Vacation Travel Tips & Advisories

What it’s Like for a Pet to Fly in Airline Cargo

Every day, thousands of pets fly on U.S. airlines. Most of the time, it’s a seamless event and everyone arrives safely. Occasionally it’s not — with some unfortunate results.

More than 140 pets died and 88 were lost or injured while traveling on airplanes between May 2005 and July 2010, according to a Department of Transportation report. So what does happen when your precious pooch goes in cargo? We asked Continental Airlines to show us the trip of one checked pet as it travels from Houston to Newark.

First, there’s a little preparation the pet owner needs to do.

A month before the flight

Buy an approved kennel for your pet. All airlines and the DOT require that kennels be big enough for the animal to stand, sit, turn around, and lie down without restriction. Some airlines disallow the kind that fold flat, so check before buying a crate. The kennel must also have two bowls that attach to the inside of the kennel. These will be used to supply water to your animal if needed during flight.

“It’s better to err on the larger side when buying a kennel,” says Lisa Schoppa, Manager of Continental’s PetSafe program. “All you do is increase air circulation and space. Go large if there’s a question.”

Leave the kennel, with the door open, in a busy area of your home and get the animal used to being in it, suggests Schoppa.

One week to 10 days before the flight:

Visit your vet. This is the time to get the updated rabies certification and a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection, as well as updates or refills on any medications the animal might need. The American Veterinarian Medical Association recommends microchipping your pet to further help identify it.

The night before the flight:

Give your pet a nice, carb-heavy meal and plenty of water. Consider sleeping in an old t-shirt, which you can then place in the pet’s crate for the flight. Your scent helps calm the animal. The AVMA recommends only newspaper or thin material be placed on the kennel floor.

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