How to Keep Your Pets Safe When Flying Them to a New Home

Billy Hustace / Getty Images

Our pets have moved too many times to count and usually the moves are across the continent or even to a new country. This means we normally fly them and have, over the years, come up with some tips on how to ensure they arrive safely.

If you haven't decided yet on how best to move your pets, I usually think about which situation will be less stressful. Keep in mind that when you fly pets and are not flying with them, that is they won't be on the same flight as you, your pets must be checked in to fly in the hold or as cargo.

If they fly as cargo, they need to check in at least three hours before departure time. Sometimes it is less time and stress for your pets to drive them, especially for dogs. Cats, on the other hand, don't travel well in cars, so moving cats by plane might be the better option. 

No matter how you decide to move your pets, always have your veterinarian do a physical exam and make recommendations on how best to get them to your new home. 

If you are planning on moving your pets by flying them to your new home, be aware that most airlines will insist you use an IATA (International Air Transport Association) approved carrier. An IATA approved carrier requirements are based on a species needs and animal size. The IATA Live Animals Regulations describe ​minimum standards for carrier construction for all types of animals, ranging from insects to elephants.

Also, space for your animal should be booked a minimum of 48 hours in advance, if not sooner.

Most airlines have restrictions on the number of animals they will carry per flight so book in advance.

Only small dogs and cats can travel in the cabin with you or if the airline will not allow this due to space limitations, your pet will be sent as special baggage in a heated and ventilated hold. The hold provides a quiet and darkened area, which can be less stressful than a noisy cabin.

 

Important Questions to Ask the Airline

  • Can I take my pet on the flight with me?
  • I prefer to have my pet travel in the hold instead of in the baggage area. Do you have space available for the flight I need?
  • If there isn't any room in the hold, what is the temperature in the cargo/baggage area?
    Critical Note: When booking our pets with an airline company, I never thought to ask this question, until my vet mentioned it. I immediately called the airlines and found out that the baggage area where our pets would be was not heated, and since they were flying in February from San Francisco through Minneapolis to Toronto, they probably would not have survived. Make sure you ask!
  • Will you provide appropriate stickers and labels for the pet carrier?
  • What if the flight is rerouted? What happens to my pet?
  • Where do I go to check in my pet?
  • How far in advance does my pet need to be at the airport?
  • What is the cost to fly my pet?
  • Which papers should accompany my pet?
  • Which papers do I bring to pick up my pet?
  • Do you have any weight restrictions?