Questions to consider before flying with a pet

Long-distance options for traveling with pets are limited and flying is sometimes the best alternative. Rather than hours in a car, your pet will spend just a short time on a plane.

Here are some questions to help you decide whether to fly with your pet.

Is your pet healthy?

Flying can be stressful for a pet, particularly elderly pets and those with health issues. If your pet is physically or emotionally unwell or injured, it’s best to leave him home or postpone your trip.

Is your pet snub-nosed?

Pets that are brachycephalic — those that have a short muzzle and a pushed-in face, such as Persian cats, pugs and bulldogs — often have more difficulties adjusting to different temperatures and air conditions, and can develop breathing problems on flights. Many airlines have banned snub-nosed pets completely from commercial flights.

Is your pet’s temperament well-suited for flying?

If your dog is shy, frightened by crowds, aggressive or suffers from separation anxiety, consider hiring a pet sitter or boarding your pet in a kennel.

Does your pet meet the USDA guidelines?

The USDA requires that your pet must be at least 8 weeks old and weaned for at least five days in order to travel by air.

Will your pet fly with you in the cabin or in the cargo hold?

Every airline has its own regulations, but in general, pets who weigh less than 20 pounds (kennel included), and those whose kennel fits under the seat can fly in the cabin as a carry-on. There is a limit for total pets on each flight. Keep in mind that if your pet cries or barks while confined, it will disturb other passengers.

Checking your pet as cargo is a bit more complicated. Loss and injury are possible. However, 2 million pets take to the skies each year and the vast majority arrive safely. You can view the Department of Transportation’s Animal Incident Report. Airlines are required to post pet incident information each month.

Cargo areas and capacities and conditions vary from plane to plane. In most cases, baggage handlers strap animal crates in place in the cargo area. Some airlines wrap the crate with perforated air-cushioned rolls.

Every compartment of every plane is pressurized for safety. The section of the cargo area that houses perishables and pets is temperature-controlled. In spite of this, temperatures can and do vary, however, during average weather they don’t generally fall into an unsafe range. Some airlines provide a small climate-controlled compartment specifically for animals just under the cockpit. If your dog is particularly sensitive to temperature or pressure, or has breathing issues, the cargo area may not be safe.

Do you have a health certificate for your pet?

All airlines require you to present a valid health certificate completed by a licensed veterinarian for pets traveling in the cargo area. Some require the certificate to be completed within 30 days of travel, while others require certificates completed within 10 days.

Check whether your airline requires a health certificate for pets traveling in cabins with their owners. Most states do require that pets who cross into their borders have proof of up-to-date rabies vaccines and valid, recent health certificates.

Are you flying during extreme temperatures?

While the cargo area that carries pets is climate-controlled during flight, there is no temperature control while the plane is parked on the ramp with the engines off. Many airlines have a first-on, first-off rule for pets, but there’s no guarantee that they will be safe from heat or cold.

When will you be traveling?

If you need to fly during peak hours, such as mid-afternoon, or during peak seasons, such as summer or spring break, expect more crowds, more noise, more stress and less space for your pet.

Are you planning to take a direct flight?

Multiple layovers increase the chances of something going awry. In addition, taking a direct flight will minimize stress on your pet.