Whether your dog or cat travels in the passenger section of the plane with you or is placed in a special area of the baggage section, air travel with a pet can be a challenging and even nerve-wracking experience. The Air Transport Association offers grim statistics: more than 5,000 animals are injured or even killed on commercial flights each year. Clearly, travel by car is a much safer option in most cases. However, if there is no alternative to air travel, follow some simple precautions to ensure that your pet has a safe journey.
When you make your reservation, first determine whether the airline you are traveling allows small dogs and cats to travel in the passenger compartment of the plane. You may be able to take a very small dog or a cat with you right to your seat, and keep him beside you during the entire flight! For a few breeds, such as pugs and bulldogs, this is essential, for their short nasal passages cannot accommodate the reduced oxygen levels of the cargo compartment. Most breeds do not have this issue, however, so check with your veterinarian.
Some airlines offer special pet carriers for animals traveling in the passenger compartment, while others simply have regulations about the size and materials of the pet carrier. Keeping your dog or cat at your side during the flight is clearly the safest option, so follow the airline's regulations to the letter if you are lucky enough to avail yourself of this option!
If taking your pet into the passenger compartment with you for the flight is not an option, find out whether the airline allows you to carry your pet as cargo on the same flight you will be traveling. (Not all airline are pet-friendly.) Once you have found a flight that will accommodate both you and your dog or cat, determine whether the airline provides a pet carrier, or simply offers regulations about carrier size and materials. Again, follow these regulations strictly.
When choosing a flight that will include your pet, try to get a direct connection. This is critically important. Flights that involve one or more connections greatly increase the chance that your pet will be misdirected. Also, you want your pet away from you for the shortest time possible. Direct flights are the quickest and most efficient ways to reach your destination, and it may be worthwhile to spend a little extra to ensure your pet's safety and comfort.
If you are traveling in the summer, try to schedule your flight for either early morning or late evening, when temperatures are cooler. Conversely, when traveling in the north during winter, try for an afternoon flight, when the air is warmest. Avoid traveling during busy holiday periods.
Before you fly, try to acclimatize your pet to the carrier he or she will be using. Let your dog or cat spend first an hour, then several hours in the carrier, so that by the flight date it will seem familiar.
Do not feed your dog or cat for at least 5 hours prior to the flight, and medicate your pet with tranquilizers only if your veterinarian recommends it and prescribes the medication.
When the time comes for your pet to be loaded into the cargo section, try to be on hand to supervise. After your dog or cat is on the plane, let one of the airline attendants know about it. This may help your pet to get some extra care through the journey.
Travel with a recent photograph of your pet. In case the airline misplaces your animal, a photo could lead to a quick and safe recovery.
As soon as you reach your destination, find a safe place and examine your pet. If anything seems amiss, go to a veterinarian immediately. If you find that your pet was mishandled, do not hesitate to lodge a complaint. Airlines will not improve their handling of pets unless they are aware of every problem and motivated to ensure that animals travel safely.
Air travel with a pet requires careful planning, but it can be accomplished smoothly and successfully. Happy travels!