While a great deal of effort has been made to promote higher standards for commercial air transport, airlines still grapple with attaining acceptable levels of safety when transporting animals. In 2017 alone, there are around 24 confirmed pet deaths transported by US-based airlines.
That being said, every doting pet owner wants to bring their beloved animal companions with them on vacation. But not every airline allows passengers to bring their pets aboard cabin. Rules and regulations change from airline to airline.
Here is an infographic that summarises the regulations, cost and other pet policies on 33 popular airlines that are striving to improve their methods and protocols in terms of transporting our beloved pets.
Pet Breed Restrictions
Unfortunately, not every dog or cat is safe to travel via airplane – prompting many of the owners with restricted breeds to opt for maritime cruising. The widely accepted theory behind forbidding some pet breeds to ride an aircraft has something to do with their physiology.
Airline companies are wary of dog and cat breeds that can be described as either flat-faced or snub-nosed. As a direct result of selective breeding, the foreshortening of the canine and feline snout yields a subpar performance in the upper respiratory area that makes atmospheric pressure mortally dangerous for these pets. This medical condition is called Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS), and the American Kennel Club has identified the following pet breeds that are most likely to suffer from this unfortunate birthright:
- Boston Terrier
- French Bulldog
- Japanese Chin
- Shih Tzu
- Exotic Shorthair
- Netherlands Dwarf
People who take a trip overseas would basically need travel documents (passport and VISA) and a baggage (clothes and other personal necessities). Venturing to a completely unfamiliar country would entail greater lengths of prepping. Aside from additional travel documents and a carefully inventoried baggage, a better traveling experience would also mean successful environmental acclimatization. The same can be said about the pre-flight needs of traveling pets. Aside from the animal’s general welfare, pet owners ought to secure the following requirements:
Certain airlines would ban pet breeds, some of which are not mentioned in the earlier part of the article (e.g. Delta Airlines = Boxer dogs and Burmese cats). But if you own a pet that is generally cleared to fly in your chosen airplane, you must also have it examined by the vet. Owners who are headed home to the US must clear their cats and dogs of other health concerns that will compromise their entry (e.g. rabies or parvovirus). The same can be said about pets visiting a foreign country.
It is also important to notify the chosen airline that you are bringing a pet with you. Most airlines would not permit owners to bring very young pets aboard and each one has a different age requirement. For instance, American Airlines require that dogs and cats must be at least 8 weeks old while Air France only admit 10-week old pets. There are also specific conventions about exact cargo hold temperatures and how it can affect the fur baby’s health.
Every traveler must discuss these transportation details with a legitimate agent representing the airline (cargo) firm. You will know that you have followed these guidelines correctly if you are able to acquire the following travel documents:
- Pet Passport
- Airline Certificate
- Veterinary Certificate
Experts found out that roughly 80% of the dogs and cats that did not have a microchip identification implant are no longer reunited with their owners once they are separated. For less than $50, having a 15-digit ISO compliant microchip pet ID can spare owners from the terrible heartache of losing their fur babies amidst the ocean of busy people marching along the busier traffic current inside an international airport.
Picture someone born and raised in Fairbanks (Alaska) deciding to travel for two weeks in Sumatra (Indonesia). One should initially prolong his or her exposure to similar nearby places like Miami (Florida) or Puerto Rico in order to acquire higher thermal tolerance in a tropical climate. Just like an Alaskan staying in one of Sumatra’s hot and humid tropical countryside, dogs and cats will not immediately adapt to a different (albeit temporary) living conditions required for traveling via the aircraft’s cargo hold.
Acclimatization is to humans as kenneling is to cats and dogs. Long before the date of departure, pet owners must train their fur babies to live in cages for 5 days. Successful training also entails conquering separation anxiety and increasing noise tolerance.
Experienced owners are often capable of handling this task independently. However, it is always advantageous to not only acquire the services of pet daycares but also seek vet guidance for better results. As soon as pets are already mentally conditioned to stay in their portable crates, it is crucial for owners to avoid feeding and hydrating cats and dogs 2 hours before the flight.
Cabin Transportation Regulations
Not every airline allows passengers to bring their pets aboard cabin. Also, not every pet gets to ride an airplane with the owners by their side even if the chosen airline allows pets aboard. Based on these two universal facts, it is easy to understand that permission is only granted for animals that pass a relatively stringent standard. Different airlines have different rules. However, every airline company acknowledges the two most basic criteria:
- Pets must be accompanied by an adult passenger.
- Pets must travel in an airline-compliant carrier stowed under the seat.
The exact size of the pet carrier largely depends on the comfortable space under the airline’s passenger chairs. However, it is also important that the carrier also provides enough room for the animal to comfortably change sedentary positions (e.g. stand, sit, and lie down).
Apart from size, another key consideration is the combined weight of the pet and its carrier. The most prevalent requirement among many foreign airlines is 8 kilograms. However, the earlier infographics show that US-based airlines allow at least 10 kilograms. It stands to reason that the usual candidates being permitted to travel aboard the passenger cabins are small dogs and cats.
Regulations For Service Animals & Emotional Support Animals
There is only one way for a dog to be allowed in the passenger cabin regardless of the size and weight. Owners must register their dog as either a ‘service animal’ or an ‘emotional support animal.’
The law called Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 mentions 9 specific conditions that categorize a service dog in their 2011 revision – all of which emphasizing the need to accommodate the lifestyle of disabled people on a daily basis. A service dog must be well-trained and capable of performing tasks such as pulling a wheelchair or retrieving important items (e.g. phone).
Under the Federal Law, emotional support animals (including cats) are allowed to accompany their owners in the passenger cabin. Licensed mental health professionals must attest (in formal writing) that the owner is afflicted with a number of valid psychological afflictions. Unlike service dogs, their emotional support counterparts do not require extensive training. However, these pets must remain well-behaved and not cause harm or disturbance to other passengers.
Baggage Transportation Regulations
If you own a non-service pet that is too big and too heavy for cabin entry, your next option is to board them in the plane’s cargo hold. This is also a given alternative for pet owners who have chosen an airline that simply forbids the admission of animals in the cabin (e.g. Emirates Airlines). Technically, your fur baby is still classified as an “accompanied pet.”
The main idea behind this particular mode of transportation is that your pet’s fee is charged as excess baggage. However, it is important for every pet owner to acknowledge the fact that some airlines do not provide this travel option for animals that weigh beyond the existing weight limit.
IATA Compliant Crates
The International Air Transportation Association is the single-most reliable authority behind the safe overall standards for securing payload via commercial aircraft. This organization also has a specific model for an ideal pet crate/cage that will suit the aircraft’s cargo hold. The basic requirements are as follows:
- It must have metal nuts and bolts.
- It must have access to food and water bowls.
- It must be well-ventilated on all four sides.
- It must have visible and firmly attached documents.
- It must have absorbent interior floor padding.
Cargo Transportation Regulations
This particular pet transport option has certain similarities and differences with the previously mentioned ‘excess baggage.’ They are same in a sense that your dog or cat will be kept in the plane’s cargo hold throughout the duration of the flight. But that’s where the similarities end.
Otherwise known as ‘manifest cargo,’ this option is reserved for pet owners who wish to classify their beloved animal as an “unaccompanied pet.” If you wind up getting this option, you will be traveling in a slightly different schedule than your fur baby. This means your dog or cat will also be riding on a different airplane from the same (or even a different but affiliated) airline company. The inevitable consequence of classifying your animal companion as an unaccompanied pet is that you’ll be paying a separate fee which often proves to be more expensive than the two previously mentioned options.
To some extent, one may consider cargo transportation as the last ordinary pet travel option. Here are among the number of decisive factors qualifying it:
- If the airline company simply does not allow pets.
- If the pet exceeds the weight limit for baggage transportation.
- If the pet exceeds the size dimensions for baggage transportation.
The last two criteria accurately portray the challenging task of bringing along extremely huge dogs like the Great Dane (30 inches tall) and Saint Bernard (90 kilograms). Aviation companies like Hawaii Airlines (32kg limit), West Jet (45kg limit), and El Al (14kg limit) will not allow either of these titanic breeds to be transported as excess baggage.
In most cases, popular airline companies also have their own fleet that specializes in transporting live animals. To some extent, cargo transport option can somehow set the minds of pet owners at ease because the aircraft personnel is accustomed to a more meticulous degree of safeguarding the animals they carry aboard. After all, these are the same aviation vehicles that deliver robust livestock (e.g. sheep) and highly vulnerable test subjects (e.g. lab rats).
Private Jet Charter
The cargo option might be the final standard alternative available for those plagued by a number of complex factors, but it certainly is not the best choice there is. Think of traveling with your pet in an aircraft cabin without restrictions, conditions, and requirements. Impossible? Not really.
You can always arrange for a private jet to take you and your beloved pet to any chosen destination. If you are able to pay several hundred thousand dollars for a one-way trip, these are the certain luxuries you can enjoy along the way:
- Exclusive (small group) cabin use
- Flexible arrangement of flight schedule
- You can choose your aircraft and airport
- Impressive menu and flight service
- Posh interior cabin design
- No more crowded airport traffic
- You and your pet can fly all year round