Flying with Pets

Flying with a pet can be risky business. Whose job is it to look out for the best interest of airline pawsengers?

Flying with Pets - Dog and cat waiting in airport terminal, airplane taking off seen in window, luggage to the side.

Schedule a pre-flight checkup with your vet, as most airlines require a clean bill of health.

You may have already guessed the answer to that question - it's your job! Knowing the risks of airline travel is half the battle, so you're on the right track to keeping your pet safe and healthy in the air! Check out these tips on how to fly with your pet and keep your favorite pawsenger's tail wagging!

Check-in with Your Vet Shortly Before Your Flight

Most airlines require veterinary documentation that your pet is in good health before it's able to board a flight. The checkup should include a general examination to check for signs of illness. You should also make sure that your furry friend is up-to-date on all her vaccinations. Don't go too early - most airlines require that your pet's clean bill of health be no more than 10 days old.

Make an Effort to Familiarize Your Pet with its Surroundings

Flying with your pet is likely to be a new experience for them, so it's important that they be familiar with their surroundings in order to stay calm. Introduce your pet to the carrier it will be traveling in as far advance as possible. This will reduce the need for tranquilizers, which are not recommended by the American Humane Association.

Sedated animals may have trouble breathing at higher altitudes, especially short-faced dogs like pugs, Boston Terriers, boxers, mastiffs, Pekingese, Lhasa Apsos, Shih tzus, and bulldogs. Keeping a familiar-smelling item in its crate can also help to reduce stress, but avoid thick blankets, fluffy towels, or cloth items that your pet can wrap itself in - this could increase the risk of respiratory problems.

Flying with Pets - Human legs walk holding a cat inside a carrier in right hand and luggage in left hand.

Small pets that travel comfortably in a carrier that fits under an airline seat may be able to fly with you.

Taking Your Pet with You on the Flight

Depending on your pet's size, take it in the plane with you. If your dog is small enough (generally under 20 pounds) to be comfortable in a pet carrier that fits under an airline seat, you can take them on the plane with you. You can find out the exact measurements of the under-seat space from the airline or from a website like

Airlines generally allow a predetermined number of pets in the cabin per flight, so don't just show up with your pet; make arrangements when you purchase your own ticket. Keep in mind that smaller planes generally allow a fewer number of pets and have less room underneath the seat, so make sure to check out the specifics in as far advance as possible.

Choose the Flight with Your Pet Carefully

When you and your pet are in the air, the pressure and temperature in the plane is controlled. However, you've probably noticed that the air seems a little stale and the temperature isn't as well regulated when you're sitting on the tarmac – that's because the plane's temperature and air pressure controls are often turned down until you're in the air. This means that if you're on the tarmac for a long period of time, the temperature in the cargo hold may rise above (if it's hot) or fall below (if it's cold) the ideal temperatures for your pet.

If possible, always schedule a direct flight to minimize the time your pet spends in the cargo hold. If this isn't possible, it is imperative to schedule early morning or evening flights in the warmer months or midday flights when the temperature is cooler. If you've ever sat in a hot, stuffy plane during the summer, waiting to take off or pull up to a gate, you can imagine how an animal feels in the even hotter baggage compartment.

Flying with Pets - Small pomaranian spitz dog in a travel bag on board of plane.

Research and plan ahead to ensure the safe transportation of your pet.

Potty Time When Flying with Your Pet

If you have a layover, schedule enough time between flights for your dog to potty

As of May 13, 2009 all airlines must make sure there are pet relief areas for any passenger traveling with a service animal. As a result, airports everywhere are creating, upgrading and expanding pet relief areas that are open to all. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International has especially swanky dog facilities - a 1,000-square-foot landscaped rest area equipped with flowers, grass, benches and biodegradable bags for pet waste.

Keep in mind that to access most airport dog parks, you will have to exit the airport and reenter through security, so it's imperative to schedule at least an hour between flights. has a full list of pet-friendly airports for all your four-legged traveling needs!

Flights for Pets Only

If flying with your pet sounds a little bit more involved than you like, there are also airlines dedicated solely to the safe transportation of your pet. Pet Airways, whose tagline says "Your Pet is not luggage," lets your pet fly in the reconfigured main cabin of a Beech 1900 aircraft along with a trained pet attendant. Their prices range from $59 to $773 for a 30-day advanced purchase.

However you decide to transport your pet, make sure to do your research and plan ahead. Remember - it's their vacation, too!

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