How to Take a Pet on an Airplane

Dog in airport terminal on vacation


Tips for Traveling with Your Favorite Animal Friend

If your family vacation means everybody—including your pet—is invited, you can count on some extra planning. When it comes to taking a family trip, the process of making sure you and your kids make it on the plane is fairly straightforward. When your pet tags along, making sure it gets from Point A to Point B can be a little more complicated. From flying in the cabin to traveling below in the cargo, here are must-know tips and tricks to make sure your pet has a smooth flight.

Know Before You Go: Planning Ahead to Fly with Pets

Spare yourself a headache and opt for a nonstop flight. With no connections, there's a smaller likelihood your pet—or your kids, for that matter—will be lost in the shuffle of changing planes. Another consideration is to aim to avoid weekend and holiday flights to minimize the factors that could jeopardize your pet's travel. Many airlines limit the number of pets they transport at any given time, so be sure to book a space for your pet ahead of time and ask about the best times and locations to coordinate drop-off and pickup. You'll pay a fee; how much depends on whether your pet travels on board or in cargo, and also on the type of pet and size of container. It's also recommended to discuss any special health requirements or quarantines for pets if you're traveling overseas.

If it's been a while since your traveling pet has visited the vet, it's a good idea to swing by for an exam no later than 10 days prior to flying. At this time, the vet will issue a certificate that states your pet is in good health, which many airlines require. If you plan to sedate your pet for travel, discuss your goals with your vet, who can guide you through the process and give you a sample to see how your pet reacts.

All Aboard: Keeping Pets in the Cabin

Cats, small dogs and some household birds can usually travel with your family in the airplane's cabin, depending on the airline. To do so, your pet must fit comfortably in a kennel that can fit under the seat ahead of you. The specific dimensions of the kennel vary by airline, and your pet must remain in the container throughout the flight. Softer kennels are recommended and can be found at most major pet stores. If your pet isn't accustomed to the kennel it is flying in, the U.S. Department of Transportation recommends practicing keeping your pet in the kennel for short stints several weeks before departure. During this time, make sure that the kennel's door latches securely. After all, you don't want the big story of your trip to be about how your dog broke out and roamed the plane.

Safe Below: Checking Pets as Cargo

If your family's pet can't fit under the seat in front of you, the only other option for airplane transit is to check your pet as cargo. Pets that can be checked as cargo include cats, dogs, household birds, guinea pigs, rabbits, hamsters and marmots.

Be sure to purchase a sturdy kennel that will hold up in turbulent conditions. Inside the kennel, write your name, address and phone number to match the information on the tag your pet is wearing. The U.S. Department of Transportation also recommends purchasing a temporary tag to display your destination address and phone number in case of emergency. Always have a photo of your pet on hand in case it gets lost in the airport shuffle. When you board, communicate to your flight attendant that your pet is in the cargo hold. This way, the flight crew will be aware in case the airline's usual notification system malfunctions.

The Day Of: Preparing for Pet Air Travel

Before your animals are shipped, they must not be brought to the airline more than four hours before departure. Some airlines might allow for up to six hours before departure if you make arrangements in advance.

Avoid giving your pet solid food six hours before your flight. Instead, make sure it is well-hydrated with water and has stretched its legs on some walks. When checking your pet, include thorough written care instructions to accompany the animal. The U.S. Department of Transportation recommends older animals having food at least every 24 hours and water at least every 12 hours.

Wheels Down: Arriving at Your Destination

After you are reunited with your pet, check out any walking areas your destination airport might have, if you have a leashed dog or cat. This will give both your animal and your kids the opportunity to stretch their legs and get some exercise. It will also help your animal acclimate to the destination and get some bearings on the new location. Once you arrive at your lodging, repeat the process so your animal realizes many of its rules and boundaries remain the same as before. Once everyone's settled, you'll be in for a great trip!