Think Twice Before Flying with Your Pet. Here’s Why.

Thinking about taking Fido, Fluffy, or any four-legged friend with you on a plane? Don't book a ticket before reading this!

You might still tear up thinking about the puppy who died on a United Airlines Flight last year after attendants forced owners to put their pup in the overhead bin, or remembering the three-foot-long, ten-month-old bunny that passed away in cargo in 2017 while waiting for a connecting flight in Chicago. No matter what pet you plan to travel with, any pet owner can relate to the sheer terrifying thought that your precious companion could perish while traveling.

The cause of the big bunny’s tragic end is still unknown, since he was cremated before a necropsy could be conducted, but travel agent Greg Antonelle explains the threat: “There are a variety of theories on what may cause a pet to die while in cargo on a plane, but certainly the extreme temperatures, fluctuation in air pressure, and excessive noise would seem to play a part,” he says.

Though it’s very sad for all involved, it is rare that pets pass away on planes. In 2018, for example, of the 507,000 pets that flew, there were 24 deaths in transit. However, before you decide to pack up Lucky or Snowball for a trip cross-country, there are some things to keep in mind before considering flying with a dog or other pet. And though traveling with pets can be dangerous, good pet owners should be watching out for these hidden pet dangers in your home, too.

Cargo or carry-on?

What part of the plane your pet travels in depends largely on their size and weight. As Antonelle explains, if your cat or dog can fit underneath the seat in front of you, then they can count as your carry-on and be by your side from takeoff to landing. (Although you will want to check with your airline regarding exact weight restrictions.) However, larger pets, like bigger dogs, or, say, a huge bunny, are put in cages or crates in cargo, where checked luggage is stored. It’s also important to note that there’s always a fee, which varies by airline, associated with flying with a dog or other pet, with a rough estimate of $150 each way with an exception for service animals. These strange behaviors can get you banned from flying. 

flying with a dog, Flying with a large dog, Flying with a dog in cabinJaromir Chalabala/Shutterstock

If you have a service animal…

“Over the last couple of years, there has been an increasing number of passengers who have requested to take their ’emotional support’ animals in the cabin with them,” Antonelle says. To receive the “doctor’s note” out of cargo, animals must be trained as an emotional support pet, gaining a certificate that could be required upon check-in. These pets have ranged from dogs to cats to pigs to little primates, Antonelle explains. Having your pet in the cabin with you not only calms your nerves, but it also calms your pet’s. “Being in the cabin with its owner allows the pet a bit more security and eases some of the nerves of the pet compared to being stored in cargo,” Antonelle says. But don’t try to fool the airline with the emotional support certificate you got online: In this instance more than any other, it’s hard to tell the real sites from the fake, and if you are caught and prosecuted using incorrect documentation, it’s important to note that it’s considered a felony offense in the United States.

Certain pets shouldn’t fly

Have a bulldog, a pug, or another snub-nosed pup? What about a Himalayan cat? Antonelle says traveling with pets like these is not recommended, due to their medical history and risks. “These breeds should not fly on planes due to their known propensity for respiratory issues. Many airlines now restrict these animals from flights,” he notes. And it goes without saying that if your pet is older or has health issues, chances are it’s better off staying at home. Follow these air travel tips before your next flight for the best experience. 

Bottom line: Leave them at home

Unless you absolutely have to travel with your pet, Antonelle says it’s better for the animal to stay put. “If your only choice is to put the pet on the plane, then fine, but if you’re merely going on vacation and want your pet with you, it’s probably best to have a friend or family member watch the pet and not have to worry about it surviving a flight,” he says. “If you must take your pet on a flight, it is recommended to book a direct flight. [Keeping] the amount of time the pet is in the cabin or cargo area [to a minimum] reduces any risk of death or injury. Likewise, it’s always recommended to have your pet examined by your vet so they can ensure that the pet is fit to fly.” In fact, flying with a dog or other pet might be one of the things you’re doing that your veterinarian wouldn’t.

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