Whilst the rich and famous might have the luxury of being able to hire or even buy a private plane to ferry their pets from country to country, for the majority of people that just isn’t a reality, leaving us to deal with mainstream commercial airlines if we want to fly abroad with our animals. What you need to know about taking your pet on the plane:
Pets travelling in the airplane cabin area
Whilst some airlines only carry pets in the plane’s cargo hold, many now allow very small dogs and cats to travel with their owners in the cabin. British Airways, for example, permit cats and dogs weighing under 6kg (including the weight of the carrier) to be transported in the cabin of the airplane. It’s something that is becoming more widespread and even some budget airlines are now considering allowing some pets into the cabin area.
There are various restrictions in place: The carrier must be under a certain size, well ventilated and allow the pet to stand and turn around. The pet cannot leave their carrier during the flight, only one pet is permitted for any passenger and a small maximum number of animals are allowed to travel in this manner on any one flight. There is usually a set additional cost for pets to travel in the cabin which may differ from the cost of a pet being transported in the plane’s cargo hold and the necessary medical and travel papers will be required before the animal can fly.
If this is something you might consider then it’s vital to speak to the airline in person before booking tickets to make sure that they can accommodate a pet in this way on your flight and to check their specific criteria as this will vary depending on who you’re flying with.
Pets travelling in the cargo hold
If you have a larger pet then they will usually need to travel in the cargo hold of the plane, along with general luggage. Airlines have strict conditions in place for every aspect of transporting pets.
The carrier containing the pet needs to fit specific standards to be considered as approved for air travel. Usually only one pet can travel per passenger and there are very limited numbers of pets permitted per flight. Medical and travel certificates are required in advance of flying and there are additional health and welfare factors to consider for a pet travelling in the cargo hold.
Owners cannot check on pets in the hold during a flight, so ensuring that their container is secure, that the pets have adequate hydration for the length of the flight and that the experience is as stress-free as possible is a complicated undertaking. Pets cannot be tranquilised for the journey as this has serious health implications for flying, so with all the noises, vibrations and sensations involved in this type of transport, it can be cause of a great deal of anxiety in animals (and their owners).
Assistance and support dogs
If you have a certified assistance dog, for example a guide dog or a hearing dog for the deaf, many airlines allow them to travel with their owner in the cabin of plane for no additional cost. All necessary medical and travel paperwork has to be in place and the dog must be certified by a recognised body as necessary to assist the owner’s mobility if they are visually impaired, hearing impaired or disabled.
More and more people now have emotional support dogs which play an important role in their owners’ lives to help keep them calm and reduce anxiety. Some airlines also allow these dogs to travel in the cabin with their owners for no additional cost, but the list of criteria that they must meet is extensive in order to qualify.
Owners must have a recently certified mental health diagnosis, along with a variety of specific documentation from medical professionals to prove that their dog is of vital assistance to them on the journey.
How to decide if airplane travel is right for your pet
The decision on whether to take your pet on a plane isn’t one to take lightly. Many dogs and cats find the whole experience very stressful and frightening, so this needs to be weighed up against the benefits for the animal and its well being long term.
It can be very expensive, not just purchasing an appropriate carrier and the cost of the flight itself, but also getting into place the correct veterinary treatments, vaccinations, checks and paperwork for your pet beforehand, such as an expensive ‘pet passport’, not to mention the cost of any potential quarantine or other checks required in the country that your dog or cat is travelling to.
It’s important that before you book anything or speak to the airline, your pet is given a full health check up from your vet to help ensure that they are fit to travel. The age of the pet could also influence your decision. Elderly pets don’t tend to cope as well with this kind of stressful travel. There are also non-physical factors to consider. The character and personality of your pet may well play a large part in how well or badly they will deal with the experience of flying, either in the cabin or the cargo hold.
If the plane journey is likely to be a one-off, for example if you’re emigrating and want to take the family pet with you for good, then it could well be worth the short term stress for your pet to then be with its owners for the rest of it’s life in your new home. Taking pets on short holidays via plane is another matter, and is usually generally considered not to be worth the expense, stress and paperwork involved for most pet owners.
Before booking any flights for your pets, ensure that you talk it through with your chosen airline and check that you have a full list of their requirements or policies as they do vary and change from time to time. At the end of the day, you know your pet best and will need to take every factor into account before finally deciding whether travelling by plane is in their best interest, both short and long term.