Airline travel with pets has its share of complications. Air carriers and airport officials generally require pet owners to obtain health certificates from their veterinarians as well as a license from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) before allowing animals to board. Aside from all this extra paperwork, pet owners will also need to find suitable crates in which to transport their animals. Only certain types of crates are accepted, so it’s important to make sure you have the right equipment prior to your departure date.
Pets and Checked Baggage or Cargo
Two options exist for flying with animals, according to PetTravel.com. Smaller pets, such as cats and puppies, may fly with their owners in the airplane cabin, provided they ride in an airline-compliant crate that fits under the seat. Most airlines only let one or two passengers bring pets into the cabin per flight, so book well in advance if you intend to exercise this option. Alternatively, pet owners can check their pets as cargo. This is ideal for larger animals, such as adult dogs. Pets ride in the pressurized cargo hold in the belly of the plane along with the rest of the passengers’ luggage. They must remain in their airline-compliant kennels throughout the flight.
Pet owners must use shipping crates approved by the USDA to transport their animals as cargo or checked baggage. Non-compliant kennels will not be accepted when you arrive at the airline’s check-in station. Animals crates have to meet a variety of standards relating to size, materials, strength, security, sanitation design and ventilation. These regulations exist to keep both pets and baggage handlers safe before and after takeoff.
The American Veterinary Medical Association outlines the standard specifications that apply to airline-compliant crates for pets. Crates must be large enough for animals to stand up, turn around and lie down comfortably. Approved crates will also be made of sturdy plastic with leak-proof bottoms. No wheels are permitted on crates. The crate needs to have ventilation holes on all four sides, and the door must feature a secure locking system that can only by opened from the outside. Additionally, the crate has to have food and water bowls attached to the inside of the door with a space that allows airline personnel to refill the dishes without opening the kennel. Finally, the crate needs to be labeled with the owner’s name, itinerary and contact information as well as a “Live Animals” sticker and a set of arrows showing which way is upright for the kennel.
Where to Purchase Crates
You can often purchase USDA-approved crates directly from an airline. However, Delta Airlines notes that airlines usually sell kennels only to booked passengers and not to the general public. Most pet stores also sell crates designed specifically for air travel. Check with your local retailers or browse the websites of online distributors to find the equipment you need.
Purchase your crate well in advance so your pet can get used to it before the actual day of the flight. The US Department of Transportation reminds travelers that in addition to USDA regulations, each individual airline also has its own policies regarding pets. Owners should consult with their carriers prior to departure to make sure their crates and paperwork are in order. Finally, the American Veterinary Medical Association states that you should not give your pet solid food during the six-hour window leading up to the flight. Only water should be consumed, and pets should be given the chance to relieve themselves before the boarding process begins. Owners should also avoid pet sedation unless instructed otherwise by a veterinarian, as this could lead to health problems.
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