How to Fly Your Pet in the USA

While many of us are at ease taking flights across the US, flying your pet adds a new level of complexity. It’s common to have concerns about your pet’s safety and wellbeing when they fly. 

However, flying your pets across the USA is actually very safe. Each year, 2 million pets fly domestically and even abroad without issue. You can do many things to plan for flying with your pet so that both you and your pet have a safe journey.

Before flying, make sure that you understand the requirements and restrictions placed on flying live animals. The federal government, states, municipalities, and each airline have their own rules for flying pets.

Certain pets may travel in the cabin with you on a flight if they meet requirements for size or as an emotional support animal. We’ll talk more about pets in the cabin in a future article. Below, we’ll provide an overview of what to expect when you fly your pets via airline cargo.

What Does the USDA Consider a Pet?

It’s essential to know which types of animals the USDA classifies as pets, as some animals fall under certain wildlife or livestock rules. The USDA defines pets as privately-owned companion animals that are not intended for resale or research. Certain states further restrict the type of animals you can have as pets, so please do your research before initiating travel. Below is a list of the animal groups that include pets.

  • Dogs
  • Cats
  • Ferrets
  • Rabbits
  • Rodents
  • Hedgehogs
  • Reptiles
  • Amphibians
  • Pet birds

Common Misconceptions About Flying Your Pet

Sending your pet to the cargo area of an airplane sounds like a scary prospect. We know you’re worried about your furry friend being shoved in with the luggage, but things couldn’t be further from the truth.

The Reality of a Plane’s Cargo Area

Airlines have a cargo hold area set aside for pets during flights. It’s temperature-controlled and pressurized for the safety of your pets. Pets are always the last to enter the airplane and the first to deplane. There is a very low risk for problems with properly prepared pets.

Pet Plane Travel Tips

By thoroughly planning and gathering everything you need for travel, you can minimize the stress to your pets on their journey. Below are some helpful tips to ensure they have a good flight.

#1 Know What You Need to Have Before Booking a Flight

The most important item to keep your pet safe is an IATA-compliant kennel. The IATA offers a measurement guide to make sure that your pet fits within the crate appropriately. Your crate must be taller than the standing height of your pet, wider than its width, and have ventilation openings. You should consider absorbent bedding for your pet’s comfort during the flight. Food and water are required for long flights, but you should consider bringing some in case of emergency stops or long layovers.

#2 Required Documentation

To fly domestic, you must obtain a health certificate that is dated within ten days of your departure along with a rabies certificate. This ensures that your pet is healthy enough for flying. Any animals that appear ill will not be allowed to board the plane for their safety and the safety of the other animals on board.

#3 Federal Rules for Pet Plane Travel

Federal rules require that your dog or cat must be older than eight weeks and weaned for at least five days. Your pets cannot be brought to the airline more than four hours before departure unless you make arrangements in advance. Food and water must accompany animals in transit, along with written instructions on how to feed them.

#4 Be Aware of Airline Rules

Each airline has its own rules for flying with pets. Be sure to either check their website or contact the airline directly to ensure that you have everything needed and that your crate is in compliance with them. Failure to do your due diligence could result in the airline rejecting your pet for the flight. It’s unfortunate when this happens, but it is for your pet’s safety.

#5 Properly Prepare Your Pet

Long before your flight, you should start acclimating your pet to being in their crate. Dogs and cats do best if they feel like their crate is a safe space and familiar to them. It also helps if your pets are used to traveling so that they are not too nervous or stressed during the flight.

#6 Know When and Where to Arrive

Look up the airport ahead of time so that you know where to take your pet. If they are traveling as cargo, you must take them to where the specific airline stores their cargo pre-flight. Expect to arrive at least three to 4 hours before your flight to get through security. Each airline inspects animal crates before acceptance and checks for correct documentation. Once they accept your pet, they will zip-tie the crate door shut to ensure its safety in the cargo hold and during the flight.

What Not to Do When Flying Your Pet

There are some things that you want to avoid when flying with your pet. The consequences of the below actions will cause the airline to reject your pet for their safety, which means you’d have to make other travel arrangements.

Don’t Use the Wrong Crate

If you don’t use an IATA-compliant kennel, the airline will likely reject your pet because of safety concerns. Rules are slightly different for very small animals such as cats and small dogs, but to be safe, make sure the airline approves of your kennel. Staff at the airport will inspect and measure it to make sure your dog has enough room for its size.

Don’t Travel With an Ill Pet

If your pet is feeling under the weather, you’re best to keep them home. Any animal appearing sick cannot travel by air. In addition, a qualified veterinarian would not issue a health certificate for a sick or injured animal.

Don’t Medicate Your Pet

Do not sedate or give medication to calm your dog or cat before a flight. Doing so is highly dangerous to your pet, and airlines do not allow it. Airline staff will ask if your pet has taken medication, and if the answer is yes, they will not be allowed to fly.

Pet Travel Doesn’t Have to be Hard

Why risk getting turned away at the cargo hold? We offer VIP care for your pets. If you need to travel or relocate with your pet, we can help! If you live in the greater Los Angeles area, we can handle all aspects of your dog or cat’s travel. We’ll pick your furry friend up, book their ticket, have our vet handle the health certificate, and make sure they get on the plane safely.

We are also proud members of the International Pet and Animal Transportation Association. Don’t hesitate to request a quote for your pet’s next travel experience.