Pets on planes: What are your rights?

A dog and a cat

Every pet owner knows how hard it is to say goodbye to a pet, even for a weekend. Our pets like to be with us all the time and the feeling is mutual. That is why many people take their pets with them wherever they go. Nowadays, we often see owners traveling with their pets on planes. However, do not assume those owners have it easy. Flying with pets is a huge responsibility.

Rule number one is – never go to the airport unprepared. Like every important project, traveling with pets requires research and a good plan. Traveling by plane, with or without your pet, will be much easier if you get the right information and get it on time.

Get familiar with the rules before taking pets on planes

Each destination has its rules and laws, and they may differ from the ones in your country/state. Therefore, you need to visit the official website and verify the health, vaccination, and quarantine regulations in your destination country/state.

One of the requirements may be having a microchip implant. For example, you must microchip your pet before you travel to the EU, but you don’t have to when you travel to Cuba. If your pet does not have a microchip already, it should, even if it’s not mandatory. This is a recommendable measure of precaution in case the animal gets lost.

Rules for traveling with pets vary depending on the airline as well. It is crucial to learn about your airline’s policy concerning pets on planes. Most airlines’ websites contain information on their policies – make sure to take notes!

In-cabin pet travel

Traveling with you in the cabin is the safest option for your pets.

  • Smaller, pocket animals (weighing not more than 15-20 pounds) are normally allowed to travel with an adult in the cabin. The exception to this rule may be international flights.
  • Most major airlines cannot let you fly with a small animal unless you call in advance. Bear in mind that the number of pets on planes is limited. Hence, you should contact the airline and reserve your spot-on time. Usually, this rule does not apply to emotional support and service animals.
  • Having a pet on a plane comes with an extra fee. Normally, this fee does not apply to emotional support and service animals which often travel free of charge.
  • If your pet flies in the cabin with you, you must bring a labeled, TSA-approved pet carrier (soft-sided or hard-sided). The carrier must fit under the seat in front of you and be well ventilated. Since there is no universal rule, you must check the dimensions of the carrier with the airline. In some cases, two pets can travel in one carrier, as long as it does not exceed the weight limit.
  • The carrier counts as a carry-on bag or personal item. In case you want to bring an additional carry on bag, you’ll need to pay extra.
  • Pets cannot leave their carriers unless there is a pet relief area at the airport.
  • Similarly, pets cannot leave their carriers during the flight. The carrier must be kept under the seat in front of you the whole time.
  • Before the trip, check whether your airline requires any paperwork. Some airlines demand that pet owners provide health and vaccination records before the flight. Even if your airline requires no such thing, always bring your pet’s medical records with you.
  • Some airlines have age restrictions. For example, young dogs may not be permitted to travel in the cabin with their owners. This is another thing to take into consideration before vacationing or moving with your dog by your side to avoid unpleasant surprises.
  • You have to check in with your pet at the airport. You need to check your pet in at the counter, not online or at a kiosk.
  • Send the carrier through the x-ray machine without your pet. You must walk through security together with your pet and then put it back in the carrier.
  • The airline has the right to deny you and your pet boarding or remove you from the flight in case your pet acts aggressively.

Cargo pet travel

Flying a pet in cargo is not recommended.

  • Different airlines have different breed restrictions. Snub-nosed cat and dog breeds which have breathing difficulties are often not permitted in cargo, while some airlines completely forbid flying pets in cargo.
  • Pets traveling in the cargo hold need to endure extreme temperatures, which is why they should not fly during the coldest and the warmest months.
  • Also, avoid flying during the holiday season and on weekends – midweek flights are typically less crowded and there are fewer pets on planes. Furthermore, try not to have layovers.
  • If you decide to travel with a cat or dog in cargo, a separate booking is required. With most airlines, pets traveling via cargo cannot be booked until 10 days before the flight.
  • Contact the consulate of the country you are traveling to and your vet to make sure your pet has all the necessary paperwork. The airline may require you to provide a health certificate from your vet which must be issued shortly before the trip (usually not more than 10 days). Those who are going on a long trip might need to get a new health certificate for the return trip.
  • Check whether there are any age restrictions for traveling in the cargo hold.
  • The fees for pets traveling via cargo depend on the size of the animal as well as the destination – perhaps the destination you want to visit is not the best place to travel with pets.
  • You will probably need to buy a new carrier since most carriers have materials and design elements that aren’t acceptable for cargo travel. The crate should have a solid roof without holes and one secure-close metal door and be made of a material that does not bend.