Pets, mostly dogs and cats, can and do travel safely aboard commercial aircraft. The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) sets and enforces regulations or the transportation of live animals. These regulations apply to customers and their pets, as well as to the airlines. If you transport your pet by air, you must comply with the applicable laws, which are designed to ensure pet safety and comfort. There are a number of ways to transport your pet by air. First, some airlines will allow you to travel with a small pet in the cabin of the plane if your pet will fit in a carry-on kennel or approved carrier under a passenger seat. For animals other than dogs or cats, contact your airline for its acceptance policy. Note that carriers have very specific rules.
A second option offered by many airlines is "accompanied baggage," where your pet travels in the cargo hold alongside your checked luggage. Whatís important to know is that the airlines allow you to transport your pet as accompanied baggage only when you are a passenger traveling on the same flight as your pet. A third option available through most airlines is to transport your pet as a "live animal" cargo shipment. In the cargo system, your pet travels either through regular cargo channels or special expedited delivery services that many airlines have developed. Pets in the cargo system are transported in the same pressurized holds as those in the checked-baggage system. Many airline cargo departments employ pet transportation specialists who can assist you with answers to questions. These methods are safe and humane ways to transport your pet. It is best to directly contact your airline for details and to find the best option for your pet.
APHIS requires your pet to be at least eight weeks old and fully weaned before traveling by air. Whenever possible, book a direct, nonstop flight and avoid holiday or weekend travel. Consider schedules that minimize temperature extremes. For example, try to avoid travel during excessively hot or cold periods. Morning or evening flights are preferable during the summer. In the cargo system, it is possible to reserve space on a specific flight by paying for either priority or special expedited delivery service. Note that carriers reserve the right to embargo pet travel during extreme conditions.
Check with a veterinarian to be sure that your pet is fit to travel. Some species simply do not fly well because they may have difficulty breathing even under normal conditions. You will need a health certificate, provided by your veterinarian, in order to comply with the rules of most airlines, as well as state and federal rules. To be valid for your trip on most airlines, the certificate should be issued no more than seven to 10 days prior to departure. Be sure to check with your airline to get the exact amount of time they require before your petís trip.