Traveling by plane can be a stressful experience, particularly if it isn’t something you do often. Each airport has its own policies and quirks, and on top of that, each individual airline enforces different procedures from each other.
Traveling with a pet can compound all this into an even more confusing event. There is a lot of information to assimilate, and it’s easy to miss important details — and sometimes this results in you being denied boarding because an obscure requirement isn’t fulfilled.
In an effort to streamline the information overload, we’ve collected an updated list of the pet policies for major U.S. airlines, as well as some helpful general knowledge, so flying with your pet isn’t such a headache.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has compiled a list of requirements to ensure humane travel conditions for pets on all flights, regardless of the airline. These requirements address food, water, crate or carrier size and condition, ventilation, temperature and more. Airlines will refuse to allow your pet to fly if they feel the pet will be in unsafe conditions.
Allowed animals: Dogs, cats, rabbits and household birds are allowed in the cabin. Cats, dogs, ferrets, guinea pigs, hamsters, household birds, nonpoisonous reptiles, pot-bellied pigs, rabbits and tropical fish are allowed in cargo/baggage. Other pets must receive advance approval.
Carrier maximum size: 7.5″H x 17″L x 11″W; up to 150 pounds.
Fur-st Class Care™ is an animal flight program with this airline that offers free pet health examinations and discounted health certificates at Banfield Pet Hospitals located in PetSmart retail stores.
Price: $125 each way (cabin). Cargo price is determined by the size of the carrier. Note that animals are not included in Delta’s free baggage allowance.
Advance reservations: Required.
Allowed animals: Dogs, cats, and household birds allowed in the cabin. Dogs, cats, household birds, guinea pigs, rabbits, hamsters and marmots are accepted for checked baggage travel. All other animals must be shipped as cargo. There is some confusion with Delta’s policy: One Delta webpage states it does not accept pets as checked baggage, but another does. Call Delta to inquire about your specific breed of pet.
Carrier maximum size: Determined by flight/type of plane. Call Delta at 1-800-221-1212 to determine cabin carrier size requirement. Baggage allows carriers of the dimensions 40″L x 28″W x 30″H, and cargo up to 32”L x 35”W x 48”H and 51 pounds.
Prices: Cabin inter-island travel: $35. Cabin departing Hawaii travel: $175. No pets are allowed to travel in the cabin when arriving in Hawaii. Checked baggage: $60 (within Hawaii), $225 (when arriving or departing from North America). Cargo: Varies depending on weight of animal(s) + carriers. Call 1-800-367-5320 to discuss your specific needs.
Advance reservations: Strongly recommended.
Allowed animals: Dogs, cats, and household birds.
Carrier maximum sizes: Cabin: 16”L x 10”W x 9.5”H; animal and carrier combined cannot exceed 25 pounds. Checked baggage: From 21”L x 16”W x 15”H and 18 pounds to 36”L x 24”W x 26”H and 70 pounds. Cargo: From 21”L x 15”W x 16”H and 26 pounds to 48”L x 32”W x 35”H and 277 pounds.
Letter from a mental health professional (ESAs only)
Letter indicating animal’s ability to refrain from “accidents” while in flight
Proper harnesses, leashes and restraints
Correct visual aids identifying the animal as a service animal or ESA
Check with your chosen airline to see their specific requirements, but be prepared to have the above in hand and answer questions at check-in. Most airlines require in-person check-ins at the ticket counter; you cannot use self check-in or curbside services. Also, ask your airline about boarding early.
All airlines warn that if the service animal or ESA acts in an uncontrollable, aggressive or disruptive manner, they reserve the right to remove the animal and their handler from the flight. Most airlines allow passengers to purchase an extra seat for their service animal or ESA; however, animals may not sit in seats otherwise.
Most airlines do not accept exotic or unusual pets, regardless of their status. These may include rodents, reptiles, arachnids, hedgehogs and ferrets, but this rule can apply to any animal.
Call your airline and check the rules before booking a trip for you and your exotic pet. Hawaii has restrictions of its own to adhere to because it is a rabies-free state and is stringent about what animals are allowed to enter.
Here are some more travel tips to follow when your pet joins you in the air:
Other Important Information
When transporting pets, there are some rules that are consistent between all airlines:
Airlines will not transport pets as baggage or cargo if the temperature drops below or exceeds safe levels. Most list this as below 10 degrees F or above 85 degrees F.
Brachycephalic (“short-nosed” or “flat-faced”) breeds of dogs and cats cannot fly as cargo or baggage on most airlines. These breeds tend to have more trouble breathing in high elevations due to their shorter snouts.
There are time limits as to how long an airline will allow a pet to be on a plane. If your flight is longer than 8–12 hours or has layovers or transfers, check with your airline to ensure your pet will be allowed to fly.
Pets count as your carry-on baggage, and are not covered under “free” policies. You will pay the pet fee, regardless of whether or not you have another carry-on item.
You should give your pet food or water 4 hours prior to the flight. Most airlines do not allow you to feed or give water during the flight.
It is not recommended to sedate your pet unless absolutely necessary; the elevation and sedation together may create health issues.
You will be required to provide veterinary proof that your pet can fly. This can be a letter or certificate from a veterinarian and must be done within 10 days of departure and 30 days of return. If you are staying longer than 30 days, you need to have your pet re-certified before boarding. Without this documentation, the airlines will not allow your pet to fly. (Service animals and ESAs are typically exempt from this policy, but check with your airline to be sure.)
When traveling as cargo, your pet is not guaranteed to be shipped on your flight, and when traveling as baggage, pets can get lost — just like your suitcase.
All your kennels or carriers should be clearly labeled with your name, phone number, address, your pet’s name and their pertinent medical information, and somewhere visible, make sure you write “Live Animal(s)” so airplane personnel know your pet is in there.
In the event of an emergency, airlines will not provide oxygen to your pets.
Anyone accompanying a pet must be at least 18 years of age.
Pets should be at least 8 weeks old and fully weaned.
Several airlines have “embargoes” throughout the year in which they will not transport pets as baggage or cargo at all. This includes when temperatures drop below or exceed safe levels and during the holidays.
There are many restrictions and regulations when it comes to transporting our pets by air, but accidents still happen. The best defense your pet has is you.
Educate yourself on what is expected from you, from your pet and from the airline. Ask about what your pet will experience and if text message updates are available, sign up for them. Keep abreast of what is happening every step of of the way to ensure your pet’s safe journey.
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