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How to Travel with Pets

October 21st, 2019

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, pet ownership is on the rise in the United States. In its 2017-2018 “Pet Ownership and Demographics Sourcebook," the AVMW reports that almost 57 percent of households in the U.S. include at least one pet. Dogs and cats are the most popular kinds of pets, with 38 percent of households having at least one canine and 25 percent of U.S. households having a minimum of one feline.

Increasingly, pet owners aren’t content with leaving their furry family members home when they travel. More and more, people are traveling with their pets to both foreign and domestic destinations. Approximately 37 percent of pet owners travel with their pets at least once a year, a figure that increased 18 points over the last 10 years.

Just like they’re refusing to leave their pets at home, pet owners aren’t limiting their travel to road trips with their pets. Instead, traveling with their pets by air is one option many pet owners are taking advantage of these days. JetBlue was the first airline to embrace pets in its cabins when it unveiled its JetPaws program in 2008. Since then, other major carriers have had no choice but to follow suit or risk losing business.

Steps to Travel With Your Pet

No matter how you plan to get to your destination, it’s vital that you learn how to travel with pets if you’re going to bring a cat or dog along. While taking a trip with pets can be rewarding for pet owners and their pets alike, it can be a nightmarish experience for everyone involved — including other travelers and attendants — if you’re not adequately prepared for your excursion.

1. Determine If Your Pet Is Suitable for Travel

The first step toward making traveling with pets an enjoyable experience for you and your pets is to determine if your pets are suitable for travel. In general, a pet will be better prepared for pet travel if you introduce your dog or cat to traveling at a young age. This is particularly true if you have a cat.

If your pet is older and not used to traveling or you rescued a pet and aren’t familiar with their background, you can work with a trainer to determine if your pet is ready to travel. A trainer can objectively monitor and evaluate your pet’s behavior and attitude in many scenarios you’re likely to experience during your trip, such as a crowded area.

If your pet is skittish when meeting new people or exhibits aggression, it’s probably best to leave them at home. Similarly, pets who require frequent medical attention and those who don’t adapt well to new environments will often be happier at home even when you’re not there to spend time with them yourself.

2. Research Destination’s Pet Requirements

While you might be eager to head out of town with your pet, things might not be as simple as booking a flight and flying to your chosen destination. Depending on where you’re headed, the location may have certain requirements for your pet to visit. To avoid being turned away or forced to separate from your pet unexpectedly, you need to research the requirements your destination has for non-resident pets thoroughly.

Some locations may require an imported pet to be quarantined for a set period while others might require pets to have certain vaccinations. The destination you’re planning to visit may not even allow non-indigenous species to visit even just briefly. Study the relevant pet import requirements and make sure your pet complies with all of them.

3. Choose the Right Pet Carrier or Crate

If you’re going to travel by air with your pet, the odds are good that you’ll need to have a crate or pet carrier that’s in line with the mandates of the International Air Transport Association (IATA). The IATA has strict rules governing the type of crates that can be used for pet travel, and you must follow them all. While that may seem like a lot to ask, it’s not. The IATA’s rules are in place to ensure the safe transport of your pet and the safety of everyone responsible for your pet’s well-being.

Here are samples of the current IATA guidelines for pet crates:

  • The crate’s floor must be solid and leakproof
  • Crates must be constructed with fiberglass, metal, rigid plastic, weld metal mesh, plywood or solid wood
  • Crates should be sturdy and not collapsible

Even if a crate adheres to all the IATA’s guidelines, a given airline may have further requirements. For example, the IATA says solid wood or plywood crates are okay, but neither Air France nor KLM accepts them.

4. Talk With Your Veterinarian

One of the best tips for traveling with pets is to talk to your veterinarian well in advance of your departure date. Schedule a checkup for your pet to ensure they're healthy enough to travel. Ask your vet if there’s anything you can give your pet to keep them calm during your trip, especially if they will travel in a cargo hold.

Tell your veterinarian where you’re going and inquire about any hazards that might jeopardize your pet’s health. You should also ask your vet if he or she knows a veterinarian located at your destination in case your pet has a medical emergency during your stay.

What to Pack for Your Pet

While you don’t want to pack your pet’s food or treats too far in advance, you shouldn’t wait until the last minute to get their things together either. The key to packing for a pet is to pack extras of all the essentials in case your trip is prolonged for any reason. You shouldn’t store all the essentials in bags you’re going to check in case your luggage is lost. This means you should stow at least some critical supplies in your carry-on.

In addition to food and treats, here are some things you may want to pack for your pet:

  • Required medication and vet-approved calming supplements
  • Collapsible food and water bowls
  • Cooling and thunder vests
  • Sweaters
  • Booties
  • Collar, leash and harness
  • Picture of you and your pet in case you’re separated
  • Bottled water
  • Wee-wee pads and plastic bags to pick up poop
  • Grooming equipment

Just like you’ll probably pack some things that remind you of home, like pictures of your loved ones or your favorite pair of pajamas, you should do the same for your pet. A blanket that smells like home and your pet’s favorite toys are some of the things you may consider packing for your furry traveling companion.

Tips to Make Pet Travel Easier

Even if you’re used to traveling with your pet, researching tips on travel with pets is still a good idea because there’s always a chance you’ll learn something new. Here are some pet travel tips that can make exploring close by and faraway destinations even more enjoyable:

  • Feed your pet a lighter meal before travel: Even if your pet doesn’t suffer from motion sickness that may cause nausea, it’s wise to limit your pet’s food intake before you embark on a trip with them. Be sure your pet’s last meal isn’t any later than four hours before your departure time.
  • Bring a copy of health records: When you bring your pet in for a pre-travel checkup, get copies of his medical records from your vet. Make copies of those records and store one set in your carry-on and a backup copy in a checked bag just to be safe.
  • Choose lighter airline travel dates if possible: In general, it’s advisable to travel with pets on days when airlines aren’t operating at maximum capacity. The lightest days for air travel are Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, so try to book flights for you and your pet on those days whenever possible.
  • Get your pet acclimated to a crate or carrier ahead of travel: To travel successfully with your pet, you should get your dog or cat used to the crate long before you plan to leave home. Encourage your pet to nap and sleep in the crate, put familiar things in the crate, take your pet for car rides in the crate and praise your pet whenever they voluntarily use the kennel in the months leading up to your departure date.
  • Pick a pet-friendly shuttle service for easy travel: You can start and end every trip with your pet on an up-note by arranging pet-friendly transportation to and from the airport through SuperShuttle. Book a pet-friendly shuttle ride for you and your pet for an upcoming trip today.

How to Travel With Your Pet

Depending on where you’re going, you may use different means to reach your destination. You and your pet may stay in a hotel in a foreign city as well. It’s important to be ready to handle every scenario that may present itself during your travels.

1. In the Car

While it’s always heartwarming and often amusing to see a dog traveling in a car with their head out the window, that’s not the way pets should travel. Rather than being given the freedom to roam the cabin, pets should be restrained while traveling by car. Ideally, you should transport your pet in a pet carrier that’s anchored in position in your cargo area or rear seat.

Alternatively, you can travel by car with your pet by limiting their ability to move around the cabin with a pet restraint. Whether you use a restraint or carrier, you should never travel with your pet in the front seat. If you’re in an accident, and your pet is in the front seat, they may suffer a catastrophic injury if your airbags deploy.

2. In the Airport

If you want to learn how to fly with pets, you should start by learning how you and your pet should conduct yourselves at the airport. Even if your pet is a service or comfort animal, you’ll need to restrain your pet at all times when you’re in an airport. If your dog tends to get aggressive in unfamiliar environments or your pet is a “fear biter,” you may want to muzzle your pet if you’re not using a pet carrier to at the airport.

As it is for you, staying hydrated is important for your pet. Make sure your pet has access to water in the airport and throughout your flight. If you’re going to transport your pet in a carrier, make sure you can refill their water bowl easily without having to open the crate’s door.

3. On the Plane

There are three ways pets can travel on a plane:

  • In-cabin
  • Checked baggage
  • Manifest cargo

No matter how your pet travels, your dog or cat will need to be in an approved crate when they are on a plane. Even if your pet is allowed in the cabin, which is the preferred and safest way for pets to travel by air, they will have to spend the flight in a crate stowed under your seat or the seat in front of you. When you reach the airport at your destination, make your way to a safe spot as soon as possible so you can give your pet a break from being in the crate and examine their condition.

4. At the Hotel

Pet policies vary greatly from one hotel to another, so it’s always smart to make inquiries about a given property’s policy before you make a reservation. In the days leading up to your trip, it’s advisable to touch base with the hotel again to make sure its rules haven’t changed since you booked your room.

When making your reservation, request a room on the first floor so you’ll be close to an exit whenever your dog needs to use the bathroom. Having a room on the first floor will decrease the likelihood that your pet will disturb other guests when they drop toys, wrestle with you or jump off the bed.

After you arrive at your hotel, set up a special area for your pet. Remember that blanket that smells like home? This area is a great place for you to put it, along with your pet’s toys and crate. While you may be tempted to leave your pet in their special area when you’re not in your room, resist. Put your dog or cat in the crate before you leave your hotel room in case housekeeping or maintenance needs to access your room while you’re gone.

5. In a Foreign City

As we explained earlier, many foreign locations have strict guidelines for visiting pets, and it’s vital that you adhere to them to prevent problems. Similarly, you should acquaint yourself with the areas where pets like yours are welcome and only bring your pet to those spots. If you’re curious about which local businesses welcome pets, ask your hotel’s concierge or front desk staff.

No matter where you travel, it’s not okay to leave a mess in your pet’s wake. Always make sure you have a plastic bag on hand to clean up after your pet when you are in public.

Common Airline Pet Policies to Know

Every airline that allows pets to fly has its own pet travel policy. Before you book a flight for you and your pet, you should familiarize yourself with the policy of the airline you want to use. Knowing what the carrier’s policy is before you leave home will prevent any surprises at the gate.

1. Most Common Airline Pet Policies

Even though pet policies aren’t standard between airlines, many carriers have some requirements in common. Here are a few policies nearly all airlines have:

  • Requiring pets to travel in an approved carrier
  • Requiring pets to fit under the seat in front of you or travel as cargo
  • Restrictions on the number of pets allowed per flight
  • Requiring additional fees for flying with a pet

2. American Airlines Policies

American Airlines is one of the biggest air carriers in the United States. As such, many passengers correctly assume they can fly with their pets when they book a flight with American Airlines. The carrier allows a maximum of seven crates on American Airlines flights and up to five carriers on planes flying under the American Eagle brand. American Airlines reserves the right to restrict pet travel on its planes when the temperature is above 85 degrees Fahrenheit or below 45 degrees Fahrenheit.

According to the American Airlines Pet Policy, pets are welcome on most flights lasting up to 11 hours and 30 minutes to or from the following locations with a few exceptions:

  • Contiguous United States
  • Canada
  • Alaska
  • Central America
  • Mexico
  • Puerto Rico
  • St. Croix
  • St. Thomas

3. Delta Airlines Policies

Delta Airlines allows small dogs, cats and pet birds to travel in its cabins, but you’ll need to pay a one-way fee when you check in. Pets must be kept in a ventilated carrier that’s small enough to fit under the seat in front of yours. Your pet is considered a personal item and the airline views your traveling companion’s crate as part of your carry-on luggage.

If your pet is too big to travel in the cabin, Delta Airlines Pet Policy requires your pet to travel as cargo. If you’re going to Hawaii, your pet cannot travel in the cabin even if they're small enough to do so.

4. JetBlue Airways Policies

While JetBlue Airways gladly welcomes pets, it can’t transport them to every destination where the airline has a hub. JetBlue bans pets on flights headed to the following destinations:

  • Jamaica
  • Barbados
  • St. Lucia
  • Cayman Islands
  • Trinidad and Tobago

As is the case with Delta’s policy, the JetBlue Airways Pet Policy dictates that a pet carrier is considered a carry-on. The policy also requires pets to remain in their carriers at all times while at an airport or on a JetBlue aircraft.

5. Spirit Airlines Policies

While Spirit Airlines is happy to transport pets, the airline will not do so in the cargo area. This means pets can only travel with Spirit Airlines in the cabin. Here are the kinds of animals that Spirit Airlines allows in the cabin during flights to certain destinations:

  • Domestic dogs and cats
  • Small household birds
  • Small domestic rabbits

According to the Spirit Airlines Pet Policy, a single passenger can travel with up to two pets in a carrier. Spirit Airlines only permits a passenger to travel with one pet container, which means you can only travel with a maximum of two pets on Spirit Airlines.

6. Southwest Airlines Policies

Southwest Airlines is so proud to accept pets that you can purchase a branded pet carrier online or by visiting a Southwest Airlines ticket counter. Unlike many competitors, Southwest Airlines allows pets to travel in the cabin in either a soft- or hard-sided carrier. If two pets are traveling in the same approved carrier, the Southwest Airlines Pet Policy requires them to be the same species. This means that your dog and cat cannot share a pet carrier on a Southwest Airlines flight even if they’re best friends. Additionally, pets are not allowed in the checked baggage area.

7. United Airlines Policies

The United Airlines Pet Policy states that domestic dogs, cats, rabbits and most household birds can travel in the cabin of its airplanes, but the policy specifically states that cockatoos aren’t welcome in the airline’s planes. You must pay a service charge of $125 for each flight you take with your pets. You also have to pay the same amount for stopovers that last four hours or more in the United States and stopovers longer than 24 hours outside of the U.S.

Common Pet Travel Questions

People who are new to traveling with pets often have questions. Here are some common questions that come up regularly:

  • What kind of crate or carrier do I need to travel with my pet? As a general rule, you’ll have to use a crate that complies with IATA guidelines as well as the rules of the airline that will transport you and your pet to your destination.
  • How can I keep my pet calm when traveling? Putting your pet’s favorite toys in their crate can help soothe them during your travels. The sound of your voice may calm your pet as well so you may want to talk to them during your flight. Positioning your pet’s kennel so that they can see you may put your pet at ease too.
  • How can I get through security with my pet? Pet carriers are typically considered carry-on luggage, which means the carrier will have to be x-rayed. Take your pet out of the carrier before the carrier is x-rayed by security and return them to the crate immediately afterward.
  • How can I keep my pet safe when traveling? The best way to keep your pet safe when traveling is to have your pet with you at all times and avoid cargo or manifest transportation for your pet.

Arrange Pet-Friendly Transportation to and From the Airport With SuperShuttle

While you may have questions about traveling with your pet, you’ll never question where you can arrange pet-friendly transportation for yourself and your pet now that you’re familiar with SuperShuttle. Schedule a pet-friendly ride to or from an airport with SuperShuttle now.

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