For some people, traveling without their pets simply won't do. A vacation away from Noodle, Scraps, or Mr. Pickles is no vacation at all; it's an excruciating separation from beloved companions.
Fortunately for these folks, modern air travel has branched out to include passengers of the four-legged variety. Most airlines offer travel for pets, either in the plane's cabin or in its cargo hold. The costs of traveling with your pet can vary from airline to airline, and there are restrictions and requirements you'll have to consider. The bottom line is this: Make sure you find out everything you need to know from your airline before your flight.
Before you hit another Web site in search of sunglasses your dog can wear to the beach, check out our five tips for flying with your pet, listed in no discernable order.
Go to the Vet -- But Not too Early
Just about every airline in the world requires documentation from a veterinarian that your pet is in good health before it can board a flight. Some resorts and hotels may also require the same documentation before allowing your pet to stay there. After all, who wants a rabid dog or a cat with feline distemper spreading disease to other guests' pets?
A veterinarian's checkup should include a general physical examination to check for signs of illness, like coughing or diarrhea. The vet will also make sure your pet's rabies vaccinations and other shots are up to date. You may also get flea and heartworm treatments out of the visit, if your pet isn't already on such medications.
If your pet passes muster, the veterinarian will give you a signed document that attests to your pet's health and vaccinations. Keep this document in a safe place, and be sure not to forget it at home -- it's as bad as leaving your plane ticket behind.
Don't visit the vet too early, however. Most airlines require that your pet's clean bill of health be no more than 10 days old.
Consider a Tranquilizer
As anxious as you might get while traveling, pets are sometimes more so, especially when flying. Being placed in a crate and stowed with a lot of other equally anxious animals makes traveling rough for your pet. To help make the ride a little smoother, consider giving your pet tranquilizers.
You won't want to share any of your own prescription tranquilizers. While some sedatives like diazepam (Valium) work on both humans and animals, the dosage will be different for your pet. Instead, ask your vet for a prescription when you take your pet for its pre-flight physical.
The American Humane Association suggests you skip tranquilizers and sedatives for your pet altogether when traveling by air. Sedated animals may have trouble breathing at higher altitudes, especially short-faced dogs and cats prone to respiratory distress [source: AHA]. Your pet may be much more anxious during the trip, but the likelihood of respiratory distress may decrease.
If you do opt to sedate your pet, be wary of medications sold online, and completely avoid any online pet pharmaceutical retailer that doesn't require a prescription. These drugs are likely counterfeit and may contain none of the active ingredient -- or far too much.
Make Sure Your Destination is Pet-Friendly
Unless you're traveling with a helper animal or seeing-eye dog, you may find that your pet is not welcome where you're staying on vacation. Don't assume your pet will be allowed in your hotel room. Instead, make this possibility a part of your travel planning. It will prevent you and your pet from encountering any unpleasant surprises when you arrive.
Some simple Web searches can help you in your pet travel planning. Web sites like DogFriendly.com are dedicated to rating destinations and hotel chains by their pet-friendliness. The American Automobile Association (AAA) often conducts surveys of top pet-friendly cities, based on the number of pet-friendly hotels. To make your planning even easier, most hotels have their pet policy listed on their Web sites [source: Long].
When traveling abroad, you should call the consulate or embassy at your destination to find out details on the nation's pet quarantine policy. Animals living in different parts of the world may carry different diseases they've become immune to, but when animals that haven't developed immunity are exposed, a deadly outbreak can occur. As a result, many nations and territories have strict quarantine policies. Even in the U.S. state of Hawaii, pets that don't meet the state's import requirements may be quarantined for up to 120 days [source: Hawaii Dept. of Agriculture]. Doing a little planning first can make your pet's travel experience a much happier one.
Let the Airline Know Your Pet's Coming Along for the Ride
Just like assuming a hotel is pet-friendly, it can be a bad idea not to arrange for your pet to fly when you book your own tickets. The biggest hurdle you may encounter is a booked cargo area, and you'll either have to spend extra money to rearrange your flight schedule or choose to leave your pet behind.
You can try bringing your pet into the cabin with you, but some restrictions apply. Most airlines that allow pets in the passenger cabin require the pet carrier be small enough to be stowed under the seat in front of you. This doesn't mean you can cram your pet into any small carrier; airlines dictate your pet must be able to stand up and turn around inside [source: Probst].
Booking your pet's flight when you book your own can also help you avoid sticker shock at the ticket counter. Expect to pay almost as much for your pet's ticket as you paid for your own. For example, Delta Airlines currently charges $150 for a one-way, in-cabin flight for your pet. Expect to pay even more to stow your pet: One-way costs for checking your pet as baggage in the cargo hold is $275 for travel within the U.S. and $550 for flights outside the U.S. Keep in mind that these prices could change without notice [source: Delta Airlines].
If you can stomach leaving your companion in the company of strangers for a few hours, you may also want to check into pets-only flights, such as the ones offered on PetAirways. Putting your dog or cat on one of these flights might save you some money and, best of all, pets fly in the cabin rather than in the cargo area of the plane.
Feed and Water Your Pet Before Departure
Security has been beefed up tremendously since 9/11, which has, in turn, created longer check-in delays. As a result, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) suggests you arrive no less than two hours before your flight [source: TSA]. While you spend some time waiting around the airport, be sure to prepare your pet for the flight ahead.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture mandates that pets traveling on airlines must be fed and watered within four hours of the flight's scheduled departure [source: Airlines.org]. You'll be asked to sign a waiver that certifies your pet has been given food and water when you check in for your flight.
Make sure that you don't stuff your pet with food or give it too much water, however. A pet with a full belly aboard an airline flight may vomit from anxiety or travel sickness. Too much food or water can also lead to accidents inside the crate; not a pleasant way to fly. You'll also want to make sure your pet's food and water bowls are empty and locked inside the carrier, with a bag of food attached to the outside of the carrier. This will prevent spills and will give airline employees a chance to feed or water your pet, if necessary, during a long delay or layover [source: Petco].
Give your pet a little water about two hours before the flight is scheduled to depart, and don't be afraid to ask an airport employee if the airport has a special area reserved for pets' dirty, dirty business.
Taking all of these tips into account can make travel much easier for you and your pet. After all, it's your pet's vacation too.
We live in a sharing economy. And a pet-loving economy. So what happens when the two collide? Learn more about pets and carsharing at HowStuffWorks.
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More Great Links
- Long, Cricky. "Marley and you: 10 dog-trip essentials." Studio One Networks. Accessed December 31, 2008. http://www.kansascw.com/Global/story.asp?S=7441038
- Probst, Sarah. "Tips for flying with your pet." University of Illinois. June 21, 1999. http://vetmed.illinois.edu/petcolumns/showarticle.cfm?id=66
- "Air travel for your pet." Airlines.org. Accessed December 31, 2008. http://www.airlines.org/customerservice/passengers/Air+Travel+for+Your+Pet.htm
- "Animal quarantine information." Hawaii Department of Agriculture. Accessed December 31, 2008. http://hawaii.gov/hdoa/ai/aqs/info
- "Don't sedate or tranquilize pets traveling by air." American Humane Association. Accessed December 31, 2008. http://www.avma.org/CAREFORANIMALS/ANIMATEDJOURNEYS/livingwithpets/sedate.asp
- "Jet-setting kitty." Petco. Accessed December 31, 2008. http://www.petco.com/Content/Article.aspx?PC=article&Nav=153&PetTypeID=2&TopicID=36&id=2001&cm_sp=merch-_-travelcenter-_-artid2001
- "Pet travel options." Delta Airlines. Accessed December 31, 2008. http://www.delta.com/planning_reservations/special_travel_needs/pet_travel_information/pet_travel_options/index.jsp
- "Traveling with pets." TravelSense. Accessed December 31, 2008. http://www.travelsense.org/tips/pets.cfm
- "TSA air travel FAQs." U.S. TSA. July 2006. http://inhomelandsecurity.com/2006/07/tsa_air_travel_faqs.html