It’s not the easiest — or safest — way to travel, but if you want to fly with your four-legged friend, we get it. A small number of people who regularly fly with Fido or Fluffy even earn travel rewards through pet-friendly programs like Virgin Atlantic’s Flying Paws.
Here are special regulations, preflight requirements, extra costs and some safety information you will want to understand before you board a plane with your pet.
What it costs
The price of bringing your pet on a plane varies depending on the size of your pet (and carrier), whether the pet will be in the cabin or in cargo, and which airline you are using.
If you have a small pet, many airlines will allow you to bring it on board so long as its kennel fits under the seat in front of you. But you’ll pay a service fee, and your pet’s carrier or kennel counts as a carry-on. Here are a few service fee examples, although rates may be higher if you have a layover:
- American Airlines: $125 per carrier, each way
- United Airlines: $125 per carrier, each way
- Southwest Airlines: $95 per carrier, each way
If your pet carrier isn’t small enough to fit under your seat, you’ll have to check your pet as cargo. Fido will ride in a temperature-controlled cargo section of the plane. Those rates vary widely. For example, American Airlines charges $200 per carrier, each way.
Just note that every year, some pets die while flying in the cargo section of airplanes. That is one of the reasons that the Humane Society of the United States urges you to consider alternative modes of travel if you will be transporting pets.
If you are flying internationally, you must first check to see what your destination country requires in terms of health procedures and documentation of your pet — and whether the animal is even allowed. Airlines should be able to tell you this, but a more authoritative source is the embassy of that country in the U.S. (Check here for a full listing of foreign embassies.)
Whether flying domestically or internationally, many airlines also have restrictions on what types of pets can travel with you and under what circumstances. Many airlines bar certain breeds from flights.
These restrictions are based on pet health concerns and follow recommendations of animal protection organizations. According to the Humane Society website:
“Air travel can be particularly dangerous for animals with ‘pushed in’ faces (the medical term is ‘brachycephalic’), such as bulldogs, pugs and Persian cats. Their short nasal passages leave them especially vulnerable to oxygen deprivation and heat stroke.”
Perhaps your travel companion is neither canine nor feline. Check with airlines to see what their policy is on pets ranging from household birds to hamsters, reptiles and monkeys.
Getting your ducks in a row
Booking a flight with Fluffy is a bit more complicated than buying a ticket for yourself. So, make sure to:
- Research flights early. Compare the cost of flights on several airlines and call the airlines’ reservation line to get a quote for your pet’s travel costs.
- Get a list of requirements from the airline several weeks before you fly to make sure there aren’t any surprises at the airport.
- Schedule an appointment with your vet after you book your flight. Tell the vet you’ll need a travel certificate if the airline requires one. Make sure the vet checks for special vaccination requirements if you are traveling abroad.
- Book a pet friendly hotel. Places to search include PetsWelcome.com and BringFido.
- Shop around for a travel carrier or ask your friends and family if they’ve flown with a pet before. They may have one you can borrow.
- Test your travel carrier by having your pet sit inside. Make sure your pet has enough room to move around. Otherwise, you may have to buy an expensive carrier from the airline.
- Arrive at the airport early. You’ll have to visit the ticket counter, go through security with your pet, and prep your pet for travel. Give yourself plenty of time.
Do you have experience traveling by air with a pet? Share your thoughts in the comments below or on our Facebook page.
Kari Huus contributed to this post.