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How To Fly Your Pets Internationally

Updated on January 27, 2017

Most people are familiar with the concept of flying a pet in the cargo hold of a commercial airliner. What many don't know, is that you can fly your cat (or dog, for that matter) in the cabin with you, as long as it meets the weight requirements provided by the airline. Not all airlines allow this, but there are plenty that do.

(As an aside, and contrary to popular belief, cargo holds are climate controlled, sound proofed, pressurized and often contain crew bunks - they are perfectly comfortable for pets and people, so if your pet has to travel in cargo, don't sweat it.) For today's example, I'm going to use Northwest's rules and regulations, because I have experience with them. Bear in mind, however, that all airlines partner with foreign airlines. This means that while you might be booking a Northwest flight from Dulles to Amsterdam - you might actually be flying on a KLM plane. Why does this matter? Because the two companies have different weight restrictions, Northwest allowing slightly larger pets in the cabin.

Let's take a look at some of the rules for flying in cabin.

What are the weight requirements for NWA?

Your pet and carrier combined cannot weigh more than 15 pounds. If you will be flying on a KLM plane, this maximum is reduced, so be sure to contact them directly and ask.

How do I arrange tickets?

You call their customer service line and tell them you're flying on a certain date and you want to buy a ticket for your pet. Because cat allergies are somewhat common, no more than 2 cats are permitted in the cabin at one time, so it's important you be sure to reserve their place in time.

The following are NWA's contact numbers:

  • 1-800-225-2525 For advance reservations when traveling with your pet domestically.

  • 1-800-447-4747. For international information

  • 1-800-328-2298 For Deaf/Hard of Hearing TTY

  • 1-800-NWCARGO (1-800-692-2746) When your pet is traveling unaccompanied.

  • 1-888-NWA-4PET (692-4738) For pet travel requirements/information.

How much does it cost?

One ticket costs $80.

What kind of carrier do you need?

You'll need a soft (but sturdy) carrier that you can fit under the seat in front of you. Obviously, the hard crates will not conform to that kind of space, but there are numerous alternatives. Your pet needs to be able to stand up and turn around inside, so don't get anything too small.

You'll also need to have the carrier lined with an absorbent pad, in case your kitty tinkles during the flight. You can buy the appropriate pads from most pet shops, and they are not expensive. It is *not* sufficient to line it with newspaper. You'll need a method to give Garfield water, too, though it's unlikely he'll be interested in drinking during the flight.

Should I sedate my pet?

NO, absolutely not! The American Veterinary Association strongly recommends against this, and for good reason. There is no way to predict what effect high altitudes could have on your animal. Do not risk this.

What documents do I need?

Northwest states they don't require health certificates for household domestic pets - but if you are traveling internationally, you are going to need one before you can clear customs. You will need documentation that states your pet's rabies vaccine is current (it needs to have been administered more than 30 days before you travel, but can't exceed a year's time). You will also need a health certificate issued by a Vet which states your animal is in good health and can travel.

Note: If you are emigrating to the UK, it is now possible to do so with your pet, and without the 6 month quarantine. Don't leave your pet behind, you can take them with you!. More info here:

Have a cat-halter and leash handy.

This isn't a joke. When I went through security at Dulles, I had to take my cat out because they wanted to x-ray the carrier. I had a halter for this kind of thing, and I am very glad I did. I don't even want to think about what could have happened if I didn't. Airports are noisy bustling places - cats are not going to enjoy leaving their cocoon so some Homeland Security Thug can see if you're trying to sneak a pair of nail clippers onboard.

A final note:

Make sure you have some kitty litter handy before you get on the plane. If you have a long flight ahead of you, your cat will be ready to potty by the time you land. It may be difficult to locate litter in a foreign city, especially if you land late at night. Have a safe flight!

xx Isabella


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