Airline Travel for Pets Guide

Flying with your dog is usually a little more complicated than what’s pictured here. In fact, Fido doesn’t always get to travel in the cabin with you.­ See more pet pictures.
Brian Finke/Stone/Getty Images

­Your best friend has invited you to come visit her for two weeks and you haven't seen her in years. Sh­e even offered to pay for the plane ticket, so what's holding you back? Your cat ­Webster. Even after your best friend invites Webster you wonder, "How will I get him there?"

Sure, we­'ve all heard the news stories about a kitten that somehow snuck into the baggage compartment of a 747, but how does it work when Fluffy wants to be right there with you -- on your lap?


And what if Fluffy­ is an African Grey parrot? Or a bunny? Or a monkey? Or a guide dog? Or maybe, just maybe, a tropical fish? Surely, this will not work out? Wrong.

Even under such unique circumstances, you can travel with Fluffy if you follow certain regula­tions. Pet airline travel can work prett­y well, and more and more airlines are realizing how important it is to offer services for doting owners.

­Every year, thousands of air travelers fly to locations all across the globe with a variety of animals in tow. Some airline companies are even catering to the pet industry, which is a booming $43.4 billion business [source: APPA]. Even in a rou­gh economy, we still love our pets. And we want to take them on vacation.

In this article, we'll explore how to ensure a safe flight for your pet. We'll take a look at the required documentation, airline rules, the difference between flying with service or comfort animals and specific airline rules for different dog breeds.



Required Pet Documents for Airline Travel

­An air traveler's worst nightmare is arriving at the airport, getting to security and realizing you don't have proper documentation. The same rules appl­y for pets.

No documents means no flying. Every state has its own rules and regulations regarding what kinds of pets can enter the state [source: ODA]. The most common types of documentation needed are:


  • Rabies Vaccination: Rabies is a nasty disease in animals and humans alike. While the amount of rabies victims has decreased significantly through the years, the victim rate has yet to reach zero [source: CDC]. Some states require a checkup within a certain amount of days of travel. Hawaii has a particularly stringent animal air travel policy. Be sure to check with your state and the state you are flying to well in advance of traveling [source: ODA].
  • Certificate of Veterinary Inspection: The CVI is also called a Health Certificate. This is a signed document from a veterinarian that states he or she has inspected the animal for diseases and overall health. These documents usually are only valid for a certain time, so check with your state to ensure yours doesn't expire before you fly [ODA].
  • Acclimation Certificate: This document features regulations about hot and cold weather extremes. Animals who are not accustomed to extreme cold can be harmed by a sudden burst of cold weather while waiting to be placed in plane storage and while on the plane. Call your airline to determine if you need this type of document [sources: LoGiudice, Delta].

Additional documentation needed may include a Confirmation of Feeding (food and water before the flight), Live Animal Checklist (instructions for the airline handlers) and tranquilizer consent forms (from a veterinarian) [source: Delta].


Pet Travel Airline Rules

While some companies will allow ­ ­passengers to bring pets into the cabin as carry-on items, others will only allow pets in the cargo storage area. Here are some of the rules you can expect in either case:

  • Reservations: Fees usually range from $50 to $150 one-way (rates vary based on carry-on or cargo passage), with additional fees for international travel or shipping of heavy animals.
  • Pet Carriers: Most airlines require a hard-bodie­d carrier that is small enough to stow under the seat in front of you, yet large enough for the animal to turn around, lie down and stand all the way up in a natural way. What is "natural" is probably up to the person checking you in, so it's a good idea to get the largest possible carrier that can still fit under a standard airplane seat (size measurements vary from airline to airline). Pet carriers are also required to have food and water sources, usually ones that attach firmly to the side of the container.
  • Age Limits: Young puppies and kittens are not going to get access. Most airlines will require that pets are eight weeks old at minimum [sources: American Airlines, Frontier].
  • Movement: You may be able to take off your seat belt and move freely about the cabin, but your pet is going to have to stay in its carrier. Most airlines require that the pet stays in its carrier at all times during the flight, as well as when the plane is parked, taxiing and even while passengers are sitting around in the terminal waiting to be boarded.


Flying with Service Animals

­If the cute dog ahead of you in the security line is wearing a harness, don't touch. Such harnesses, often placed on guide dogs, usually mean the dog is working.

That dog can go right through security and enjoy a plane ride along with its owner. Businesses are required by law to allow service animals entry into their establishments or airplanes.


According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, service animals are individually trained animals that specialize in certain forms of assistance:

  • Guide dogs for the blind
  • Hearing dogs for the deaf
  • Mobility dogs, such as dogs that can pull wheelchairs
  • Alert animals that warn of an oncoming seizure and then protect the person if a seizure occurs
  • Other animals, such as monkeys, that perform similar tasks

Service animals are allowed onto airplanes free of charge. Even though your animal can accompany you, you may encounter a few hiccups along the way, such as:

  • Identification: Most airlines require a visible harness or restraint identifying the animal as a service animal. You may also need an Animal Identification Card and a certificate of health or rabies-free document. In almost all cases, they will ask you to verbally confirm that the animal is a service animal. "Verbal assurance" is usually defined as explaining what the animal does, how it assists you or where it was trained.
  • In-Flight Rules: It is generally required that your service animal not block the aisle or emergency exits.
  • Quarantine: International travel might land your service animal in quarantine. Check with the airline to find out what the regulations are for your destination country. Until 2000, Hawaii was a problem for service animals arriving on airplanes. They have since remedied the situation, but you may want to call ahead for reassurance [sources: Frontier, Delta, United Airlines, HDOA].

You may think service animals are just for people with physical disabilities, but there are emotional-needs animals, too. Next, we'll take a look at how to travel with comfort animals.


Flying with Comfort Animals

People often experience calm when petting a dog or a cat, so it should come as no surprise that animals are now being used in the mental health field as a form of treatment.

Most airlines address these types of animals in their travel guidelines as comfort animals. Comfort animals can include:


  • Dogs
  • Cats
  • Parrots
  • Monkeys

Rules and regulations regarding comfort animals vary slightly from airline to airline. While some will treat the animals exactly as they would a service animal, there may be more obstacles if you do not exhibit a physical disability.

In general, you will be required to provide:

  • Documentation from a medical professional stating the purpose of the animal, including what benefit you receive from the relationship with the animal (the letter may only be valid for a certain time)
  • Proof that the medical professional is licensed
  • Proof that you are still receiving care from the medical professional
  • Health/rabies/identification documents for the animal


Airline Rules for Different Dog Breeds

If you want to travel with certain breeds of dogs, you might have to plan your vacation based on the weather.

Pug-nose dogs and dogs with other types of noses are now only allowed to travel if the weather is cooler than 70 to 75 degrees F (21.1 to 23.9 degree C). United Airlines does not allow some breeds to travel as cargo or carry-on at any time between June 1st and September 31st.


Dogs that may fall into this category include:

  • American Bull Dog
  • American Staffordshire Terrier
  • American Pit Bull Terrier
  • Boston Terrier
  • Boxer
  • Brussels Griffin
  • Bulldog
  • Chinese Pug
  • Chow Chow
  • Dutch Pug
  • English Bulldog
  • English Toy Spaniel
  • French Bulldog
  • King Charles Spaniel
  • Lhasa Apso
  • Japanese Boxer
  • Japanese Pug
  • Japanese Spaniel (Chin)
  • Mastiff (all breeds)
  • Pekinese
  • Pit Bull
  • Pug
  • Shar pei
  • Shih Tzu
  • Staffordshire Bull Terrier
  • Tibetan Spaniel [sources: Delta, American Airline]

The heat concern is not limited to dogs. You may also find that certain cats are not allowed to travel during hot weather. Delta restricts the following cats when temperatures are above 70 degrees F ( 21.2 degrees C):

  • Burmese
  • Exotic
  • Himalayan
  • Persian

It can be difficult to find these restrictions on airline Web sites, so be sure to call the airline before you plan to take your pet along for a ride.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links


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  • (Accessed 01/14/08)
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