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Airfare Q&A: Can I fly with my pet?

by , SmarterTravel Staff
Bonny Clyde going on vacation
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on January 27, 2005. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: airfare, Jessica Labrencis.

One of the most frequent questions we're asked by readers is, "Can I fly with my pet?" On most airlines, and with most pets, the answer is yes. However, there are numerous considerations of which you should be aware, including the species of pet, kennel restrictions, airline fees, and more.

Q. What kind of animals are permitted?

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Most traditional pets can be transported by air. While airlines will not guarantee the transport of an animal prior to seeing it, domesticated cats and dogs, as well as hamsters, guinea pigs, and some birds are generally permitted on most airlines, if they are deemed harmless, inoffensive, and odorless. Trained service dogs are permitted under most circumstances. If you are unsure about your specific pet, contact your airline before you book your ticket.

Cats and dogs must be at least eight weeks old, and must be fully weaned prior to flying on an airplane. Airlines, state health officials, and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) also require a veterinarian's examination of pets within 10 days of flying. Rabies certificates may also be required.

Q. Do any major airlines not allow pets?

Most of the major U.S. airlines allow pets as carry-on, checked baggage, cargo, or some combination of the three. However, Southwest does not allow pets on its aircraft (apart from fully-trained service animals).

Q. Can pets fly year-round?

Airlines will not transport animals to exceptionally hot or cold destinations. If the current or forecasted temperature is above 85 degrees Fahrenheit (75 degrees for cats and snub-nosed dogs), or below 45 degrees Fahrenheit, airlines will not accept pets. Veterinarians can issue a statement of low-temperature acclimation for pets traveling to destinations between 45 and 20 degrees. Pets may not be checked if temperatures fall below 20 degrees. To avoid extreme temperatures, if you are traveling during the summer, book flights in the early morning or late evening; in the winter, book midday flights.

When traveling with a pet, it's best to book a direct flight whenever possible, which will reduce the risk of delays or accidental transfers. Book flights at off-peak travel times to avoid confusion and lines at the airport.

Q. Do I need special paperwork to bring my pet overseas?

Some airlines will only transport pets within the United States. Many foreign countries, as well as Hawaii and U.S. territories, have quarantine or health requirements for arriving animals. Europe, for example, requires arriving cats and dogs to have a tattoo or microchip that matches the identification number on their vaccination card. For specific rules regarding transport to Hawaii or beyond the United States, contact your individual airline, as well as the consulate, embassy, or foreign government of your destination.

Q. Can I bring my pet as my carry-on baggage?

Most airlines allow small pets as carry-on baggage, provided the kennel can fit comfortably under the seat in front of the owner. If the kennel is too large, or if the airline does not permit carried-on animals, kennels can often be checked or flown in the cargo area of the plane.

If possible, make reservations for yourself and your pet well in advance, and be sure to call the airline to confirm within 24 to 48 hours before your flight. On the day of your flight, arrive at the airport earlier than you normally would, but no more than four hours before your flight. Airlines usually have a limited number of animals they will transport per flight, and pets are checked in on a first come, first served basis.

If you are carrying on or checking your pet, you should check in at the airport counter instead of online, curbside, or at a kiosk check-in station. However, if your pet is flying with cargo, you should go to the cargo terminal, which is usually in a different building.

Q. How much does it cost for my pet to fly?

Different fees are associated with flying with an animal (or sending it unaccompanied with cargo). Fees range from $25 to more than $100, depending on the airline and the size of the pet.

Some airlines, including Midwest and United, encourage pet owners to fly with their pets by offering frequent flyer miles to both pet and owner.

Q. What kind of kennel should I use?

The USDA has specific regulations regarding kennels, and while some airlines sell approved kennels at the airport, others do not, so make arrangements for kennel transport well in advance.

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