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How to Take Your Pet on a Plane!

Updated on January 14, 2015

Air Travel Tips for Pets: Airline Pet Policies

Read this in-depth pet air travel guide for tips and a detailed list of pet travel policies for major U.S. airlines and some international air carriers.

I've been flying with my cat in the airplane's main cabin for thirteen years. I don't have experience with shipping pets in a cargo hold or international travel, but I've got links below to resources where you can find more information. Most importantly, I've got links to to the pet travel pages for almost all U.S. airlines and some of the most popular international airlines in the English-speaking world like Quantas, Air New Zealand, British Airways.

Disclaimer: I am not a pet travel expert, just a cat owner with a lot of pet flying experience. Double-check pet policies with your airline and reserve a spot for your pet well in advance.

UPDATE April 2014: Samhain is now 18 years old -- WOW! and stopped traveling with me by air about 4 years ago. So please double-check with your airline to make sure their rules haven't changed. The last I checked, JetBlue appeared to be the most accommodating carrier for pets within the U.S., although I usually used Delta because its hub happened to be my parents' airport.

Here's the soft-sided airline pet carrier I used for seven years of airline travel, and still use for transport to the hated vet.

I recommend it or a Sturdibag pet carrier, which was recommended to me by someone who shows dogs.

Air Travel Pet Tips: BEFORE You Fly - Prepare Yourself and Your Pet For Air Travel

  1. One month before: Get your pet's vaccinations up-to-date. Many destinations require you to carry your pet's vaccination record. If they don't, you want to protect your pet from catching something from other pets on the plane!
  2. As soon as possible: Check the animal transport polices for country and state/province (if applicable).

    • For travel within the U.S., get a licensed vet's
    • health certificate no more than
    ten days before travel. Not all airlines check for it, and not all states require it, but you don't want to be be turned away by a persnickety check-in agent.
  3. For international travel from the U.S., the USDA requires a Stamped Certificate of Health NOT from your vet, in addition to the vet's health certificate. See the U.S. Dept of Agriculture's resource center on pet travel for regulations.
  4. Each country has pet travel guidelines. Many require special forms, quarantine, and/or pet transport services. See Delta's excellent guide to international pet travel, pettravel.com's international pet travel policies guide, and/or petfriendlytravel.com's International Travel Guide for Pets to look up your destination country's policies and forms.
  5. Get a good pet carrier! If you don't have one, see my reviews of good airline-approved cat carriers, including sizes. Measure your pet carrier to make sure it fits your airline's bag size restrictions. Soft-sided pet carriers usually squash an inch or two.
  6. Check airline policies for pet travel: in-cabin if your pet is small (up to about 15 pounds), in the hold if larger. I've listed most U.S. airlines' pet policies and the pet travel policies of some popular international air carriers below. Also check pet travel fees. Many U.S. airlines charge $100 each way.
  7. Call to reserve a spot for your pet on the plane. Most airlines limit the number of pets per flight. Review the airline's pet policies with the agent when you make your reservation. (A few airlines let you reserve spots online...see below.)
  8. Add luggage tag and/or a label to your pet carrier with your name, address, phone # (cellphone you're travelling with is best).
  9. Get your pet used to your carrier and do a trial run of putting them in, carrying them, taking them out. I leave mine out for a few weeks before hand and will sometimes give my cat treats or feed her in it.
  10. US regulations limit pet travel (even on-board) to destinations whose current temperature is between 45° and 85°F, or down to 20°F with a Certificate of Acclimation from your vet. That said, I've never been stopped when flying my cat to Utah at Christmas. ;)
  11. Many countries and airlines restrict transport of snub-nosed pets due to respiratory issues. In the U.S., you can't transport these animals when temperatures are higher than 75° F. Review airline's pet policies for rules on snub-nosed breeds, ask your agent when making reservations, and/or check your country's pet transportation policies. I suggest contacting exhibitors who show those breeds for advice, since they've probably had to deal with this issue.
  12. Have a backup plan in case you're not allowed to transport your pet for whatever reason (haven't gotten necessary permits, weather is too extreme for animals in hold on day of flight, kennel doesn't meet regulations, pet is a snub-nosed animal).

3 Kinds of Pet Air Travel

Different airlines offer one or more different options for transporting your pet:

In-cabin (take pet onboard as carryon luggage)

Checked luggage (on your flight, in the hold)

Cargo/air freight (on a NON-passenger flight; pick up and drop off at airport)I recommend soft-sided pet carriers as carryons, but checked luggage/cargo must be hard-sided kennels.

Airline Pet Policies and Guidelines - Links to Major Air Carriers' Web Pages About Pets

I've scoured the web to save you time! Here are links to airlines' web pages covering travelling with pets. I've covered major US carriers plus a few popular international carriers.

Notes: I've summarized pet travel information from air carrier websites, but they or I may have outdated info. [Last update: Jan '09]. Call to double-check your airline's animals policy and reserve a spot for your pet (most planes limit the number of on-board pets per plane). Watch out for connections with partner airlines that may have different rules/size requirements. Many countries including the U.S. require airlines to allow service animals in the cabin, but call to make arrangements.

Pet Travel Tips: On the Day You Fly - Taking Your Pet on the Plane

Here's my tips to help you get your pet ready for the trip in the airplane cabin. I don't have experience with transporting pets in the hold, but see the excellent tips on TakeYourPet.com.

  1. To repeat, because it's the most important pet travel tip: Schedule an appointment with your vet several days before travel to get a health certificate and make sure your pet's rabies shot is up-to-date. Have a backup plan in case your vet can't give Fluffy a clean bill of health.
  2. Pack towels, wet wipes and/or a few spare carrier liners for accidents.
  3. Bring a small plastic bowl in case you get stuck. Pets can get by without food for a while, but dehydration is dangerous. You'll have to fill it inside security, since you can't take water through.
  4. Most airlines require pet owners to check in at the desk, not curbside or online. DON'T PANIC if you look for your reservations online and get "Reservation Not Found!" Apparently someone forgot to make a separate "Sorry, passengers with pets must check in at airport" error message. (I hiss at you, Delta.)
  5. Most airlines issue a pet carrier tag at check-in which you'll need to show during boarding.
  6. Be prepared to take your pet OUT of its carrier at security and hand-carry your pet through the metal detector while the carrier is X-rayed on the luggage belt. If you're afraid your pet might bolt, consider a pet harness. Its rivets might set off the metal detector, but at least you'll have a handle.
  7. Some airline and official websites discourage the use of sedatives, since animals could have bad reactions. For many years I successfully used kitty valium, the same mild sedative my vet gives pets when trimming nails, but last year Samhain was cranky, wobbly, and seemed to have a hangover for hours after arrival, so I've decided to stop.F
  8. You can find more detailed information than I can give you from TakeYourPet.com's Free Pet Travel Tips guides.

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    • profile image

      inbal 9 years ago

      i love cats and dogs

    • RuthCoffee profile image

      RuthCoffee 9 years ago

      Wonderful information! My cats are totally unaccustomed to travel and I would definitely need these tips/resources to get further than my front door.

    • profile image

      Animalmedical 9 years ago

      All the carriers above are great but Being a breeder/exhibitor I travel a lot with my show cats and most breeders prefer Sturdibags. Also we all use DryFur pads for keeping our Champions clean, dry and ready to show.

    • mythphile profile image
      Author

      Ellen Brundige 9 years ago from California

      Thanks for the feedback! I'll leave a note in the body of the lens above.

      Drat Amazon for not carrying them... I rather like affiliate sales. But keeeping kitties safe and snug is more important, eh?

    • profile image

      turbocat 8 years ago

      Great lens! Even if we are competitors!

    • annetteghallowe1 profile image

      annetteghallowe1 8 years ago

      Thanks for the great lens! I wish I would have had this information awhile ago when I was booking travel to and most recently from Malaysia. The only point I would add to the above is that when we were traveling internationally, the USDA required a Stamped Certificate of Health...NOT from your vet, a separate one that is given after the vet has checked out your pet- when you are traveling internationally. You need this to get your pet on the plane, so don't forget! Also, it has to be done within a relatively short period of time before travel.....5*

    • profile image

      Oosquid 7 years ago

      Nice job. You have a lot of very useful information on this lens. I never knew that some countries will not allow the transportation of snub nosed pets!

      5 stars and stumbled.

    • VarietyWriter2 profile image

      VarietyWriter2 7 years ago

      Another great lens by you. Blessed by a Squid Angel :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Wow, thanks for this info, I've got a bunch of cats with my little family here, and will probably travel in the future. this gives me something to look into instead of having to just get rid of all of our little friends. I appreciate you sharing this a lot because I've been worried about this for a few years now.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      can you recommend a good area to sit in the plane, ie aisle, window middle?

      does the airline usually put you where they think would be good to have a pet, where there might be more room?

      also, what do you do if the pet has to go to the washroom? i'm going on a long haul flight about 8-9 hours.

    • mythphile profile image
      Author

      Ellen Brundige 6 years ago from California

      @anonymous: jb -- the seats vary by plane, and the airline doesn't seem to pay any attention to the fact that you've got a pet when assigning you a seat. Then again, I've almost always flown Delta; other airlines (yay Jet Blue!) may be more clueful.

      On the MD-90s I've flown, I use the aisle seat because it's easier to slide the carrier in from the aisle. HOWEVER, I have a soft-sided bag that can contract a bit if the space is too narrow. The middle seat usually has the most space in front of it. Don't get the window; it's often curving inward and smaller than the other two.

      I would ask the flight agent when booking, or call the airline, for advice about which are the widest seats on your particular flight.

      I'm afraid I have only done 2 hour flights where my cat slept through the whole flight, so I don't know about taking a pet to the washroom! I think people just put extra absorbent padding in the bottom of the carrier and hope for no poop, but eek, 9 hours plus airport time is a loooong time.

      Rather than give you bogus information, let me recommend that you look up show dog organizations in your area. They often take pets long distances for shows, so they may have better advice.

      Sorry I don't have all the answers!

    • mythphile profile image
      Author

      Ellen Brundige 6 years ago from California

      @anonymous: jb -- the seats vary by plane, and the airline doesn't seem to pay any attention to the fact that you've got a pet when assigning you a seat. Then again, I've almost always flown Delta; other airlines (yay Jet Blue!) may be more clueful.

      On the MD-90s I've flown, I use the aisle seat because it's easier to slide the carrier in from the aisle. HOWEVER, I have a soft-sided bag that can contract a bit if the space is too narrow. The middle seat usually has the most space in front of it. Don't get the window; it's often curving inward and smaller than the other two.

      I would ask the flight agent when booking, or call the airline, for advice about which are the widest seats on your particular flight.

      I'm afraid I have only done 2 hour flights where my cat slept through the whole flight, so I don't know about taking a pet to the washroom! I think people just put extra absorbent padding in the bottom of the carrier and hope for no poop, but eek, 9 hours plus airport time is a loooong time.

      Rather than give you bogus information, let me recommend that you look up show dog organizations in your area. They often take pets long distances for shows, so they may have better advice.

      Sorry I don't have all the answers!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      This is very informative, thank you. I have a comment and a question. First, the comment. Jet Blue doesn't require any documentation when traveling within the US (according to their website, their phone person, and the TSA). And the question...have you flown Jet Blue with a pet? They seem to have the strictest carrier requirements (8.5" high, which seems ridiculously small). I'm just wondering if there is really such a teeny amount of space under the seat, because the only carrier on the planet that small seems to be the one they make. I actually found one on eBay for 1/2 of what they charge on the website, but that just seems so tiny! Thanks.

    • mythphile profile image
      Author

      Ellen Brundige 6 years ago from California

      @anonymous: Oh, thank you for the info! I'm afraid I haven't traveled with JetBlue yet to confirm this; I was only going by the JetPaws guidelines on their website. I saw that their guidelines said they required vaccination and documentation, and hadn't clicked on the link to see that no, actually, they don't require either for U.S. travel. I will correct that.

      I have not traveled on the planes to confirm the size requirements. It's possible they really are that low, but if you can get a 9-10 inch tall SOFT sided carrier, it should squish down. I've done that with Samhain on a few planes.

      I haven't tried JetBlue, but it looks to me -- simply based on their "JetPaws" site with the detailed info -- like they are more pet-friendly than many airlines.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      this is great information and thank you for posting it. i might want to re-locate to hawaii in a couple years but i've always been paranoid about bringing my cat anywhere, especially on the plane!

    • profile image

      nancymcconnell 6 years ago

      Nice lens!!!

    • Joyce Mann profile image

      Joyce T. Mann 6 years ago from Bucks County, Pennsylvania USA

      A wealth of info for pet lovers who travel. thanks

    • MargoPArrowsmith profile image

      MargoPArrowsmith 6 years ago

      Lensrolled to Born to Be Angelic because I have Blessed this lens

      And my two Xander lenses because I will travel with him.

    • profile image

      pawpaw911 5 years ago

      Just did a fun lens on "Top 20 reasons you might be a Crazy Cat Lady", and thought I would check out some other Cat lenses. Nice lens. Useful information.

    • phoenix arizona f profile image

      phoenix arizona f 5 years ago

      If only my dogs weren't so big.......z

    • ziggyzane profile image

      ziggyzane 5 years ago

      Very thorough and helpful. The specifics on each airline's regulation are especially nice. Thanks.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Great info for anyone planning to travel with their pet. Angel Blessed.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Thanks so much, this led me to the exact info I needed :)

    • profile image

      grifith 5 years ago

      Very Good Lens

    • profile image

      Mosoma 5 years ago

      Very informative lens. Thank you.

    • marigoldina profile image

      Heather B 5 years ago

      My cats flew from Canada to the UK a few years back. We were dreading the day, but thankfully, all went smoothly!

    • BlueStarling profile image

      BlueStarling 5 years ago

      Terrific and thorough advice. The pet harness is an excellent idea, especially for cats who often don't do well in "scary" environments. Some airlines do not allow snub nosed dogs, such as Pugs, to fly (at least not in the hold) because of breathing problems. The hold can also get quite cold. I once had a dog flown to me. She traveled in the hold area. Fortunately, she did fine, but I would never let a dog fly in the hold again. It's too dangerous, as I later learned.

    • TopToysForKids profile image

      TopToysForKids 5 years ago

      This is a great lens, thank you!

    • chezchazz profile image

      Chazz 5 years ago from New York

      Very informative and helpful as my family will be traveling with a service dog (which may have different requirements) but this is an extremely useful start to navigating the regs. Blessings.

    • Bill Armstrong profile image

      Bill Armstrong 5 years ago from Valencia, California

      Hmmm I need look into getting Yoshi over to see his Grandmother "Wee Maggie" of Scotland :-) some good info here on where I should look, thanks for sharing

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Nice lense, but I miss regulations outside the USA. My dog needed a a lot of shit for his transport. Including blood tests and a chip. Maybe a warning is at place. People take in an impulse stray dogs and cats home from their vacation.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Spoke to a USAirways agent last night abouy getting my cat from Fl to DC. They do not take reservations for pets in cabin, it is done on a first-come, first-served basis and the cost is now $125.

    • mythphile profile image
      Author

      Ellen Brundige 4 years ago from California

      @anonymous: Eek, sorry about that! Fixing now. Policies keep changing; I need to check all the airlines again and make sure this page is up-to-date.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Does any have tips on what I should attach to my 65lb dog's carrier if she growls at men? She has never bitten or showed her teeth in the past, but should I put a warning that she growls in both languages since she will be transported overseas?

    • mythphile profile image
      Author

      Ellen Brundige 4 years ago from California

      @anonymous: Eek, I know how to do in-cabin travel with cats, but I'm afraid I don't have experience with large dogs in the cargo hold.

      I suggest looking for your local dog show association and calling them for advice, since they take dogs in the hold all the time.

      Sorry I couldn't be more help!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      does anyone know how much it would cost to fly a cat to the uk by cargo? getting really mixed reviews about additional fees and wildly varying prices.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      I am trying to find private transport for myself and 8 cats from US Virgin Islands to Daytona Beach or Orlando FL. Does anyone have any information on a private charter company, etc.

    • mythphile profile image
      Author

      Ellen Brundige 4 years ago from California

      @anonymous: I don't have any information on a private charter company, sorry! Try Googling "pet charter transport" for companies, then searching for online reviews of those companies. Here's one that looks promising, but I don't know anything about it:

      http://www.tlcpettransport.com/

    • Zodiacimmortal profile image

      Kim 4 years ago from Yonkers, NY

      Great Idea! I've included your lens on my lens SULLYCAT

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      THANK YOU FOR THESE TIPS. IM SUPER NERVOUS ABOUT TAKING MY CAT ON A PLANE FOR BOTH HER AND MYSELF. HOPEFULLY I WILL BE PREPARED WHEN WE FINALLY MAKE THIS TRIP.

    • mythphile profile image
      Author

      Ellen Brundige 4 years ago from California

      @anonymous: Good luck to you and kitty!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      is there any chance you have found a pet carrier with the Air Tran dimensions? 8 x 12 x 17?

    • mythphile profile image
      Author

      Ellen Brundige 4 years ago from California

      @anonymous: Try looking for Sherpa Roll-Up Bag?

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      I am desperate! I am trying to find an air plane-approved (plastic) kennel for my 36 inches height dog and I can not find anywhere where to buy it! HELP..

    • mythphile profile image
      Author

      Ellen Brundige 4 years ago from California

      @anonymous: Eep! Stephanie, I'm afraid that when I wrote this, I only researched small-sized pet carriers.

      Suggestion: look up dog show and dog enthusiast clubs in your area that show dogs, and ask them what carrier they use and where they get it! A lot of them take their dogs to shows far away, so they may have a kennel they use.

    • dustytoes profile image

      dustytoes 4 years ago

      What a great page to help those who travel with pets. I've honestly never thought about taking my cat on a plane and didn't even know they could be onboard with me.

    • UniversalCats profile image

      UniversalCats 4 years ago

      Thanks for the great article. It has some very useful tips.

      ---

      Cindy

      UniversalCats

    • lilantz profile image

      lilantz 4 years ago

      I think traveling with pets are a little hard. I have never travel with pets before but I did travel with my 1 month old baby. It was really stressful for me. He cried a lot and having a hard time changing him.

    • seodress profile image

      seodress 3 years ago

      Great tips. Great lens!!!

    • Merrci profile image

      Merry Citarella 3 years ago from Oregon's Southern Coast

      Good to know information! The airlines vary so much too. Thanks for sharing.

    • profile image

      Katarina 23 months ago

      Awesome, that I found this site. I will read all about air travel, because we will take our 9 month Siamese cat that we adopted to Germany with Airberlin. I am a little nervous about it and need advice on how to feed her before the flight. Good thing is she is can walk on a leash. THank you for making this wonderful website.

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