TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. — Long-distance options for pet travel are limited, and flying is sometimes the best alternative. Find following a few considerations before you take to the skies.
Flying can be stressful for a pet, particularly elderly pets and those with health issues. If your pet is physically or emotionally unwell or injured, it’s best to leave him home or postpone your trip.
Pets that are brachycephalic (snub-nosed), such as Persian cats, pugs and bulldogs, often have more difficulties adjusting to different temperatures and air conditions, and can develop breathing problems on flights. If you do choose to fly with a brachycephalic pet, check with the airline first. Many airlines have banned snub-nosed pets completely from commercial flights.
If your dog is shy, frightened by crowds, aggressive, or suffers from separation anxiety flying may not be an option for you.
The USDA requires your pet must be at least 8-weeks-old and weaned for at least five days in order to travel by air.
Every airline has its own regulations, but in general, pets who weigh less than 20 pounds (with the kennel included), and those whose kennel fits under the seat are welcome to fly in the cabin as a carry-on.
Checking your pet as cargo is a bit more complicated, and not without risk. Loss and injury to your pet are possible. However, 2 million pets fly each year, and the vast majority arrive safely without incident. View the Department of Transportation’s Animal Incident Report for information.
Airlines have different procedures, and cargo areas and capacities and conditions vary from plane to plane. In most cases, baggage handlers strap animal crates in place. Some airlines wrap the crate with perforated air-cushioned rolls, while others don’t.
Every compartment of every plane is pressurized for safety. The cargo area section that houses perishables and pets is temperature-controlled. However, temperatures can and do vary. During average weather they don’t generally fall into an unsafe range. If your dog is particularly sensitive to temperature or pressure, or has breathing issues, the cargo area may not be safe.
There is no temperature control while the plane is parked on the ramp with the engines off. Many airlines have a first-on, first-off rule for pets, but there is no guarantee that they will be safe from heat or cold.
Most U.S. airlines won’t even accept pets in the cargo area if the forecast calls for temperatures below 45 degrees or above 85 degrees, although they may accept an acclimation certificate for some animals. If you plan to fly during periods of extreme cold or heat, your pet may be better off left at home.
All airlines require a valid health certificate completed by a licensed veterinarian for pets traveling in the cargo area. Some will accept health certificates completed within 30 days of travel, while others require certificates completed within 10 days.
A health certificate is not necessarily required for pets traveling in cabins (although you should check with your airline to be sure). Most states do require pets who cross into their borders have proof of up-to-date rabies vaccines and valid, recent health certificates. Hedge your bet and get that certificate within 10 days of travel.
If you need to fly during peak hours expect more crowds, more noise, more stress and less space for your pet. Because airlines restrict the number of pets that board, you may also have a harder time getting on your flight. Late-night and early-morning flights are less likely to be crowded, as are fall and winter flights (provided they don’t coincide with holidays). Multiple layovers increase the chances of something going awry. In addition, taking a direct flight will minimize stress on your pet.
TripsWithPets.com, founded by President Kim Salerno, is an online resource for pet travel, offering resources to ensure pets are welcome, happy, and safe while traveling.