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Chew toys in coach: how to tackle air travel with pets


Having moved two cats and a dog from Indiana to Ireland, I can tell you that moving pets by airline is much more complicated than moving people.

But beyond the misconceptions, red tape, and logistics, the benefits of having our furry friends with us far outweighs any hassles.
When people think about trusting their pets to an airline, horror stories leap to mind. Thankfully, reality is far more benign. Phillip Grant of Pet Travel tells us “Literally millions of pets travel each year by plane without incident.” The other big fear is quarantine. While many countries have quarantine restrictions, thanks to modern vaccination, testing, and documentation standards, most have relaxed their quarantine requirements. With microchipping, and painstaking adherence to country-specific protocols, quarantine can often be greatly reduced or eliminated.

Planning & Research

The best thing owners can do for jet-setting pets is to plan ahead, and check with their airline well ahead of time to determine if they require the use of a pet relocation company. Required or not, it’s worth enlisting one of these companies. They have working relationships with most airlines, and up-to-date knowledge of regulations. Our airline required us to use Pet Express, which saved us countless hours of research, and reduced our fears about onboard conditions, not using sedation, and other issues. Mark Botten of Pet Express remarks, “The best advice is to get advice (from a professional pet relocation specialist) early! Most international destinations will have a unique protocol which may vary according to origin, breed or species.”

As a result, pre-trip facilitation is necessary to gather required health documents certifying that pets are healthy enough to travel, disease free (principally from rabies), and can be properly identified through a tiny microchip inserted under their skin. The exact sequence of microchipping, vaccination, testing, and documentation is critical, and insures that each animal’s health records are consistent and tied to their microchip.
Finally, advance preparation helps owners adjust to their pet traveling in the cargo area, assuming that they, like most animals, will travel in the hold.  Jerry Hatfield, the founder of Pet Travel, and PetPassports asserts that, “Cargo is never preferable, but must be used by 95% of traveling pet owners due to size requirements, and in some cases the length of the flight.”

Modern Pet Air Travel

Contrary to popular belief, pets in cargo are not just sandwiched between somebody’s Samsonite and a set of golf clubs. Modern aircraft have pressurized, climate-controlled cabins just for animal transport. And Pet Travel’s Phillip Grant tells us, “Most pets just sleep during the trip.”
Ultimately, the most dangerous parts of airline pet travel are flight connections, when pets could be left in luggage carts or closed rooms without climate control. For this reason, the best thing we can do for our pets in transit is to fly direct.
Rest assured that if your relocation contractor and airline ensure that live cargo are kept in climate controlled areas when not onboard, that they’re the last items loaded and the first taken off, and if you’ve prepared properly (see below), healthy pets should have few problems on board.

Travel Day and Post-flight

Finally, If you are stressed, your pet will be too. So give yourself plenty of time to do everything and get where you need to go on travel day.
And once you land and pick up your pet, some anxiety and adjustment are to be expected.  But with adequate preparation, kennel practice beforehand, patience, love and understanding, separation anxiety and stress may never be an issue, and you’ll have your well-adjusted companion by your side wherever life takes you.

Domestic Travel:

For domestic flights, airlines and local governments generally require far less in the way of documentation,inoculation and testing.  However, owners will still be required to provide a recent health certificate certifying that their pet(s) are healthy enough to travel. But unless they are traveling to Hawaii, or another “domestic” location with a fragile environment or heavily regulated agricultural industry, the concerns for animal transport within any given country are generally far less than those for international transport.


Plan on microchipping your pet. Even if the local authorities don’t require it, it’s quite beneficial. If they get lost, it’s the most reliable way to get them back.  But make sure you have them chipped with the proper chip type for your destination.

While there is no international standard for pet/animal microchips, according to Jerry Hatfield of PetPassports, “There is no longer any significant variation.  Only the US uses a different form of microchip, but they do not require pets entering the US to have a microchip.”  Hatfield goes on to say that, “Most countries but not all of them now require the ISO 15-digit non-encrypted microchip.”

In our case, our pets were already chipped with a 10-digit US chip.  Unless we wanted to buy a US scanner and take it with us, we had to have them re-chipped with a 15-digit chip.  These chips are commonly available, and most veterinarians should have little trouble sourcing them.  Because the old chips cannot be removed, and it’s important that the chips not interfere with each other, when “double chipping” make sure that the veterinarian positions the second chip well away from the first.

But the most important thing owners must do when microchipping is to ensure that the chip registry is always up to date.  It’s pointless to have your pet microchipped if the authorities cannot contact you when your pet gets picked up and scanned.

No Sedation & Inflight Medication:

Just as we like to stretch our legs and get some air during a long flight, pets like to make inflight adjustments on their own behalf. For this reason, they should not be sedated during flight.  As much as we worry about them getting stressed, the bigger danger is that sedation may cause breathing issues, dehydration, and leave the animal unable to right themselves during turbulence, etc.

While he advises against sedation in general, Denis O’Shea, of Lissenhall Veterinary Hospital (Ireland’s licensed pet quarantine and inspection facility) says that owners might “use DAP collars (natural pheromone appeasing collars) to reduce animal stress.”
If your pet needs regular medication, make sure the airline or pet relocation specialist is clear on when, what, and how to administer it.  Also, be sure to get an extra supply from your vet so you’ll have enough for quarantine, and enough to last until you locate a new vet at your destination.

Four-Legged Leg Room – Kennel Practice/Tips & Tricks:

Most airlines require that pets travel in an IATA (The International Air Transport Association – www.iata.org) approved kennel, meant to ensure sturdiness of construction, proper ventilation, and adequate room for the animal to orient themselves in transit.
To make the kennel a more homey environment, Caitlin Moore and PetRelocation recommends that we “Place an absorbent material of some kind on the bottom of the crate, something like shredded newspaper or an old towel, and affix water dishes to the crate door. Toys and food should not be placed in the crate.”

Additionally, Sally B. Smith of IPATA (the International Pet and Animal Transportation Organization – www.ipata.org) reminds us that it’s important to “Acclimate the pet (dogs at least) to the crate ahead of time. Put the dog in for 5 minutes, (and then) let him out.  Increase the time and then start leaving him while you run errands, etc.  Put the crate in the car and let him ride around.   She finds that “cats only stress over being put in and out of the crate”, so she doesn’t recommend it for them.

While in-kennel food in transit is not recommended, water is a must.  Again, consult with your airline or relocation specialist, but one trick that served us well was buying extra clip-on water bowls that you can fill with water and freeze beforehand.  These can be hooked inside the kennel just before flight, where they’ll thaw over time, giving the animal access to water without spilling immediately.

If your pet is lucky enough to travel with you in the passenger cabin, you’ll still need to contact the airline ahead of time, as they’ll have requirements for the type of carrier you use, and what you can and can’t take aboard.

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"As someone who travels frequently for work, I am not always home to take my pets to the vet when they need to go.  Lorry and S.T.A.T. recently picked up and transported my cat, Vincent, to his appointment and back home again safely and with great consideration for his comfort.
We love S.T.A.T. and will definitely be calling again!   Thank you Lorry for bringing this fantastic service to Northern Colorado." — Susanne K. Doyle, Fort Collins

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