8 Tips for Flying With Pets


NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Any dog or cat owner will tell you that pets are much more than animal companions; for many of us they have become real members of the family. As such, many four-legged friends – and even feathered ones – travel with their owners when they fly away for a much-needed vacation.

As people travel with their pets and more airlines allow pets to travel with their owners in the cabin, it brings up a whole new set of issues like what to do on long flights and layovers, and whether it’s OK to remove a pet from its carrier during the flight or in the airport to let it stretch its legs.

And how do you manage today’s extensive security procedures?

Well, to help pet owners involve their little friends in their relaxation plans, without driving the people sitting next to them nuts, MainStreet canvassed travel and pet experts to round up the best tips for traveling with pets.

Know the rules. Most airlines will allow passengers to take some smaller pets into the cabin, but the rules are complicated and fees can go upwards of $125 for the pets that qualify.

Airlines generally require that pets be in approved carriers and fit under the seat in front of you. Many also count the pet as your one allowed personal bag and some limit the overall number of pets per flight. Most pets have to be current on vaccinations, and expect to show paperwork to prove that fact.

Terri Slater and her husband say they have taken their 6-year old Yorkshire Terrier Teddy on at least a dozen flights. “It’s easy because he’s small and we haven’t found anyone we’re comfortable leaving him with,” said Slater.

However, their peace of mind comes with a price. “We’ve paid less for our tickets on some flights than we have on Teddy’s,” said Slater.

Many airlines will also give passengers the option of letting a pet fly as cargo, but some dog breeds are not allowed in the cargo hold at all due to the difficulty many have breathing in such confines, and many airlines will not put live animals in the hold if it is too hot or cold outside.

Pet owners must also be aware that accidents do happen and pets sometimes die en route or are lost in the cargo hold after escaping from a cage. When anything like this happens, airlines’ policies ensure that they will not be held responsible. You give up control of your pet at your own risk.

Keep in mind that traveling outside of the continental U.S. or to Hawaii carries some special rules, so make sure you check those out before your trip. Slater is preparing to take Teddy to Europe this year and has found he will need a special microchip embedded under the skin, and detailed veterinary records.

Plan every detail. You know your pet and what it can and can’t tolerate. If your pet can’t go for more than four hours without going to the bathroom at home, it will not be able to do that while traveling. Plan for emergencies with piddle pads and towels. Alsoyou’re your pet needs to update its vaccinations, know what documentation you will need and not just what vaccinations are required, but in what time frame they need to be administered so that everything is squared away before takeoff.

Familiarize your pet with the carrier well in advance. Ros Gourvitz, now a Summit, N.J. resident, has moved her two cats, Maggie and Desi, across the country four times. She knew that airlines require pets to be placed in carriers of a certain size. Luckily, it was the same size as the ones she uses to take her cats on short car trips to the vet.

“A lot of people will get the carrier two days before travel and that’s not fair to the pet,” says Sue Smith, president of Pettravel.com, an online resource for travelers with pets. “It’s best to familiarize your pet with the carrier prior to travel by taking them on short car trips to the dog park and other places.”

Bring food and water, but don’t feed pets as usual. Smith says that while it’s good to hydrate your pet, it’s best to give it a little water along the way instead of big drinks. “No food at least two hours prior to travel,” said Smith, suggesting that travelers help their pets avoid bladder problems with an attachment that “snaps onto a regular water bottle and lets pets take a drink.” If you have a particularly hyperactive pet, it may be best to leave it at home, but if he or she must fly with you, look into natural remedies to calm them or have your vet prescribe a mild sedative for the trip.

Walk them before entering the terminal. The other way to take care of your pet’s bathroom needs is to walk it prior to entering the terminal, but once inside, “your pet should not leave the carrier,” said Smith. While it may seem natural for you to take your pet out and comfort it, especially if it is nervous or crying, Smith said it is actually worse for the pet to leave the carrier and enter the chaos of the terminal itself. “You need to keep your pet as calm as possible and the best way to do that is leaving it in the carrier,” Smith said.

Pass the security test. Your four-legged family member has to go through TSA screening just like any member of the family, and that means getting treated at security checkpoints like other family members rather than being put through the luggage screening machines. “You should be asked to remove the pet from the carrier and you’ll hold it in your arms while you walk through the x-ray or metal detector,” Smith says.

If you’re uncomfortable getting your pet out of the carrier in a crowded, noisy atmosphere in the terminal, you can request a security check in private room, said Smith. “Your pet should always be leashed, even cats,” adds Smith.

Be a good seatmate. Gourvitz said that she always asks her seatmates about any pet allergies they have when she boards a plane with her cats. “I’ve only ever had to move once,” she said. Plus if you endear yourself to your seatmates from the get-go, it may make the flight more comfortable and reduce the possibility of conflict if your pets make some noise while you’re up in the air. Gourvitz said Maggie would cry a little until sometime into the flight. “It never seemed to bother anyone around me,” said Gourvitz.

At the same time, travelers should know that it’s never kosher to ask your seatmates if you can remove your pet from its carrier. Unless you believe there is a medial emergency with your pet, most airlines will not allow you to take it out anyway, so don’t ask.

Still, Smith said she has heard of travelers asking if they can take their pets into the bathroom during the flight to get some one-on-one time. You might find a sympathetic flight attendant if it is a long flight or if there was a long delay. Slater recalls that she and her husband once had a seat between them and no one objected to allowing Teddy to be in that empty seat during the flight. “I’ve also opened the top to let him poke his head out for just a minute,” said Slater. “He sleeps most of the flight, so it isn’t an issue.”

Follow the rules, even on layovers. You may have had a long flight and are experiencing a delay or a long layover, but Smith recommends not being tempted to remove your pet from the carrier unless you are in an approved area. She explains that many airports have dedicated areas for pets these days, though they may require pets to be on a leash the whole time. The worst thing that could happen is your pet getting spooked by the unfamiliar surroundings and running away.

If there are no dedicated areas in the airport or you don’t have time to take your pet outside, there are a few solutions. “If traveling with cats, take a Ziploc bag with some litter and a portable litter box and find a quiet, empty gate to let your cat out on a leash to use the litter,” said Smith. “If you have a dog, use portable throwaway pads.”

Smith cautions out of country travelers to remain in the quarantine areas in airports anywhere along the way. “If you don’t, you will have to pass through customs and you may not have the proper forms,” said Smith.

Traveling with a pet is by no means easy or stress-free, but anyone following these tips can feel confident that they have covered all the bases they can and can go on to enjoying the in-flight entertainment in peace.

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