Sticky Situations: Flying with Pets

Traveling with an animal is a uniquely difficult experience. Some might liken the process to traveling with a young child; you need to keep the pet safe, ensure he doesn’t bark or meow, and navigate the airport with both the animal and your suitcase. Furthermore, every airline has a separate policy, allowing for a wide range of experiences depending on your selected provider. Whether you’ve traveled with an animal dozens of times or you’re setting off on your first trip this weekend, you likely have a few unanswered questions. We’re here to help.

First, you should know that there are three types of pet plane travel: in-cabin, checked baggage, and cargo. An in-cabin pet flight is often the easiest; the small animal remains in a carrier under the seat in front of you for the duration of the flight. When flying an animal in checked baggage, you will drop him off at the flight check-in desk; he will ride in the cargo hold of the plane, but you can pick him up from excess baggage claim at your arriving airport. Cargo transport requires you to drop off and pick up the animal from an airline-specific cargo facility; this is, essentially, pet shipping.

Flying with animals also necessitates a certain amount of equipment. If, for example, your animal is small enough to fly within the cabin, you must purchase an airline-approved carrier to fit your plane’s maximum crate dimensions. If the animal is flying in the cargo hold, you will need to purchase a larger, airline-approved carrier (with food and water bowls) to protect your pet while in transit. Pet parents should consider bringing along a range of toys and comforting items to ensure their animal’s ability to fly—you’d be surprised how calm a toy’s presence can be.

Handling your pet within the airport can be as difficult as the ride itself. Most airports will not allow an animal to exit their carrier unless they are traveling through security, utilizing a pet relief area, or working as a service dog. However, it is essential to check your airport’s policy—as well as the availability of pet relief areas—prior to heading out. Responsible pet parents will also check their airline’s policy to review additional fees, carrier restrictions, method restrictions, and additional limitations. The pet travel experience is stressful, but proper preparation can result in a surprisingly pleasant experience.