If you hoped this article would give you a simple checklist of all airline pet policies – everything you need to know in one handy place – you will be disappointed. Unfortunately, understanding airline pet policies isn’t that simple. The only way to know what is allowed (or not) by the carrier you’re considering is to read their website and/or call them to ask questions. It’s often best to do both, to be sure you’re getting the correct information.
The single most important thing you need to know is that every airline has its own rules.
If you already have a specific airline in mind, feel free to choose an article from the list below and review the specific regulations that each airline holds.
Continue reading below if you're looking for general guidelines referring to pet policies on all major airlines.
Where pets can ride
Many airlines allow dogs and cats to ride with you in the cabin, as checked baggage or as cargo. Some airlines allow two out of three, and some – Southwest, for example – only offer cargo service for pets. The more types of aircraft the airline flies, the more convoluted the rules. That’s because smaller planes have smaller holds. Either there isn’t enough room for both luggage and pets, or larger dog kennels literally do not fit. (Unlike your suitcase, your pet has to remain upright at all times!)
For in-cabin travel, United and a few others have different policies depending on what class of ticket you purchase. KLM has different rules depending on where you’re traveling.
Virtually every airline refuses to accept the most dangerous dog breeds. Which breeds make their list differs, but pit bulls are always included.
Brachycephalic (snub-nosed) dogs and cats also face restrictions on most airlines. This can get really complicated. The goal is to ensure your short-snouted pooch or kitty can breathe comfortably at altitude, so there are a lot of factors at play, from plane size to pet size. If your pet fits this category, it is critical to discuss the situation with your vet as well as the airline.
All airlines have some type of weather embargoes in place that prevent pets from flying when it’s too hot or too cold. These rules apply to any location along your itinerary. So if your pet is traveling from, to or transiting through an airport experiencing extreme weather conditions, flight plans could unravel. Airlines make day-by-day decisions about this in summer and winter.
The definition of “too cold” varies considerably. Most use 45o F as the cut-off, but Delta allows pets to travel when it’s as cold as 20o F. A few airlines make exceptions for dogs who are acclimated to extreme cold, but you’ll need a letter from your vet.
Although a few airlines will allow sedated pets with your veterinarian’s permission, the American Veterinary Medical Association strongly recommends against using any tranquilizers on animals that will be airborne. Reputable professional pet shippers do not accept tranquilized animals.
Current best practices no longer support sedation because the dangers outweigh the potential benefits. Cats and dogs on drugs are physically and mentally disoriented. That can increase their anxiety instead of relieving it, and it can put them at risk of injury because they cannot maintain balance.
There are some universal truths:
- All airlines make special accommodations for verified service animals, but again, the rules differ from one carrier to another. Some airlines also make special accommodations to transport pets of certain military or State Department families.
- Pets traveling in-cabin must be in a carrier that fits under the seat in front of you. It has to be roomy enough for them to comfortably stand up and lie down. That sounds simple, but bear in mind that the dimensions of under-seat space can vary considerably from one airline (or type of aircraft) to another.
- Pets traveling as checked baggage or cargo must be in a kennel that meets guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the International Air Transport Association. The requirements are very detailed, all coming together to ensure your cat or dog remains safe, secure and as comfortable as possible during their journey.
- Advance reservations are a must. The earlier, the better, because all airlines limit the number of pets they will accept in different areas on different flights. If you’re flying Qantas, you’ll need to make your pet’s reservation before you can make yours.
What’s the best policy?
Contact a professional pet transport company as soon as you know your pet will need to travel by air. Whether you’re headed from San Francisco to Atlanta or Chicago to Singapore, the pros knows all about airline policies. They know which carriers are truly pet-friendly, and they know which flights will get your pup or feline to their destination efficiently, to minimize stress.
Knowing the rules is important, but confidence and peace of mind trump everything when it comes to air travel for your beloved four-legged family.