moving pets by air

Moving with Pets: Moving Pets by Air

Moving Your Pet by Air
If you have chosen to move your pet by air, there are specific regulations that you will need to follow, whether they are accompanied or unaccompanied. When making inquiries, be sure to ask about the airline's requirements, transportation charges and pet insurance. Also, you should always have the documents pertaining to your pet's health available. You may be asked to show them at any time, especially when traveling, so it's advisable to keep them handy.

Accompanied Pets
Some airlines permit pets in passenger cabins if they can be kept in a carrier stowed under the seat. Check with your airline to see if this is allowed and the maximum kennel size permitted. Larger pets must travel as air freight.

Reservations should be made well in advance of the departure date because the number of pets permitted on a flight is strictly limited, and pet approval is granted on a first-come, first-served basis. A guide dog, properly harnessed, normally travels in the cabin at its master's feet. However, the airline must be notified in advance that the dog will be on the flight.

If your pet is to travel in the cabin, take it with you when you check in. If it goes as air freight, it must be delivered to the freight terminal in time to ensure inclusion on your flight. Should your trip require a transfer between airlines, check pet regulations of the second airline in advance to be sure that pets are carried. There is no through-checking of pets between airlines, so it will be your responsibility to see that connections are made at the transfer point. Be sure to allow plenty of time for the transfer.

Unaccompanied Pets
Unaccompanied dogs and cats should be moved via air freight.  Birds, tropical fish, and small pets, such as hamsters or gerbils, should be moved by air express, which is a division of air freight. Make moving pet arrangements as far in advance as possible so that space can be reserved and details about the flight settled. Follow all moving instructions carefully.

You will be responsible for:

  • Advance payment of shipping charges
  • Providing the shipping container, legibly and durably marked with both your and the consignee's (person to whom the pet is being shipped) name, address and phone number
  • Providing required health documents
  • Signing of the Air Waybill (shipping papers)
  • Delivery of pet to the air freight terminal on time
  • Pickup at destination
  • Notifying consignee as to airline and flight number that your pet will be on, as well as place, date and time of arrival

The kind of pet you have, and the size of your pet, will affect the type of container used. All containers, however, should be capable of withstanding jostling, bumps and the possibility of other freight falling on them. In addition, the container should be clean, escape-proof, well-ventilated and leak-proof with an absorbent layer in the bottom.

Travel kennels are available at pet stores and through the freight departments at airlines. According to the Air Transport Association, the following are guidelines when using a kennel: 

  • Only one adult dog or cat per container and only two puppies or kittens less than 6 months old
  • Place a label reading "live Animal" on the container with letters at least 1 inch high
  • Mark the top with "This End Up"
  •  Include an empty water dish which is accessible from the outside of the container
  • Attach feeding instructions or state "don't feed or water"
  • Appropriate food, if any, should be placed in a bag and attached to the outside of the kennel

Tropical fish are best prepared for moving by pet suppliers specializing in tropical fish. You can ask your fish supply store for help or find a qualified supplier online.

Regulations for moving pets by air were created to ensure that all pets arrive at destination safely. When it comes to moving your pets by air, weather is the greatest concern. It's better to move pets only during moderate weather. They should be in proper carriers and picked up without delay at destination.

Your pet should ONLY be sedated if your veterinarian advises you to do so. Generally, tranquilizing pets for air travel is not recommended. While tranquilized, dogs and cats can't regulate their body temperatures as well as they normally do and could become hypothermic in a chilly cargo hold in winter. In addition, tranquilization can also contribute to pressure buildup in the ears. If your pet is especially nervous, your vet may administer an anti-psychotic drug rather than a tranquilizer.

Your pet should be picked up at destination within a reasonable time; if not, it will be boarded at the owner's expense at a kennel or other appropriate place.

Pre-Planning Checklist for Air Travel

  • Make flight reservations. Follow airline instructions carefully. 
  • Obtain shipping container or carrier (for dog or cat) a week or two prior to departure date. Accustom pet to it gradually. Pet's nap time is a good time to start, and placing its blanket or a favorite toy in the carrier helps. 
  • Purchase shipping container for bird or small pet from pet supply company.  
  • If pet is being shipped via air freight and your departure precedes that of pet, make boarding and shipping arrangements at point of origin.  
  • If pet's departure precedes yours, make any necessary pickup and boarding arrangements at destination. Be sure consignee has complete flight schedule and name of airport where pet will arrive (some cities have more than one airport), as well as the Air Waybill number.  

Day of Departure Checklist for Air Travel

  • Feed your pet no less than six hours before flight time; normally, no additional food is required for dogs for at least 12 hours. Give pet a drink of water about two hours before takeoff.  
  • Deliver pet to air terminal on time. Check with your airline in advance to determine if your pet should go to the passenger or air freight terminal and the cut-off time for the flight.  
  • Exercise pet on leash at airport and administer any necessary medication before confining it to shipping container. Attach pet's leash securely to outside of container.  
  • Be certain that names, addresses and telephone numbers of those responsible for pet at both destination and origin cities are legibly and durably marked on the container, and on pet's travel identification tag.  
  • Notify consignee that pet is on the way. Pet can usually be picked up within an hour to 90 minutes after arrival of flight. It's advisable for consignee to phone the airline's cargo office in advance to be sure flight is on time. The Air Waybill number is useful when making inquiries. 
  • Within two hours of landing, cats should be offered both food and water; dogs should be given a small amount of water immediately upon landing to moisten the mouth after panting during the flight. 

Last Minute Air Travel Checklist

  • All health and shipping documents in order?
  • Identification tag attached to pet's collar?
  • Shipping container in order? Securely latched? Legibly labeled? Leash attached?
  • Consignee given all information needed?

If you prefer to move your pet by car, read moving pets by car. For more information about moving pets, return to the moving with pets guide