipped.
  • Bring a Photo: It is always wise to carry a current photo of your pet when you travel together. Should you and your pet get separated somehow, it will be easier to find them if those helping to find him or her know exactly what she looks like.
  • Trim your Pet’s Nails. Long nails can hook in carrier doors, holes, and crevices. Keeping your pet’s nails trimmed can help you avoid injury.
  • Don’t Feed your Pet. To avoid indigestion and other travel-induced stomach problems, avoid feeding your pet for 4 to 6 hours before your flight. You can give your pet a bit of water, however – I recommend securing a travel bowl containing ice cubes to the inside of the carrier.
  • Don’t Tranquilize your Pet. Never give your pet tranquilizers your veterinarian hasn’t prescribed. If your vet does suggest a tranquilizer, make sure that he or she knows it’s for air travel.
  • Bring a Leash.  Carrying a leash makes it easy to walk your dog before takeoff and after arrival. Never leave a leash on or in your pet’s carrier, as it may cause strangulation or other injury.
  • Inspect your Pet. Once you arrive at your destination, find a safe, secure place to open your pet’s carrier and look them over carefully. If you see anything amiss, take them directly to a veterinarian. Get the results of the vet exam in writing, including the date and time of your visit.  This will be necessary in order to file a report with your respective airline.

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Flying with Pets- Tips for a Stress-Free Flight

Kim Salerno is the President and Founder of TripsWithPets.com, a pet travel guide that provides online reservations at more than 30,00,000 pet friendly accommodations across the U.S and Canada. Kim spends her free time traveling with her four-legged kids, Tucker, Charlie, Brownie, and Diamond. 

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