Trips with your pets can be lots of fun! Once you get there that is. Traveling with your pet on an airplane can be one of the most stressful and potentially dangerous ways you can travel with your pet. How can you make the experience as safe and enjoyable for you and them as possible? Educate yourself, be prepared, and understand not all pets can learn to enjoy jetting off as much as you. If you can not possibly drive them, and if your pet is small enough to fit in an approved-size carrier under the seat in front of you, cabin travel is much, much safer than cargo. If you are moving with multiple pets and need to fly them to their new home, consider making multiple trips or have friends/family fly them so they can go in the cabin. Sometimes, cargo is the only option when moving with your pets. Read on for our tips from our own personal experience with flying both our dogs and cats when we moved cross-country and around the world.
Keep in mind, both in the cabin and in the cargo area, planes are very loud. Loud noise is very stressful on pets. Even calm pets will often be so stressed by the noise they will go to the bathroom in their carrier. Consult with your vet about how much you can restrict food and water the day before and day of your flight. Try to book direct flights. Take off and landings are the noisiest, and make trips even longer. Delays on the runways are often when pets overheat or freeze to death in cargo.
Before you fly: Crate train you pet. Get them used to being in their travel crate for as many hours as they will be on the plane. Train your pet to sleep in their crate at night, and then if try to book a night flight.
Before you fly: Vet approval. Get your pet checked out for flying by your vet before you book your tickets. Some pets have subtle medical conditions that make it very dangerous for them to fly.
Pets in the cabin: If your pet is small enough to fly in cabin, that is MUCH safer than flying your pet as cargo. Call the airline to find out the restrictions and costs, which can be substantial. Flying with pets in the cabin is usually very stressful on them too. Be prepared: they have to be taken out of their carrier going through the airport security — you hold them and walk them through the xray machine. Consider harness training your cats and try to find the safest cat-proof harness with the least amount of metal on it, and put it on them at home before you put them in the carrier.
At home before you leave for the airport, line the carrier with several layers of absorbent puppy wee-wee pads. You are not allowed to take a pet out of the carrier in the plane, even if they’ve peed or pooped all over themselves. You can not take a pet out of the carrier inside the terminal either, except when going through security. We have heard of people doing quick surreptitious puppy pad change in a bathroom stall during layovers that were too short for a trip outside and getting back through security. Some pets respond to the stress of flying by ripping up – even eating – whatever is in the carrier. Keep a close eye on them while they are under the seat, to be ready to pull out the pads (not the pet) for their safety, if needed. (No in-flight napping for you!)
Pets as cargo: Cargo is the most dangerous way to fly with your pets (read a USA Today article on the dangers of flying pets as cargo here), and should be avoided if at all possible. But sometimes it is the only way you can move with your pets. Make sure you have very strong crates in excellent condition. Consider multiple locks for the doors and hiking straps around the outside just in case the crate falls and the connections break. Write your phone number with a sharpie on the crate itself. For dogs, do not put any kind of bedding in the crate that could be eaten. Only a totally-chew proof bed may be safe. Yes they will be less comfortable, but they will not die like they might if in this super stressful situation, they chew up and eat their bedding. That means no newspapers, no pee pads, nothing chewable in the crate.
What about giving your pet a sedative? You know your pet. Sedatives are not without significant risks and are usually not advised. You will have to weigh the risks vs the sedation benefits (a pet that might injure itself fatally if they panic in a crate) after consulting with your vet.