If you’re taking your pet on a plane trip, your first priority is to be a proactive advocate for your pet’s safety! This begins with booking the flight, which is best done in person and not online. Plan ahead by traveling when the weather and temperature are more reasonable, such as early in the morning, or in the evening, especially during warmer months. Also, specify whether your pet will be flying with you in the cabin or traveling in the cargo hold.
Choosing the right carrier
In either case, you will need a sturdy and approved carrier for your pet. Carriers made by the Sherpa Pet Group are guaranteed to meet airline regulations for in-cabin travel. If your pet will fly in cargo, it is imperative to inspect all carrier screws, connections and locks before your trip. It is also a good idea to use zip ties to further secure the carrier in case of rough handling by baggage personnel. Countless pets have been lost because crates have broken during transport and animals have escaped. Carry extra zip ties to use after inspection by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
Additions to the carrier
Another excellent recommendation is to write your cell phone number in permanent marker on heavyweight paper, and securely attach a sign to each side of your pet’s carrier. Also, attach a sign that reads, “Do Not Open Except In Emergency, & Only In An Enclosed Room.” If, for any reason, airline personnel want you to remove your pet from the carrier prior to boarding, ask a TSA agent to take you to a TSA security station where your pet will be safe and cannot escape. Once the Homeland Security sticker is placed on the carrier, ask if there will be additional security checks. If not, secure the carrier with additional zip ties. When flying with your pet, a USDA APHIS health certificate completed by an accredited veterinarian is required by law. Be sure to carry copies of your pet’s up-to-date vaccination records, as well.
Do not under any circumstances sedate your pet before flying! Tragedies occur each year due to the effects of sedation combined with the unavoidable stresses of air travel that include temperature and air pressure changes, excessive noise, and less-than-gentle handling. Some natural or herbal calming remedies are acceptable to use, as is “association scent” therapy. Ask your veterinarian well in advance about these options before using them on your own to avoid any interactions or ill effects. Anti-nausea medications obtained through your veterinarian also are acceptable for pets that suffer motion sickness. Microchipping is a must in order to increase the chances of being reunited with your pet in the event he or she is lost.
Before your trip, do not give your pet and food or water for 8-12 hours to prevent digestive issues. However, bring a container with you that you can use to offer your pet a drink after landing. On the day of your departure, be friendly, but proactive in telling airline personnel that you are traveling with a pet and that you are concerned about his or her safety. If your pet is traveling in cargo, ask where animals are kept until they are loaded on the plane. Also ask that your pet be transported by an employee and not just pulled on a tug to the aircraft. Remind all airline personnel that it is against USDA and DOT regulations to stack pet carriers on top of each other; the cost is a hefty fine of up to $100,000!
At most airports, you can watch as the cargo is loaded from a window at the gate. USDA regulations mandate that pets are loaded onto the plane last before departure and unloaded first upon arrival. Let the gate agent know that you wish to wait to board the plane until you are certain your pet is safely on board. Once you board the plane, speak to the pilot, and ask him or her to confirm that your pet is on the plane. Also, remind the pilot to consider your pet if the temperature in the cargo has to be adjusted.
Inside cabin flight tips
If your pet is traveling in the cabin with you, choose seating away from the engines to minimize noise. Seats near the front of the plane also are preferred, so you can exit more quickly upon landing. If cost is not a consideration, choose an airline that only transports pets. These planes are climate controlled and are staffed by attendants that check on the animals every 15 minutes. A word of warning -it is best that shorter-nosed animals do not travel by air at all. Brachycephalic breeds, such as Bulldogs, Pugs and Persian cats, among others, are more likely to suffer fatal consequences during air travel.
There is a valuable online resource for people who travel by air with their pets: WhereIsJack was launched by the owners of a cat who was lost in John F Kennedy International Airport for 61 days. Here, you’ll find a checklist of the safety criteria as well as valuable information on air travel. Jack’s owners recommend that you ask questions and be assertive, but polite; do not be shy! Your knowledge and involvement in flying with my pet and their transport can mean a world of difference in the safe and respectful handling of a furry friend.