A Guide To Pet Air Travel

CitizenShipper CitizenShipper · Updated: March 8, 2023 / Published: February 2, 2017

How to Transport a Pet by Air

Taking pets on planes can be a simple task if you know the legal requirements and practical necessities concerning pet air travel. The bureaucracy of shipping pets by air is easy to manage if you are prepared with the right checklist.

Having said that, pet air travel isn’t just like transporting a regular piece of cargo. We are talking about our pets, our loved ones, and there are a number of practical things pet owners need to consider beyond the guidelines of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the U.S. Department of Transportation, and the Federal Aviation Administration.

pet air travel

To sum up the law and the practical advice about pet air travel, here is everything you need to know when considering taking pets on airplanes.

Pet Air Travel Rules & Regulations

The first things you need to know about shipping pets on planes are the laws surrounding pet air travel. According to the USDA, the rules on animals traveling within the United States are:

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  • Pets must be at least 8 weeks old and fully weaned.
  • Pets must have an up-to-date rabies immunization.
  • If traveling in the aircraft cabin, your pet must have a valid health certificate from a licensed vet and travel within 30 days of issue.
  • If your pet is traveling in the cargo area, the health certificate needs to have been issued up to 10 days prior to flying.

For international travel, the rules and regulations will be different according to the specific laws of the country you are traveling to. Government websites provide all the information you need regarding pet air travel to a specific foreign country.


Booking Pet Air Travel with the Airline

Each airline has its own policies and procedures when it comes to shipping pets by air, and the fees can vary greatly. Some offer a free service for pets on planes, while others charge in excess of $500.

Many airlines allow a pet to be transported in the aircraft cabin if the carrier is capable of fitting under the seat in front of you. Some offer this service as part of carry-on baggage allowance, while other airlines only allow pets to be shipped in the cargo area. Most airlines will have a limit to the number of pets they will allow onto the plane, so make sure there are enough “pet seats” available before you book your own ticket.  

Each airline will have its own policies regarding pet air travel. They reserve the right to refuse transport of your pet for a number of reasons, including illness, physical distress, or aggressive behavior. Common sense applies here. You know your pet, you know their temperament, and you have to be honest with yourself as to whether you think they could handle the traumatic situation without too much disruption.


Considering Carriers and Cages

One of the most important aspects of pet air travel is the carrier used to transport the animal. There are regulations regarding the size and materials of the carrier, and airlines are within their rights to refuse to accept carriers which are not considered fit for purpose.

shipping pets by air

To make sure you have the right carrier, check off these points:

  • Your pet needs enough room inside to stand, turn around, and lie down comfortably.
  • No part of your pet is allowed to protrude from the carrier (wire cages aren’t allowed).
  • 14% of the total wall space of the carrier must be open-air ventilation slots, a third of these must be located in the top half of the carrier.
  • The carrier must have rims, so the ventilation slots cannot be blocked by other cargo.
  • The carrier must have grips or handles for easy movement.
  • The carrier must have a floor that can not leak, covered with a towel or appropriate absorbent litter.

It should also be noted that soft-sided, collapsible kennels are permitted for pet air travel within some aircraft cabins, but these are subject to regulations and should be checked with your specific airline.


Tips for Take-Off – Prepare the Carrier

Prior to shipping your pets on planes, they should have time to get used to the carrier. They will be under less stress if they know it is their space, and a few trips around town in the carrier could significantly reduce the stress levels when you ‘go live’ at the airport.

With a good marker, you should write your pet’s name clearly on the carrier. You should also add “Live Animal” on the top and the sides, and draw arrows to indicate which way is up.

pet carrier on planes

Both the carrier and your pet’s tag should be marked with your name, address, and phone number. It is also wise to add the name, address, and phone number of a contact at your destination.

For pet air travel, the USDA requires your pet to have been offered food and water four hours before your flight’s scheduled departure time. The carrier should include a signed declaration stating this, two empty dishes for food and water, and feeding instructions.


Tips for Take-Off – Going to the Airport

As you get closer to the flight, there are a number of things you can do to make your pet’s travel experience go smoothly. Taking pets on airplanes can be simple if you follow the appropriate chronological order:

  • Confirm your pet’s reservation with the airline 48 hours before the flight.
  • Do not give your pet solid food in the 6 hours before the flight.
  • Ensure your pet is well exercised before traveling to the airport.
  • You cannot check your pet in more than 4 hours before your flight. Make sure to time your arrival at the airport correctly.


The Stress of Air Travel – Using Tranquilizers

Whether flying in the cabin or in the cargo hold, shipping pets by air is a confusing and stressful episode in an alien and unsettling environment. No one knows your pet better than you, and if you feel they’re not going to be able to settle for the flight, perhaps it would be better to use a tranquilizer. This decision should be made by your veterinarian, and if a tranquilizer is used, the name, dosage, and administration method need to be indicated on the pet’s carrier.

In actual fact, the American Veterinary Medical Association recommends that sedatives should not be given to a dog prior to a flight. The increased altitude causes pressure to the cardiovascular and respiratory systems of dogs, and in a sedated state, your pet will not be able to use its natural ability to maintain systemic equilibrium. Using sedatives can be potentially damaging to pets on airplanes.


Problems with the Weather?

Extreme weather conditions can be a factor in pet air travel. If you are flying to or from a location where the temperature is colder than 45F or warmer than 85F, you will need to prove your pet is acclimatized to this weather with a signed letter from your veterinarian.

If the temperature is below 20F or above 95F, most airlines will not take pets on planes, even if you have the letter from your vet.

Snub-nosed dogs are subject to even stricter conditions. These hard-of-breathing pooches need a letter if the temperature is above 75F, and many airlines won’t accept these breeds in their cargo areas during the summer months.


Transporting your Pet by Land

With all the things you need to consider about pet air travel, you have to make the right decision for you and your pet. If you feel it might be too much to take your pet on an airplane, there are alternative, land-transport options for relocating an animal.

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From the driver: https://www.citizenshipper.com/profile/r-t-t-r/82211/

Pets on airplanes are in a strange, distressing environment. Most domestic pets are accustomed to traveling by car, so they don’t feel the high stress levels associated with plane travel. CitizenShipper can connect you with experienced pet-friendly drivers offering animal transportation services by land.

pet air travel vs pet shipping by land

Driven over land, you won’t have to worry about your pet. The animal-loving driver will send frequent texts and photos of your pet along their journey, keeping you up to date on how their road trip is going. Your pet can enjoy regular breaks along the way, without being confined to a cage for long hours like when you take pets on planes. It’s altogether a much better environment for a pet to travel in than on an airplane.

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If you decide to move your pet by land, you can concentrate on other things, safe in the knowledge that your pet is enjoying a stress-free transition to a new life.

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4 thoughts on “A Guide To Pet Air Travel

  1. Can I ship my Himalayan cat from Sao Paulo, Brazil to Boston, USA by plane?
    So far, I could not find a carrier that would allow that breed.
    She is a 16-year-old cat.

    1. Hello Angie! Thanks for reaching out. We do have a bidding system in place on our site which allows the drivers on our platform to bid what they think is fair while also keeping the price competitive for you. If you would like, you can list your shipment here: citizenshipper.com/shipment-form to start receiving quotes from qualified drivers/ “fliers” on our site. It is free to list and takes less than a couple of minutes:)

  2. I have flown with my dog in cargo back and forth from Costa Rica to New Jersey twice. I was never required to use a pet shipping company. Last time we flew was April 2019. Is it now mandatory to use a pet shippper? I am planning a new flight for this upcoming November. I inquired with the airline, and they said I should look for a pet shipper on IPATA. I’m confused…

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