Flying with a pet isn’t your usual in-flight experience, as there are many important things to keep in mind to ensure the safety of your fur baby, yourself, and your fellow passengers. But, while many airlines have tightened up on pet travel regulations, it’s not as stressful as it might seem — all it takes is a little research, preparation, and cooperation.
Next time you take your pet on an all-expenses-paid vacation (as if they know any other lifestyle), there are a few factors to keep in mind. Up ahead, we tap two pet travel experts to find out more information on how to prepare for flying with your cat or dog and make your experience less stressful for everyone involved.
Meet the Experts
Nicole Caba is the founder and CEO of pet travel booking site Avvinue.
Deanna Castro is the creator of Future Flight Attendant.
Things to Consider When Flying With a Pet
If you’re planning to travel the skies with your cat or dog, keep these tips in mind before and during your trip:
The Health of Your Pet: According to Nicole Caba, founder, and CEO of pet travel booking site Avvinue, the number one most important thing to consider when traveling with your pet is their health. “If your pet is experiencing health issues or is older or weaker, then you should speak with a veterinarian to consider whether flying with your pet is a good option,” Caba explains. With international import regulations in mind, “it’s important to make an appointment with a USDA-certified veterinarian with enough anticipation for at least 10 business days [before departure] in order to get health certifications ready for international travel,” says Caba. If vaccine records are required for traveling with your pet, Deanna Castro, the creator of Future Flight Attendant, recommends keeping them with your own travel documents so that everything is in one place and you aren’t scrambling.
Suppose you plan on traveling internationally with your pet. In that case, Caba says it’s vital to understand import regulations “to ensure your pet can enter that country and what vaccinations are needed.” Many countries require up-to-date rabies vaccinations, but some have additional vaccine requirements, so “double checking you have that right vaccination record (and in the correct order) will save you from issues upon entry,” Caba explains. It’s also important to consider any state requirements, as some states, such as Hawaii, might also have a quarantine regulation.
Cargo vs. In-Cabin: Castro also recommends considering where your pet will be seated on the plane. “Will your pet be in the cargo area or wi,ll it be traveling with you in the cabin? Not all airlines allow pets to travel in the cargo area,” she explains. If the airline you choose does allow pets in cargo, keep in mind that they “won’t be allowed to wear any clothing, have a blanket, or any toys, food, or water in the carrier with them for safety reasons.”
Food and Exercise: Castro also recommends checking with your vet to find out “how long before the flight to feed your animal, so they don’t get sick.” As a former flight attendant, Castro has seen firsthand how this can impact travel plans. “I witnessed an owner feeding his dog right before he got on the airplane, and the dog ended up nervous and sick on the airplane,” she explains, adding that “they ended up having to be removed from the flight.” It’s also important to consider how much water your pet drinks before a flight. While you want them to be hydrated, “try to reduce the amount of water your pet drinks to avoid urinary accidents on the plane,” says Caba.
“On travel day, it’s good to get your pet exhausted before arriving at the airport so that they aren’t super eager to socialize or have high anxiety from the heavy foot traffic and long lines,” says Caba. She highly recommends taking your pet to a park, playing fetch, or going for a long walk “to have a more relaxed travel experience.” The goal of the pre-travel exercise is “to have your pet tired and ready to sleep comfortably on the plane.”
Pet Carrier: Before traveling with your pet, Caba recommends getting your pet ready for the experience by placing the travel carrier in your pet’s play area “so they can get used to it before it’s time to travel.” Doing this will help ensure they feel “more comfortable around the carrier” ahead of time. “Carrier-training your pet is also a good practice so that your pet already knows what it is like to be in the carrier for a short period,” says Caba. “Some people recommend using that carrier for visits to the vet, in public places, or on car rides so that your pet can feel comfortable and reduce the anxiety of being in the carrier,” she adds. “If your pet is not a service animal, they must fit under the seat in front of you to travel in the cabin,” says Castro. “Depending on the aircraft and airline, the sizes of the pet carrier may vary, so be sure and get that information when planning your trip,” she adds. If your pet is an emotional support animal, this rule might apply as the Department of Transportation no longer protects ESAs. Some airlines might still accept emotional support animals (which means they aren’t required to be in a pet carrier), but many have opted not to. Caba also recommends taking your pet out of the carrier for as long as possible while at the airport “so that they don’t get tired of the carrier.”
Connecting Flights: “If you have a connecting flight, it’s important to ensure you have ample time between flights,” says Caba. This will allow your dog to stretch their legs and also give you enough time to get situated with them on the next flight without having to rush. This is also a great time to check the airport maps for pet relief areas before you board your next flight. “If you can, keep a potty pad in the [carrier] just in case,” she adds. P.S. If you happened to be flying in United Airline’s Polaris business-class cabin and nabbed an exclusive Sunday Riley amenity kit, now’s the perfect time to pamper skin while Fido’s doing this thing.
Invest in Travel Accessories: Cabo says “buying travel accessories is highly recommended so that you are well prepared for the trip.” Some of these accessories include, of course, a carrier, and if you plan on keeping you pet in-cabin as opposed to the cargo, you can consider “a pet water bottle, pee pads, CBD oils or anxiety-reducing supplements, toys, food, and treats,” she explains. “Having those handy will help you and your pet feel much more prepared on a stressful traveling day,” she adds.
Pet-Friendly Airlines and Airports
Some airlines and airports are more pet-friendly compared to others. Because of that, it is important to do some research ahead of time to get an idea of what to expect.
“There are many airports that have pet relief stations inside terminals as well as outside, which is a great option for dogs to use the bathroom,” says Caba. “It’s important to check where they are located in comparison to your terminal to know if it’s within a good distance, otherwise, many airports allow you to walk your dog on a leash throughout the airport so that your pet gets enough exercise and energy out before being places in a carrier for the duration of the flight,” she notes.
In the case of airlines, some are pet-friendly. “We consider airlines to be pet-friendly if they allow pets in cabin and how lenient they are around pet breeds and measurements,” says Caba, adding that she also considers the pet-friendly rankings from customers on Avvinue. With that said, just because an airline is pet-friendly, doesn’t mean they will allow you to take your pet out of its carrier on the flight. “Most prohibit your pet from getting out of its carrier” mid-flight, says Caba. “There are some airlines that do allow your pet to board the plan simply on a leash and not in the carrier,” she adds, noting that this is a small exception. “If your pet is a service animal and the airline allows service animals on their flight, then they do not need to be in a carrier, as they are certified to assist their owner in case of a medical emergency,” she explains.
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