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Making Air Travel Safe for Pets

Your Pet as “Carry-On Luggage”


If you have a small-ish pet who can comfortably fit into a carrier that fits under the seat in front of you, and you are traveling within the United States, you may be able to bring your pet with you as “carry-on luggage.”

MAY  is a very important word here.

Each airline has restrictions about how many pets may travel in the cabin as “carry-on” luggage. Reserve your pet’s space as a “carry-on” early!!
If you are traveling internationally or to Hawaii, you may not be able to travel with your pet in-cabin as carry-on luggage.
Even though your pet fits into an “airline approved carrier,” if your pet is not a dog or cat, you may not be able to bring your pet into the cabin. Check with your carrier if you are traveling with a bird, small mammal (e.g., hamster or guinea pig), or any other creature to insure that they will be welcomed on to the plane.
 BOTTOM LINE: You need to talk to a person at the airline before you assume you can fly with your pet… even if your pet is flying as “carry-on luggage.”

Each airline has its own rules in terms of the maximum size and weight of the pet traveling as “carry-on luggage” – please check with your carrier if your pet is over 15 pounds to make sure there will not be any drama at check-in. If you try to get an over-weight or over-size pet through the check-in process and the carrier decides there is a problem, you will have to either designate your pet as “checked baggage” or “cargo” or you will have to make arrangements for your pet to be taken away from you and brought home. You may miss your flight, and the carrier has no obligation to reimburse you or book you on a later flight.

Most airlines require a HEALTH CERTIFICATE for your pet to fly safely. Check with your carrier for their specific requirements, but even if your carrier does not require a health certificate, it is in your pet’s best interest to make a vet visit before you fly, to make sure your pet really is healthy enough to travel. This is especially important if your pet is less than 1 year old, or more than 7 years old.

IMPORTANT TO KNOW: Most airlines clearly state that animals will not have access to oxygen in case of an emergency. This also means that should your pet have difficulty breathing or have other health issues during the flight, assistance will not be available. Please take this into consideration if your pet is very old, very young, or is a brachycephalic (short-nosed) breed!

Finally, DO NOT open your pet’s carrier during the flight. Frightened animals have been known to bolt and can often squeeze into little nooks and crannies… and it may take hours (or even days!) to remove them. U.S. domestic carriers are not known for their sympathy in such situations… and as the case of Tabitha taught us in 1994, your furry friend could end up flying cross-country for days. Don’t let that happen to you and your fur-baby!!

P.S. … And don’t forget – even though your “average” carry-on luggage flies free, pets as carry-on do not.  Depending on the airline, bringing a pet as a “carry-on” will cost you between $50 and $150 each way.  Really??  Really.

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One thought on “Your Pet as “Carry-On Luggage”

  1. Hello there, and thank you so much for this information! I need to follow up with this stuff very very closely. I am currently living in Pennsylvania, and I have a cockatiel named Shamrock who is 14 years old. I will be relocating to China to be an English teacher next year (as soon as I finish my course, get my certificate, scout for employment, get a contract, get my working visa, find and pay for my housing and sell off all my belongings except for my clothes). I will certainly be concerned for all of these things because I can’t live without my little Shammybird! The money issue wouldn’t be as bad as the issue of getting lost or hurt. I have to check into a lot of things. And I absolutely wish to learn about what it takes to COMPLETELY AVOID QUARANTINE. I absolutely cannot have Shammy go through that. I can’t go through it either. I hope you might be able to help me collect information?

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