You may think that you want to take a dog or cat on a plane trip, but you really, really don’t. In the best circumstances, they’ll be treated like third-class passengers; in the worst, like luggage. Flying with pets can be stressful. So reserve airplane rides only for those “must” excursions—you’ll be gone for more than a month, you’re moving, or you’re sending a pet to a new home too far away for the reasonable person to drive. And if your four-legged friend must fly the friendly skies, an owner familiar with the drill can make a dismal experience bearable. Here’s how to create a pet-friendly travel experience.
First Stop, the Veterinarian
Before you leave on your trip, you’ll need to get a certificate of health from your veterinarian for any animal that will fly with you. The airlines require it, and your pet will have to be up-to-date on all shots to pass muster. Check with the airline you’re flying to find out how far ahead of time you can take care of this (the certificates are good for only a limited period).
Beethoven Won’t Quite Fit
Before boarding a plane, find out whether an airline will allow you to take a small pet carry-on. Pets usually must fit in airline-supplied or airline-approved pet-travel carriers that are small enough to go under the seat in front of you. Otherwise, the animals flying will travel in a cage with the luggage or in the cargo hold (on small planes, that may be the same place), where it’s sometimes dark and cold.
Best Bet: Same Flight
Ask your travel agent to find the least expensive way you can fly with your pet. Since travel agents work on commission and have loyalty to certain airlines, you need to make the request specific: “I want you to find the best rate for me and my cat to be on the same flight.” Some airlines will give you an inexpensive rate for your pet or charge nothing extra if you and your pet take the same flight.
Even if you must pay extra, take the same flight so that you and your pet will share all the same delays and rerouting.
Plan On Separate Rooms
If you are traveling with two pets, no matter how well they get along, the airline will insist that they travel in separate containers. Plan accordingly.
Fido Can’t Take This Flight
If you’re a veteran commuter flyer, be forewarned that your pet won’t be able to take certain commuter flights. Some of the turboprop aircraft don’t have pressurized storage areas, and that’s where Fido would ride.
When you simply must send animals flying via air freight, ask for priority parcel service. That way, you can choose a flight, and the airline will guarantee when the animal will arrive at her destination (sort of like Federal Express, only the package is alive). You can plan when to drop the pet off at the airport, and the person at the other end of the line has a reasonable assurance of when to pick her up.
Limited finances should be the only reason that you opt for regular cargo, and you should understand that your pet might end up on any flight. Cargo is “standby,” loaded on the plane after baggage if the weight limit hasn’t been met. Your animal could wait for quite a long time before catching a flight, and you’ll be expected to provide 24 hours’ worth of food.
But I Wanted to Show Fifi the Eiffel Tower
Don’t plan to take a pet abroad unless you’re planning to relocate permanently. Most foreign countries will require that your dog or cat be quarantined for up to six months (at your expense) upon arrival.