If you’re a pet owner, the health of your best friend is probably just as important as your own. And if you’re considering jet-setting with your beloved pet this holiday season, the stress of figuring out the safest, best way to go about it can be more overwhelming than the morning you spent getting Black Friday deals. How can you safely get from here to there with Fido in tow?
When traveling with pets, owners who wish to travel with their companions have very, very limited choices. Both Amtrak and Greyhound have a blanket ban on pets, which makes air travel or renting a car pretty much the only way to get around if you a.) don’t have a car, or b.) don’t trust your car to get you where you want to go. But when you’re flying the friendly (or not-so-friendly) skies, there are some airlines that are more pet-friendly than others, and precautions that you can take if you do choose to fly.
Remember that, across the board, pets that are too large to fit under the seat in front of you or act as a carry-on will be required to be checked like luggage, and will be transported as such. The baggage area where large pets travel isn’t climate controlled, offers little noise protection, and can be a traumatic place for your pet. If this sounds like something that’s out of the question, consider boarding your pet at a friendly kennel, or driving. But if you’re hell-bent on taking flight, here are some tips to keep your best friend safe and happy in the air:
The airline matters. If you usually fly with whomever is offering the cheapest fare, now’s the time to start doing a little more Googling about who you’re flying with. The size of the under-the-seat areas where small pets can travel varies, as do baggage handling practices and pet-storage rules. When in doubt, call the airline before you book your flight. According to PetFinder, American Airlines, Jet Blue, and United are among the top. Dogfriendly.com also has a pretty handy list of airlines and their policies.
Pets need ID, too. Make sure your pet has tags with your phone number and name on her, using a collar or halter that presents no choking hazard. If your pet isn’t microchipped, consider getting it done before you go. If your pet wiggles free of its collar or other credentials, without a microchip, hope of getting her back is pretty slim.
Visit the vet first. Many airlines require that all pets, whether they’re flying in the cabin or down below, come prepared with papers from their vet stating a clean bill of health and up-to-date shots. But even if your specific airline doesn’t, it’s a smart idea to make sure your pet is in prime condition before the flight. This also serves an insurance measure against injury or illness that may befall your pet while flying–if you know she was healthy when she boarded the plane, and wasn’t when she got off, the airline may be responsible.
Skip the sedatives. Some frequent fliers swear by a light sedative to keep their pet calm, but in the event of an emergency, a sedated pet might be in a lot more danger than an alert one. And you’re never sure how the conditions (particularly in the baggage area) may impact your pet if she’s under the influence.
Get the right carrier. Airline-approved carriers give your pet the space to move around, but are structured enough to keep them as safe as possible. Look for carriers that are specifically approved for air-travel, and check with your airline to see if they offer any other recommendations.
Research the airport. If you’re flying a long distance with several layovers, look into which airports have pet facilities, and how easy or quick their security is. Expecting your pet to hold it in an unfamiliar or stressful situation for 8 hours is pretty unrealistic, and some airports have much better outdoor facilities than others. Knowing where they are in advance can also help prevent an accident.
Be clear. The ASPCA recommends writing “LIVE ANIMAL” on the side of your pet’s carrier if its flying in cargo, which is a good idea. Even though it’s pretty clear when a pet crate has an animal in it, baggage handlers are busy people, and making it very apparent is smart. You can also consider leaving a note with your pet for the handlers about your animal’s temperament or conditions it may have.
Image: WilleeCole / Shutterstock