Traveling Safely With Pets

Seniors on the Go
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Editor's Note: This story was originally published on August 13, 2010. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: baggage, Ed Perkins, Pet Airways, pet travel, Seniors on the Go, senior travel, taxes and fees.

Lots of you, I'm sure, enjoy your vacation more when have your longtime dog or cat companion along with you. But traveling with a pet can be dangerous to the pet's health—a fact vividly demonstrated by last week's story about the death of seven puppies on an airline flight. Whenever anybody asks me for "tips" about how best to take pets along on a flying vacation, I say I have three: "Don't do it; Don't do it; and Don't do it."

Often, the only feasible way to take pets along on a flying trip is to ship them as baggage. They go into one of those plastic pet containers and travel in the hold of the plane, just as suitcases do. But unlike suitcases, dogs and cats are at significant risks traveling that way, mainly from heat:

  • Although baggage compartments are supposed to be climate controlled, the temperatures can sometimes rise to unhealthy levels if the plane is delayed on the tarmac for any reason.
  • If you (and your pets) have to change planes at a hub, the pet containers may unintentionally be left in overheated areas waiting for the connecting flight.

Most of the problem reports I've seen have been due to excessive heat, which can have the same effect as leaving a pet in a closed car parked in the hot sun. But presumably extreme cold could also be harmful or fatal. And, over the years, I've also heard reports of pets that got out of their containers and got lost or hurt running loose around the airport.

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These risks are not trivial. You probably saw that those seven puppies died because of overheating and dehydration. And, in my experience, even in a relatively uneventful flight, the extreme noise, isolation, and confinement are extremely traumatic to even a healthy dog or cat.

My considered opinion is that, if at all possible, you forego the pleasure of your pet's company for the length of your trip—the pet will benefit far more from the safety than you will suffer from separation. With all their problems, boarding kennels or pet-sitters are a far more humane solution.

If you really can't do anything else, my second suggestion is that you drive. Finding pet-friendly accommodations along the way is easy: Several online resources post such lists, including PetTravel, Petswelcome, DogFriendly, Pet Vacations, and Takeyourpet. These sites also provide lots of other useful information about pet travel.

Sometimes, however, you have no alternative to flying. If you're moving permanently from the mainland to Hawaii, for example, you can't really drive. Here are my suggestions for those can't-avoid plane trips:

  • Ship your dog or cat on the one airline that actually specializes in pet transport. Pet Airways flies small planes on two routes: transcontinental, operating New York-Baltimore-Chicago-Omaha-Denver-Phoenix, and New York-Atlanta-Ft. Lauderdale. Flights operate weekly and take two days for the full transcontinental trip. Pets fly in the "main" cabin with an attendant during the entire flight, with scheduled breaks for long trips. Prices are stiff—shipping my 45-pound poodle from New York to Ft. Lauderdale would cost $244 each way—but the airlines charge anywhere from $100 to $250 to ship a pet as baggage.
  • If your dog or cat is small, some airlines allow you to take it in a container as cabin carry-on baggage. That's a good solution for cats, but it's limited to really small dogs. And fees range from $75 to $175.
  • If you have no choice other than to have your pet travel as checked baggage, avoid connecting flights. Book on nonstops, even if it means traveling farther to/from your departure/arrival airports. At least that way your pet is not likely to sit around a baggage shed for hours between flights.

But prevention is the best guarantee of safety. Leave the pet at home and have a happy reunion when you return.

Your Turn

How do you travel with, or arrange travel around, your pets? Share your advice by submitting a comment below!

 
 
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