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This Is What It’s Like For Your Dog To Travel As Cargo
Here is what you and your pet can expect if your dog will be traveling with you as cargo on an airplane!
With various headlines in recent years telling the tragic tales of pets who were lost or killed while flying in the cargo hold, choosing to transport your pet in that way is rather controversial. But for people whose pets don’t meet the weight or behavioral policies for flying with their owners in the main cabin of the airplane, flying as cargo may be the only option for your fur baby. While we do hear stories from time to time regarding flights that become nightmares for pets and their owners, the majority of the estimated 2 million animals that fly as cargo each year reach their destinations without incident. According to estimates released by the Department of Transportation, less than 1 in 10,000 animals were injured, lost, or killed from flying.
That said, the general safety of flying your pet as cargo doesn’t discount the gravity of the fact that animals are sometimes harmed by flying in the cargo hold. Sometimes, the only thing protecting your pet is luck no matter how much you prepare. There’s certain factors you can’t control, such as how airline staff handles your pet or problems caused by the cargo hold’s temperature regulator or turbulence. A recent study by Honest Paws found that between 2010 to 2020, approximately 250 pets died while traveling with a major airline. An additional 170 animals were injured in transit and 20 pets were lost by the airline. However, that number is still relatively low when you consider the total number of pets that fly each year and that between 4,000 - 5,000 human passengers died while flying in the same 10 year time period covered by the study.
Although your pet will most likely be fine, you will ultimately have to decide if flying your pet as cargo is worth the risk or if you can pursue any other options for traveling with your pet. Some dogs are naturally better suited to fly than others depending on age, breed, and other health conditions. For example, if you have a snub nosed breed, or brachycephalic breed, you probably don’t want them to fly in cargo. These include breeds like the English bulldog, French bulldog, Pug, Pekingese, and Boston terrier. These dogs already have a compromised ability to breathe and flying in the cargo hold could make it worse. But if your pet is generally healthy and isn’t a brachycephalic breed, here is what you and your pet can expect if you decide to have them travel with you as cargo.
Do Your Research:
The first step in preparing to fly your dog as cargo is to do your research. Choose your airline carefully based on its proven track record for safely transporting pets. You may also want to consider pricing for cargo transportation, flight schedules, flight route, and other policies. Policies to look out for include reassurance that your pet will be kept in a temperature controlled environment both on and off the plane, if they will be provided with water during the flight or if you should include food and water in their carrier, what type of pet carrier if required, and standard booking procedures. Also note that some airlines may have policies in place that prevent your pet from flying on the same flight as you, including but not limited to unacceptable weather conditions for traveling in cargo or capacity limitations.
Prepare For Your Flight:
Once you’ve chosen your airline and selected the best flight for you and your pet, it’s time to make your reservation. You’ll most likely need to make your pet’s cargo reservation separately from your own, so plan accordingly. For example, Delta Airlines does not allow pets to be booked as cargo on domestic flights until 14 days prior to departure but you may be able to book your ticket months in advance. Make sure you mark your calendar so you can ensure your pet can be a passenger on your flight.
Prior to flying, you will most likely be asked to submit documentation to prove that your pet is healthy and has had any required vaccinations. Your airline will likely ask you to take your pet to his veterinarian for an examination within the 10 days prior to his flight. Your vet will be able to give you the standard health certificate that states it is safe for your pup to fly that most airlines will require before allowing your dog onboard. Because flying in cargo can be stressful for your pup and could aggravate underlying health conditions, having a recent exam prior to flying protects both your pet and the airline from dealing with health emergencies. Make sure to check with your airline to ask if any additional documentation will be required, and always bring hard copies with you when it’s time to check in your dog.
Last but not least, make sure to purchase an airline approved crate for your dog to fly in. Ideally, you will need to pick a crate that has enough room for your pet to stand up and turn around. Even though buying a larger crate can be more expensive, we recommend you don’t skimp on the space so your pet has enough room to stretch his legs a bit and be more comfortable during the flight. If your pet hasn’t used a crate before or has lots of anxiety, make sure to purchase the crate early so you have time to properly crate train your pet. Including a favorite toy or an old, a blanket from home, or a shirt that smells like you can also help soothe your pet’s anxiety once he’s in his crate at the airport. Also, make sure your pet’s crate is clearly labeled with his name and your contact information.
Even if your pet suffers from anxiety, do not give him any anxiety medication or sedatives prior to his flight. This can be extremely dangerous. Instead, try playing with your dog for a while or taking him along for an epic workout shortly before his flight. After all, a tired dog is a happy dog! In addition, you may want to trim your pet’s nails prior to flying. Dogs that are prone to anxiety sometimes injure themselves trying to claw their way out of their carriers during the flight. However, proper crate training and shorter nails can limit this behavior or prevent it entirely.
Checking In Your Pet:
On the day of your flight, make sure to allow extra time to check yourself and your pet in with the airline. If your pet is flying as cargo, you may need to go to an alternate location to check in your pet before you can go to the terminal yourself. Some airlines require that your pet be checked in at least 3 hours prior to the flight, and you want to allow time for waiting in lines or to work out any last minute issues.
Once in the airport, you can be proactive to ensure your pet’s safety from the time you check in for your flight through boarding the airplane. When you check in, make sure to tell the staff member that your pet is flying with you as cargo and that you want confirmation when your pet has boarded the plane. You can also ask at your gate to watch your pet be loaded into the cargo hold, and can tell the flight attendants and pilot that your animal is on board your flight. This helps ensure your pet makes it safely on board, and gives you peace of mind. Plus, it never hurts to remind the pilot to ensure the conditions in the cargo hold are suitable for keeping your pet healthy and comfortable.
On The Plane:
Once on board the plane, there is not much you can do for your pet except countdown the time until you land at your destination. While you may pass the time by reading a book, resting, or watching a movie, your pet may be having a different experience. It can be a loud and harrowing experience, full of turbulence and strange noises, smells, and sights.
Most likely, your pet’s carrier will be one of the last things to go on board and one of the first items to be unloaded. Your pet will be in his crate for the entirety of the flight in a temperature-controlled portion of the cargo hold. While some pets simply sleep or rest until the plane lands, others panic or suffer from motion sickness. While some airlines will have a crew member or veterinarian check on the pets during the flight or provide water during the air, this doesn’t happen on every flight. Throughout the loading and unloading process, your pet likely will encounter many strangers, which can be scary. Your pet’s experience flying as cargo will depend on his natural personality and temperament, as well as which airline you fly and the quality of the staff.
Picking Up Your Pet:
Once you land, your first priority will likely be reuniting with your dog. But note that your pup won’t be arriving on the carousel at baggage claim with the rest of your luggage. Ask your airline in advance for specific instructions on where and how to retrieve your dog once arriving at your destination. Similarly to how you may drop your pet off at a different location, you may also need to travel to a separate part of the airport or cargo processing location to pick up your dog. In order to help the process go smoothly, bring a copy of your pet’s identification, itinerary, and a photo of your pet in case anyone asks to see it.
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