Why You Should Know about These Pet-Friendly Airlines

Airports and airplanes are loud, busy spaces. Pets may struggle to adapt to the situation, and this alone can set them on edge. As pet parents, we do our best to protect our fur babies. By learning about pet-friendly airlines, airport pet relief areas, and pet travel supplies, we put real time and effort into helping our little ones. 

Dogs on Planes believes that pet parents deserve to have the easiest possible pet travel experience. Whether that means the airline provides all necessary information in a single, easy-to-read PDF, offers complimentary animal services, or adds some perks to sweeten the pot (did anybody say Frequent Flyer Miles?), some airlines are more pet-friendly than others. 

Our Featured Pet-Friendly Airlines 

  • Virgin Atlantic—Virgin Atlantic is pretty strict with their pet policy. Only service animals are allowed inside the cabin, and there are several breed-specific restrictions for those allowed inside. However, their pet travel website is one of the best we’ve seen. It provides detailed information about which flights and routes allow which forms of pet transit, a detailed list of forms needed depending on your destination country, and in-depth to-do lists for every step of your journey. Additionally, their cargo service is pretty unique. The airline does its best to get your pet on your flight. You will still need to drop off and pick him up at a cargo facility at your departing and arriving airports, but this service allows you and your furry friend to remain on the same schedule.  

 

 

  • jetBlue—jetBlue pulls out all the stops for pet parents. Their JetPaws program provides owners with everything they need for each step of the journey. The program offers pet travel products (including a pre-approved jetBlue carrier), an introduction to Petiquette, and an additional 300 TrueBlue points for each flight. The Petiquette introduction, what really makes the JetPaws program stand out, includes information about travel best practices, expected animal behavior, and how to deal with fussy pets in tough situations. JetPaws also includes helpful checklists, instructions on booking your flight, and a list of what to expect when you arrive at the airport. All of this is available for no additional charge. 

 

 

  • Alaska Airlines—One of the safest and most popular pet-friendly airlines, Alaska Airlines does everything it can to make your experience a little easier—and cheaper. Most pet parents spend a significant amount of money on transporting their animals, but Alaska Airlines helps owners cut costs by providing free pet health examination and discounted health certificate at Banfield Pet Hospitals (located in PetSmart retail stores). Even if you know and love your veterinarian, getting that health examination costs money. Alaska Airlines guarantees a free and fast examination prior to your flight. 

Other Airlines with Pet-Friendly Reputations 

While Virgin Atlantic, jetBlue, and Alaska Airlines are our three favorites, most airlines have an array of pet-friendly features. United Airlines, for example, allows both a pet carrier and a carry-on bag, as well as a pet tracking feature for those traveling in cargo. Delta Airlines permits animals to travel in the cabin and as cargo, meaning they can accommodate most breeds and sizes, while Hawaiian Airlines does what it can do educate passengers about strict, state-specific restrictions. When it comes to pet travel, simple benefits and resources can dramatically change your flight experience.  

If your airline wasn’t included in this list, don’t worry—it may still be pet friendly. When booking a flight, look for two distinguishing factors: transparency and flexibility. These are easily identified via the airline’s website. If you can’t find a lot of information about their pet policy or offerings through a simple web search, the airline is not likely to be pet-friendly. A lack of information may signify inexperience or a lack of resources. To that end, a generous amount of provided information allows pet parents to adequately prepare for the journey. In our experience, airlines which provide ample information have better reputations among pet owners.  

Similarly, you want to look for flexibility in options. If the airline only allows service animals in the cabin, it may not have the capacity to transport your pet. Look for a range of opportunities—in-cabin, checked baggage, and cargo—and review the accompanying restrictions. The more options the better, but remember to do your research. While more choices often point to more experience and flexibility, it can also mean an airline has neglected to adequately test all forms of pet travel. Play it safe and stick with well-known commercial airlines with established pet travel policies.  

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Pet Sedation: What Makes this Travel Practice So Controversial

When traveling, most animals lack the capacity to understand what’s going on. Stress, panic, and general anxiety can occur in even the most tranquil animals when thrust into a scary, unfamiliar situation. As a result, it can be difficult to anticipate your pet’s behavior on flights. You may be tempted to take the “easy way out” by sedating your pet for the duration of the trip. Pet sedation is among the most controversial pet travel topics. Around half of the airline’s we’ve researched explicitly forbid sedation. Others are more lenient.

But, you might be asking yourself, what’s the harm in going to sleep for a few hours? We asked the same question, and here’s what our research revealed.

 

Animal Breeds as a Health Risk Factor for Air Travel

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), sedating cats or dogs during air travel may increase the risk of heart and respiratory problems. Per their website:

 

It is recommended that you DO NOT give tranquilizers to your pet when traveling by air because it can increase the risk of heart and respiratory problems. Short-nosed dogs and cats sometimes have even more difficult with travel. Airlines may require a signed statement that your pet has not been tranquilized prior to flying.

 

The aforementioned short-nosed animals, also known as snub-nosed or brachycephalic animals, beg for a little more information. These animals are often excluded from any type of air travel. Most airlines prohibit snub-nosed breeds, such as boxers, Persian cats, and bulldogs, because these animals may have pre-existing respiratory issues which can be exacerbated in transit. Sedation may work to amplify the effect of a smaller, tighter respiratory tract, causing asphyxiation. Many of the pet death stories you’ve heard about over the years involve either snub-nosed animals and/or heavily sedated pets.

 

Other Risk Factors Associated with Pet Sedation

Though cargo holds and cabins are pressurized and climate control, there is no guarantee that an animal will react to altitude and engine noise. Moreover, these climate control systems may not be operational when the cargo is first loaded on the plane. You may have noticed, too, how the cabin can be unusually warm when you first board the plane. Stress, heat, and sedation are a bad combination. That said, little research exists that actually documents the effect moderate sedation has on animals traveling in planes.

Bottom line, animals respond differently to sedatives and tranquilizers under normal circumstances, and air travel creates another layer of uncertainty and health risk. If you’re worried about how your animal might react to air travel, you can take certain precautions to lower his stress levels. Pre-conditioning your pet to travel in his carrier is an excellent way to create a comfortable environment. Additionally, rewarding your animal with treats throughout the journey can create a positive experience and association with travel. If, however, you believe your pet may react poorly to air travel without sedatives, we recommend you explore other travel options, or leaving the pet at home.

 

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Pet Documentation and Travel Rules for Destinations Around the World

If you’ve flown with an animal, you understand that finding an airline-approved carrier and navigating the airport is only half the battle. Researching and securing the required documentation for your destination takes time and patience. Government websites are notoriously confusing, and finding the necessary information can take hours. We know. We’ve done the research for five of the most popular flight destinations around the world.

We hope to add to this list and update any information that changes. For now, here is the basic pet documentation and travel rules for the continental United States, Hawaii, the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates, and Hong Kong.

 

Flights into the Continental U.S. and Alaska

To enter the United States, the Center for Disease Control requires you to obtain an Export Health Certificate from your vet. This must be completed within ten days of your departure. Essentially, this document serves as a “fit to fly” letter—a professional recommendation that the animal will not be a liability for the airline. This document must be provided on a veterinarian’s letterhead.

Additional restrictions and rules apply to individual states. Information regarding the animal’s rabies inoculation is the most popular and widely spread necessary addition. When traveling to the United States, we recommend having this information on-hand regardless; upon vaccination, you will automatically receive a rabies certificate. If your dog is imported from a rabies-free country, such as Fiji, New Zealand, Uruguay, and Finland, the CDC will not require a rabies vaccination.

 

Flights into Hawaii

Hawaii is the major exception to the United States’ relatively lax pet import regulations. Animals arriving in the state of Hawaii—as well as the territory of Guam—are subject to quarantine requirements. These islands do not have any documented rabies cases, and they take this history very seriously. If you take the proper precautions, your animal may qualify for direct release. However, unless you are moving to the State of Hawaii (or taking a very, very long vacation), we do not recommend bringing your pet. If the dog even appears to be sick at the port of entry, he can be quarantined for up to 120 days—at your expense, nonetheless.

 

Flights into the U.K.

If you are bringing an animal into the United Kingdom, your pet must pass the U.K. Pet Travel Scheme. If you are traveling to the UK from an EU member or other designated country, you will need to obtain a pet passport for your dog, cat, or ferret. Additionally, if you are shipping your animal to the U.K., the pet must arrive no more than five days before or after you. Otherwise, you will need to follow a separate set of rules.

To pass this scheme, your animal must have a microchip implant and a certified rabies vaccination—pretty standard as far as pet travel goes. However, you should also treat your animal for ticks, fleas, and tapeworms anywhere between 24 and 48 hours before your flight. This time limit is strictly enforced. You should also collect a veterinarian’s letter or certificate to confirm the animal’s fitness to travel. Failure to conform to these regulations may result in up to four months of quarantine.

 

Flights into the UAE

If you are flying to the United Arab Emirates with a pet, you will need to obtain an Import Permit from the Ministry of Environment and Water (in Dubai). To receive this permit, you will need a vaccination card or certificate for each dog or cat you plan to bring. You must also supply a copy of your passport and the animal’s microchip number, which should be clearly marked on the vaccine book or microchip certificate.

You should obtain a veterinary health certificate from your home country and all rabies inoculation certificates (or a pet passport containing rabies inoculation details). The animal should be microchipped, and the rabies vaccination must be administered between one year and thirty days prior to the inbound flight. UAE authorities will not issue import papers more than one month prior to your arrival—it is necessary to plan ahead, get your documents in order, and apply for a permit as soon as you are within one month of your flight.

 

Flights into Hong Kong

To enter Hong Kong with an animal, you will need an Import Permit from the Hong Kong Agriculture, Fisheries, and Conservation Department. Distribution of this Import Permit will depend, in part, on your home country. When entering Hong Kong, you will need to look up which “Group” your country is in. These groups determine necessary documentation and likelihood of quarantine. If you are traveling from a Group I country, such as Australia, there is almost no likelihood of the animal going into quarantine. If you travel from a Group III country, such as Malaysia, your animal is subject to a minimum of four months in quarantine. To look up your country’s group, see the Agriculture, Fisheries, and Conservation Department’s website.

These groups will also determine the documentary necessary to secure a permit. Group I and Group II countries have the fewest required documents—a passport and veterinary health certificate. Animals from Group III countries have additional requirements, which can be found at the following link. The permit fee is HK$432—around US$55 at the time of publication. The permit will be delivered by mail to the address indicated on the application form.

 

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The Best Airlines to Ship Pets in Cargo Transportation

Shipping a pet in cargo can be a heart-wrenching experience. Dropping a furry friend off at a cargo facility several hours before a flight can feel like abandonment—especially if you don’t plan to meet him on the other side. However, thousands of pet owners and shelters safely ship their animals every month, and airlines that offer pet cargo transportation have found ways to increase animal safety and comfort during the entire travel process. To help pet owners understand what’s available, we’ve picked three of the best airlines to ship pets in cargo. Here is what sets them and their pet cargo service apart from the rest of the airline industry.

 

Best Airlines for Shipping Pets in Cargo

 

Delta AirlinesDelta Cargo provides services for both pets and their owners. The airline has specially-trained ground handlers to offer pets personalized care during every leg of their journey. This includes the implementation of temperature-controlled vans and holding areas, as well as kenneling services to guarantee animals are exercised and well-fed in the event of an overnight stay. What we really like about Delta Cargo, however, is their GPS On-Demand tracking program. The program allows pet parents to monitor their animals throughout the journey in real-time. The extra layer of reliability provides peace of mind for pet owners worldwide. It is available for an additional $25 and can be applied to shipments originating in select cities (ATL, CVG, DTW, LAX, LGA, MCI, MEM, MSP, SEA, SFO, SLC, STL, and TPA).

 

Virgin AtlanticVirgin Atlantic approaches pet cargo travel differently from their competitors. Per the airline’s pet policy, only service animals can fly within the cabin. All other pets must travel in the cargo hold. However, this is the only airline we’ve found to prioritize same-flight cargo shipments. This means that passengers can be on the same flight as their pets in cargo. Nevertheless, as with all cargo and checked baggage options, space is limited. The airline recommends contacting the Virgin Cargo department prior to booking your own ticket. However, this is a safe and easy way to bring a pet along while traveling. Of course, pets can be shipped individually and will receive the best care the airline can provide. As an added bonus, pet parents will also earn additional miles when they fly with their animals.

 

 

Alaska Airlines—Alaska Airlines is one of the most celebrated airlines in the pet parent community. Passengers can get a free pet health examination and discounted health certificate at Banfield Pet Hospitals (located in PetSmart retail stores), thus eliminating the additional costs required to ship an animal. The real reason Alaska Air is on our list of best airlines to ship pets is because of their Fur-st Class program. This program educates each member of their team in the basics of animal care—whether your animal is flying in the cabin or in cargo. Shipping a pet with Alaska Airlines guarantees some of the best in-flight care available. To that point, reporting from Quartz identifies Alaska Airlines as the safest option for pet travel. In 2016, they transported the most pets of any airline: 112,281. Of those hundreds of thousands, only two suffered fatalities. This means an average of 0.27 incidents per 10,000 animals—an impressive number when compared to Hawaiian Airlines’ 3.99 incidents per 10,000 pets.

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Flying with a Cat? Here’s What You Need to Know

The airplane is a stressful place. Nearly 40,000 feet in the air, these vehicles are loud, cramped, and uncomfortable. Between getting yourself to the airport, securing your boarding pass, passing through TSA, and finally boarding the plane, passengers must deal with a lot of responsibilities. Now, imagine doing all of that while carrying an unhappy cat—no thank you.

However, travelers often find themselves stuck in these tough situations. Flying with a cat can be difficult, but it is not impossible. Airlines have specific, feline-related rules and regulations, but because of the animal’s size and decreased potential for harm, these rules can be less severe than they might be with dogs. Regardless, cat pets should take precautions to make the travel experience as comfortable as possible for both the feline friend and fellow passengers. Below, readers will find helpful tips for preparing your kitty for takeoff, understanding how behavior can affect ability to travel, and preventing prohibited breeds from boarding planes.

 

 

Preparation is Key

Cats are temperamental creatures. Though loved for their hot and cold affectionate behavior, unpredictable moods can lead to a stressful and unfortunate travel experience. Though forecasting behavior on the day of a flight can be difficult, cat parents can prepare the animal in advance, leading to less stress and a more pleasurable experience for everyone involved.

Several weeks before your flight, begin to crate train your cat. Most cats hate crates and carriers—they are seldom-used and often associated with stressful situations, such as vet visits. The mere sight of a crate can send a cat running. However, owners can train their cats to associate the crate with fun, positive experience, allowing for easy and stress-free transport. To begin the training, make the crate into a piece of home furniture; place it in a corner of the room for the cat to explore on his own. After time, the fear factor will begin to fade.

After a couple of weeks, begin to introduce activities to the crate experience; throw a ping-pong ball into the container, or layer blankets to make a comfortable bed. If your cat is food-oriented, spend some time training him to enter the crate for a treat. Once your cat is comfortable spending time in the crate, begin to take him out of your home—bring him along for a drive or a walk around the block. Though it may take several weeks for a cat to feel comfortable in a carrier, this is a crucial step for a safe and pleasant travel experience.

While crate training, is it important to acclimate your cat to loud noises; planes and airports are far louder than the average home, and loud noises can be very stressful for our feline friends. If possible, take your crate-trained cat to the airport for a test run—allow them to experience the sights and sounds before the big day, then reward good behavior with a treat. This can also help you understand how they will react while travelling.

 

Behavior and Travel

Cats are small and relatively quiet, making the animals excellent candidates for in-cabin transportation. However, cats react differently to stressful situations. For example, if your cat hisses or becomes violent when overwhelmed, he may not be destined for in-cabin transport. As stated above, preparation is necessary for anxious and tense cats; practice rewarding your cat for good reactions to stress. Ultimately, you have to know and understand your cat’s personality to assess his ability to travel.

If, on the day of your flight, your cat becomes unrecognizably tense, throw a heavy blanket over the carrier. This will dull the noise and eliminate optical stimulation, allowing your cat to relax. Removing stimuli, when possible, is the best way to calm down an anxious cat.

However, if your cat becomes loud, irritated, or a nuisance to fellow passengers, you may be asked to store the feline friend in cargo. If this happens, don’t freak out—give the cat a few treats, spray some Feliway, and allow kitty to go down below. However, to avoid injury, ensure that your cat is in a pressurized, temperature-controlled part of the plane; this is usually classified as “extra baggage.”

 

Prohibited Breeds

Though cats experience less phenotypic variation than dogs (they are around the same size, have similar features, and experience similar health issues), certain breeds can be banned from air travel. Brachycephalic, or snub-nosed animals, are banned from planes due to health risks associated with breathing. In 2011, the Department of Agriculture reported 189 animal deaths on commercial flights between 2005 and 2001; the New York Times reported that, of those 189 animals, 98—more than half—were brachycephalic breeds. As a result, all animals characterized as brachycephalic are banned from most air travel.

Brachycephalic airway syndrome refers to a particular set of upper airway abnormalities which affect brachycephalic cats and dogs. The condition, experienced in most snub-nosed breeds, catalyzes the development of abnormalities—an elongated soft palate, a hypoplastic trachea, stenotic nares, and/or everted laryngeal saccules. Put simply, brachycephalic airway syndrome puts added strain on an animal’s breathing. This strain, when combined with the stress and changes in air pressure concomitant with air travel, and cause asphyxiation.

Persian, Himalayan, and Burmese cats are the most well-recognized brachycephalic cat breeds. However, if you are unsure of your cat’s breed, consulting a veterinary professional is your best option.

 

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Flying with a Dog? Here’s What You Need to Know

Whether you’re traveling to your hometown or taking an extended vacation, bringing your dog along can relieve the stress of hiring a sitter or kenneling the dog. It’s also a trade-off for the obstacles involved with airline pet travel including TSA and airport navigation. Flying with a dog can feel complicated and confusing to first-timers, but we have the Airline and Airport information resources you need to successfully navigate the process. Once you know what to expect, you’ll understand why more people than ever are choosing to fly with their dog.

When it comes to air travel, we often discuss cats and small dogs together. Many of the same rules do apply, but it’s also true that these animals may require different accommodations and may be disqualified for air travel for different reasons. Flying with a dog is more nuanced than buying a travel-safe carrier and showing up at the gate. Our guide to dog-friendly travel will take you through the factors to consider prior to purchasing that plane ticket; everything from smell to breed can impact your dog’s ability to board a plane.

 

What You Need to Know about Flying with a Dog

When traveling with your dog, owners should consider a range of factors and qualities characteristic of their pet. However, even the friendliest dog could be denied boarding by a strict airline; most commercial airlines are dog-friendly, but each has a unique and distinctive pet traveling policy. For more information about specific airlines, see our Airline Pet Policy and Travel Reservation Guide.

 

When to Put Your Dog in Cargo

For most dog owners, choosing (or being required) to put a dog in cargo is a difficult process. If we had our way, we would opt to let a pet sit on our lap for the ride, or perhaps even purchase a separate plane ticket to share the row. Unfortunately, this is not how dog air travel works. When flying with a dog, your pet must stay in their carriers at all times. And if your dog is loud, large, or odorous, cargo is likely the only option.

Once you have made the decision to put a dog in cargo, you can take extra steps to ensure his safety and security. In strategically booking your trip with direct flights, you can reduce the risk of harm. Fit your pet with a collar that can’t get caught on a carrier door, and, when you board the plane, let someone know that your furry friend is down below; they can contact you in case of a problem. Additionally, label your pet’s carrier, choose flights that can accommodate comfortable cargo temperatures, and acquaint your dog with the travel carrier prior to boarding.

 

Why Breed Matters

Most airlines have banned a particular type of dog from air travel: Brachycephalic, or “short-nosed” dogs. This ban exists for a variety of reasons, all of which are related to the animal’s ability to breathe. Brachycephalic animals, such as pugs, boxers, and terriers, have very sensitive airways; changes to air pressure can impose additional strain on these air passages, creating a potential for suffocation. Similarly, the added stress of a loud, enclosed environment can cause additional stress, causing the animal to breathe heavier and faster. A stressed-out brachycephalic animal can asphyxiate—the heavier he breathes, the more restricted the airways become. If travelling with one of these adorable but tedious animals, you’re better off opting for a road trip.

 

Though brachycephalic animals are the most commonly-banned, dog parents should be privy to their breed’s capacity for travel. Greyhounds, for example, pose an interesting problem. These long, lanky, horse-like animals bear more than a resemblance to their equine friends: they don’t sit. Sitting can be an intensely painful experience for greyhounds, and so they either stand or lay down. This might pose a problem while in transit; if your greyhound is in a crate down in cargo, turbulence can result in anything from extreme discomfort to a broken leg.

 

Of course, not all animals are as susceptible to this pain as greyhounds and brachycephalic dogs. Before choosing your travel path, do some breed-specific research. You animal’s size can be a great starting-point; small dogs pose less of a space problem but are often loud; large dogs require a lot of room but can have more mild temperaments. Furthermore, check with your airline for additional breed-specific guidelines and limitations. It may be possible that plane size hinders the ability for animals to travel at all.

 

Additional Restrictions for Flying with a Dog
Airlines can impose limits beyond breed; in fact, most include limitations related to age, temperament, size, and general condition. Below, we have expanded on these potential restrictions.

 

Age—Though airline-specific, dogs should be at least eight weeks old in order to board a plane. However, some commercial airlines, such a Delta, will require a dog to be slightly older. This limitation is imposed because of puppy temperament, training opportunity, and age-related vaccine requirements.

 

Temperament—Nobody wants to sit next to a crying baby; why would they want to sit next to a barking dog? If your animal causes a significant noise disturbance, you may be asked to put him in cargo. However, it can be difficult to anticipate such a reaction. To better understand your dog’s temperament and ability to travel, put him in the travel crate and take him for a drive. If he barks or causes a commotion, he likely does not have the temperament for in-cabin air travel. Similarly, if your dog is not social, is easily scared, or does not like to be touched, he is likely unfit for this type of travel.

 

Size—Most often, size determines whether your dog will ride in cargo or in the cabin. However, large dogs may face additional restrictions and charges. Though flying with a Golden Retriever might not be too much of a hassle, getting a Great Dane into cargo storage poses a new set of space and weight-related problems.

Condition—When choosing a travel method, dog owners should also consider the condition of the animal. Is he sick? Did he recently have surgery? Is he growing old? Elderly dogs and animals who have recently undergone veterinary procedures may have particular odors, or perhaps unsanitary bandages. Take these factors into consideration; though you may still be able to travel with your dog, he may need to ride in the baggage compartment.

 

 

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