The Humane Society of the United States recommends that you do not transport your pet by air unless absolutely necessary. Based on reports we receive from pet owners, animals continue to be killed, injured, or lost on commercial flights each year. Our beloved pets can face risks including excessively hot or cold temperatures, poor ventilation, scarcity of oxygen, and rough handling when flown in the “cargo” area of a plane.
The airline industry treats live animals as mere baggage, transporting them in cargo holds not designed for life support. In the past, airlines have neither responded appropriately to reports of animal injuries, nor provided accurate information to the flying public.
In response to the problems associated with pet air travel, and lack of good data on those problems, Congress passed the Safe Air Travel for Animals Act in April 2000, for which The HSUS and its members lobbied extensively. The U.S. Department of Transportation adopted regulations for this law in 2005. Many airlines have responded to this law by implementing restrictions on accepting pets as cargo.
Before you make plans to travel with your pet, follow these suggestions:
- If you plan to bring your pet on vacation, consider driving instead of flying. Neither Amtrak nor Greyhound allows pets. If this isn’t possible, consider leaving your pet behind under the care of a pet sitter or boarding kennel.
- If you are relocating across the country, consider using a company whose primary business is to transport animals.
Remember, any inconvenience you might experience while researching and looking for safe travel options for your pet is minor when weighed against the risk of losing your companion forever. Above all, when making travel decisions, please consider what is best for your pet.
If you must transport your pet by air, your first decision is whether you can take him or her on board with you, which is your best option. If your pet is a cat or small dog, most airlines will allow you to take the animal on board for an additional fee. To find out about this option, call the airline well in advance of your flight, because there are limits to the number of animals allowed in the cabin area.
When you contact the airline, be sure to find answers to these questions:
- Does the airline allow you to take your cat or small dog on board with you?
- If that option isn’t available to you, does the airline have any restrictions on transporting your pet as cargo?
- Does the airline have any special pet health and immunization requirements?
- Does the airline require a specific type of carrier? Most airlines will accept either hard-sided carriers or soft-sided carriers, which may be more comfortable for your pet, but only certain brands of soft-sided carriers are acceptable to certain airlines.
If your pet must travel in the cargo hold, you can increase the chances of a safe flight for your pet by following these tips:
- Use direct flights. You will avoid the mistakes that occur during airline transfers and possible delays in getting your pet off the plane.
- Always travel on the same flight as your pet. Ask the airline if you can watch your pet being loaded and unloaded into the cargo hold.
- When you board the plane, notify the captain and at least one flight attendant that your pet is traveling in the cargo hold. If the captain knows that pets are on board, he or she may take special precautions.
- Don’t ever ship pug-nosed animals such as Pekingese, Bulldogs, or Persians in the cargo holds. These breeds have short nasal passages that leave them especially vulnerable to oxygen deprivation and heat stroke.
- If traveling during the summer or winter months, choose flights that will accommodate the temperature extremes. Early morning or late evening flights are better in the summer; afternoon flights are better in the winter.
- Fit your pet with a collar that can’t get caught in carrier doors. Affix two pieces of identification on the collar– a permanent ID with your name and home address and telephone number, and a temporary travel ID with the address and telephone number where you or a contact person can be reached.
- Affix a travel label to the carrier with your name, permanent address and telephone number, final destination, and where you or a contact person can be reached as soon as the flight arrives.
- Make sure that your pet’s nails have been clipped to protect against their hooking in the carrier’s door, holes, and other crevices.
- Give your pet at least a month before your flight to become familiar with the travel carrier. This will minimize his or her stress during travel.
- Do not give your pet tranquilizers unless they are prescribed by your veterinarian. Make sure your veterinarian understands that the prescription is for air travel.
Do not feed your pet for four to six hours prior to air travel. Small amounts of water can be given before the trip. If possible, put ice cubes in the water tray attached to the inside of your pet’s kennel. A full water bowl will only spill and cause discomfort.
- Try not to fly with your pet during busy travel times such as holidays and the summer. Your pet is more likely to undergo rough handling during hectic travel periods.
- Carry a current photograph of your pet. If your pet is lost during the trip, a photograph will make it much easier for airline employees to search effectively.
- When you arrive at your destination, open the carrier as soon as you are in a safe place and examine your pet. If anything seems wrong, take your pet to a veterinarian immediately. Get the results of the examination in writing, including the date and time.
Do not hesitate to complain if you witness the mishandling of an animal—either yours or someone else’s—at any airport.