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Planning on flying with your pet for the holidays? Here are some tips

Posted 12/12/22

With the holiday season in full swing, you may be planning to travel a long distance to spend the holidays with family and friends. When it comes to taking your pet along, you may wonder if flying is the best option.

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guest commentary

Planning on flying with your pet for the holidays? Here are some tips


With the holiday season in full swing, you may be planning to travel a long distance to spend the holidays with family and friends. When it comes to taking your pet along, you may wonder if flying is the best option.

Flying is definitely a quick and seemingly simple way to get you and your pet to where you’re going. Instead of spending hours driving, you and your furry sidekick will spend a lot less actual travel time when you are on a plane. However, like all travel methods, flying does pose some potential obstacles and risks to take into consideration.

If you are not sure whether to fly with your pet, here are some important questions you should ask before you book your flight.

1. Is your pet in good health?
If your pet is ill or hurt, or he has other limiting factors that will make the flight an uncomfortable experience for him (and you), it is best to consider changing your travel plans – Perhaps taking a road trip or finding Rover and Fluffy a reliable pet sitter are better options. Driving to your destination may take more time, but if it is the best option for your pet, it will ultimately be the best and easiest option for you as well.

2. Is your pet considered brachycephalic?
Pets who are snub-nosed and have short muzzles are called brachycephalic, and they are more prone to breathing and respiratory problems. Some breeds with this characteristic include Persian cats, pugs and bulldogs. When flying, they may have a more difficult time adjusting to the air and pressure changes in the cabin, and conditions below-cabin are even more risky for these pets. If you decide to fly with your brachycephalic pet, check with the airline before you purchase your tickets. Some airlines have actually banned these types of pets from their commercial flights.

3. Is your pet’s temperament acceptable for flying?
You know your pet best. If he is often shy, doesn’t like crowds, acts aggressively, or can become agitated in new surroundings and situations, then flying may not be the best choice. Again, driving may take a lot more time, but it will be a better option for you and your pet in the long run if the flight will be too overwhelming for him.

4. Is your pet meeting the USDA regulations?
The USDA guidelines state that your pet must be at least 8-weeks old and fully weaned for at least 5 days for you to be able to take him on a flight.

5. Will your pet fly in the cabin?
Each airline has its own regulations on pets and flying. In general, pets who are under 20 pounds, and whose crate can fit safely and securely underneath the seat, can fly in the cabin with their parents. If your pet meets the airline’s guidelines for traveling in the cabin, this is probably the best option for him. You should consider whether your pet often cries or barks when he is in a restricted space, as he may bother other passengers.

6. Will your pet have to fly below-cabin?

If you are required to check your pet to travel below-cabin, the situation will be more involved than taking him on the plane with you. There are also some extra risks to your pet, as he could become lost or injured. However, millions of pets fly each year, and arrive safely to their destinations. If you are concerned about how your airline measures up when it comes to pets flying, the Department of Transportation publishes a monthly Animal Incident Report that you can review beforehand. All airlines are required to document any issues that pets have on their flights, so the report is comprehensive.

Since each plane is unique, there are varying below-cabin conditions and load capabilities. However, it is reassuring to know that all below-cabin areas are climate controlled and self-pressurized. For safety during flight, most baggage handlers will strap and secure the pet kennels in the climate-controlled area below-cabin. This is usually located directly underneath the passenger cabin area. Additionally, some airlines will wrap the travel kennel with breathable, air cushioned rolls for extra protection.

7. Does your pet have an updated health certificate?
The airlines require their passengers to show a valid health certificate for pets who are being checked-in to fly below-cabin. This must be completed by a licensed veterinarian, and while some airlines allow the certificates to be completed within 30 days of the flight, others require completion within a 10-day timeframe.

If your pet will be able to fly with you in the cabin, he may not need a health certificate. You can check with your airline for the specific requirements. However, most states require that pets coming across state lines have proof of current rabies vaccinations and valid, recent health certificates. To be safe, you should get an updated health certificate for your pet, even if your airline does not require one for travel.

8. Are there going to be extreme temperatures?
The below-cabin area is climate-controlled when the plane is in flight, but not when the plane is parked on the tarmac and the engines are not running. Many airlines’ policy for pets ensures that they are the first ones to board and the first ones to leave, so pets spend less time being exposed to the weather.

Because there is no true way to keep your pet from being exposed to extreme heat or cold, most airlines do not allow pets to fly below-cabin if the forecasted temperatures are below 45 degrees or above 85 degrees. If you are traveling during a time when there are periods of extreme cold or heat, then driving may be the best option.

9. When will you be flying?
Flying late in the afternoon and early in the evening are considered peak travel times. During these times, there will be more stress, as well as less room and less comfort during your trip. It is best to fly during non-peak times to avoid the extra stress and to ensure your pet is most comfortable.

10. Is a direct flight available?
If you don’t have a direct flight and will encounter a layover, there is an increased chance that something unexpected can come up that affects your pet. If you take a direct flight, this will lower the chances of any unforeseen complications, and ultimately ease the stress for your pet. Therefore, if a direct flight is available, you should take advantage of that option.

You know your pet and what he needs during your travels, so you should take everything about your pet into consideration when deciding to fly with him. Whether you choose to fly, or choose to drive, ensuring your pet is safe, secure, and happy while traveling is essential.

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holiday season, travel, long distance, family, friends, dogs, cats, pets, airplanes