Come Fly Away With Me
A Short Guide to Safely Flying with Your Pet.
Summer travel is on the rise as we plan our much-needed vacations. If you’re making plans to bring the entire family, this is one article you want to read. Many vacations are great for road trips, but there are other destinations that require a plane ride. How to safely fly with your cat or dog (or other companion animal) might seem like a moving target.
You can stop chasing your tail. We’ve got what you need to get started if you’re planning to use airline travel with your pet this summer. Start here, and then when you’ve made your travel plans, be sure to check with the individual airline on their policies, rates, and restrictions.
Types of Pets
While we firmly believe that all pets are created equally, airlines see them a bit differently. Almost all major airlines break animals into companion animals and working or service animals. They strongly differentiate between pets who are trained to assist their humans in some way and other companion animals. One of the reasons for this differentiation is the method or manner in which pets are allowed to travel on airlines. You can find more about the Department of Transportation’s Guidelines here.
Typically what we think of when we hear the word pets. While you pet might have obedience training, or be well behaved, they aren’t trained in a specific task. Companion animals are allowed on board planes but there are fees involved. Each airline has a different fee structure so be sure to check your specific requirements when planning your trip. Companion animals that are small enough to fit in a carry-on item and be safely stowed under your seat are allowed to travel in the plane’s cabin. Larger animals such as large breed dogs must be crated and stowed in the luggage or cargo area of the plane.
Service animals are those trained in a specific task, whether that is as a seeing eye dog, a mobility aid, or a medical detection dog just for example. These dogs are highly trained and have important jobs to do. Most airlines do not charge a fee for service animals to accompany their humans on a plane and may travel in the cabin of the plane with no restrictions as they are almost always leashed and are trained to ignore distractions.
Emotional Support Animals
In addition to service animals, there is an additional category of working pets called emotional support animals. These have much less training and generally only require a strong bond with their human. Often these animals are prescribed by a mental healthcare professional. These support animals are also allowed to travel in the cabin of a plane regardless of size or breed.
Emotional support animals are coming under more and more scrutiny of late. There have been quite a few stories about passengers refusing to sit next to a support animal or being attacked by one. Other stories include animals we might never think of being a support animal, oh say like a snake, or a peacock, brought on board a plane. While many of these animals genuinely serve in a supportive capacity, there has been an abuse of the system by travelers and their companions as these dogs don’t have a fee and can be brought into the cabin of a plane. Airlines are seeking to crack down on these instances. This has prompted other articles such as this one by Orivs, and this one by CertaPet.
If you are traveling with an emotional support animal, be aware that you may be required to show proof of your need in the form of a note or prescription from your medical provider.
Additional restrictions: Some airlines have put in place age restrictions, stating that animals younger than four months cannot fly in the cabin. If you’re planning to fly with something other than a dog or cat, check with your airline as now some have placed restrictions on the types of animals they’ll allow. Additionally, with some of the recent news stories, some airlines have put in place dog breed restrictions these mainly affect the bully breeds or “pit bull type” dogs.
Making the Decision to Fly
Airline travel is stressful. From the rush of people, to arriving in new and unknown destinations, to the noise, there are a lot of different things that can stress one (human or animal) out. The first question when determining if and how you can fly with your pet, is it good for them. If your dog or cat has severe separation anxiety, it might be better to bring them with you, but you’re worried about them flying in the cargo hold of an airplane in which case maybe leaving them in the care of a loved one or finding an alternative method of travel is ideal.
If you’re planning on travelling with your pet, check out our article on microchips here.
If Air Travel is a Must:
The first step when flying with your pet is to determine into which category they fall. Then, check the rules and restrictions for that category with your favorite airlines. If your preferred airline is too restrictive, try searching a few of their competitors. Remember that not all airlines are the same. Some accept more exotic pets while others do not. If you have a smaller pet such as a small dog or a cat, you typically will be able to board the plane with them.
If you have a larger dog, you may need to check the size restrictions and make the appropriate plans to have them fly in the cargo hold. This may include dropping them off and picking them up in separate areas of the airport. You’ll also need to look at the recommendations for providing your pets with the safest accommodations for their flight.
Third, it’s a great idea to talk to your veterinarian about your specific pet and airline travel. Your vet knows your baby and will be able to help advise you on the best and safest means of travelling together.
Fourth, save up some extra cash. If you were to bring a human friend, you’d have to purchase them an extra ticket. In a similar vein, and as stated above, almost all airlines charge fees to fly with your pets. Look these up and pay them ahead of time when you are booking your travel so that there are no surprises.