Your Pet On My Jet
While most veterinarians don’t recommend shipping your pet by air for a lot of good reasons, it can be done safely if you plan carefully and, like you must for your own travel, plan well ahead of time.
When it comes to airlines and pet owners, there are basically two options: fly with your pet in the cabin, or have your pet put aboard in the cargo hold. On this latter option, there’s another choice: pet shippers, professionals who are in the business of shipping pets and will actually come to your door, help prep and consult on (or provide) an adequate shipping container.
But no matter which way you choose to transport your pet, you should know that there are actually regulations covering such transportation by both the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA), and statistics regarding animal mishaps can be found on the Air Travel Consumer Report published monthly by the Department of Transportation (DOT). The DOT also publishes some guidelines for shipping pets that you should review.
Still wanting to fly your pet somewhere? Fine–according to the DOT, over two million pets and other animals are shipped by air annually, so, it can and is done often and successfully.
The best summary of “must-do” items I’ve seen comes from the guidelines for shipping pets linked above. Once you’ve ensured that your animal’s condition, shipping container and travel arrangements meet those basic standards, let’s look at the operational aspect: the airport and the flight.
While some airlines stop shipping animals in the coldest and hottest months of the year, many ship year round. But that should be a warning to you: some airlines believe that the extremes of temperature on the ramp that normally is acceptable for cargo might be too harsh for pets. Can you ship during a more temperate season? Can you change plans if the temperature is extremely hot or cold on your travel day?
Because your pet in a kennel will be subject to hot or cold temps on the airport ramp during both the cargo loading and unloading process, which can easily be up to a half hour each way. The flight line and the ramp are hostile environments: extreme noise (hearing protection required for humans–and many pets have even more sensitive hearing) and harsh temperatures. Now, our cargo guys at American Airlines (and I assume most airlines) really are sensitive to pet shipments, trying to minimize the trauma for the animals. Nonetheless, there’s little that can be done about the extremes of temperature and noise that are the facts of life on the flight line.
So, to minimize ramp exposure, try to book a nonstop flight. That will eliminate a mid-trip necessity for the pet and carrier to be offloaded from one jet and trucked across the flight line to another. In the case of both an origination flight and a connecting flight, a delayed inbound flight can mean a long sit on a cargo vehicle on the ramp–a nonstop flight eliminates one long round of exposure to heat, cold and noise on the ramp.
And here’s a myth that we can put to rest: no, the cargo compartment is not unpressurized. If it were, everything in your luggage that is even in a mildly liquid state would ooze all over the place at altitude. The cargo compartment is within the pressurized hull of the jet and further, it is also temperature controlled.
But here is a hazard that is below-decks on a modern jet that isn’t in the passenger cabin: fire suppression chemicals. That is, is smoke is detected in any cargo compartment, there is a cargo fire suppression system that discharges “snuff” chemicals–that is, fire retardants that eliminate the oxidants required to support combustion–as well as breathing. Just so you know.
Again, for shipping your pet as cargo, review the DOT guidelines for shipping pets linked above and be aware of the important considerations required on behalf of your pet.
Now, for option two, carrying your pet on board. Of course, there are government regulations covering that too, and they’re for the benefit of the pets, the pet owners, but as importantly, for those seated around passengers carrying pets. And let’s make an important distinction: pets versus service animals. The latter are covered by a separate set of regulations–which don’t necessarily apply to ordinary pets.
If you’re planning to travel with a pet aboard a jet, know which regulations apply to you–including the limitations–because I can tell you this: the flight crew not only knows what they are, they are charged by the FAA with assuring compliance. Let me highlight some of the more important stipulations here:
- Your pet container must be small enough to fit underneath the seat without blocking any person’s path to the main aisle of the airplane.
- Your pet container must be stowed properly before the last passenger entry door to the airplane is closed in order for the airplane to leave the gate.
- Your pet container must remain properly stowed the entire time the airplane is moving on the airport surface, and for take off and landing.
- You must follow flight attendant instructions regarding the proper stowage of your pet container.
I can’t stress that last point strongly enough, because failure to comply with that last point puts a passenger into the category of non-compliance with the lawful instructions of a crewmember, which is a Federal offense we as flight crew members do not take lightly.
Why do I even bring that up?
Because other passengers on your flight may be sensitive to allergens associated with your pet–and they have rights too, specified by even more government regulations. As a result, each airline will have their own specific rules for passengers carrying pets which might be even more restrictive than the government regulations. For example, Delta Airlines regulations are more restrictive than the government regulations, requiring that your pet remain in the pet carrier for the entire time it is aboard the aircraft. And most airline policies are similar to that.
Why do I even bring that up?
Because many people have allergic reactions provoked by exposure to your pet. For instance, the above pictured happy guy went head to head with Alex van Halen on a recent flight over the aging rocker’s carried-aboard pet. And basically, Al Roker was right: there is no requirement for any other passenger to endure ill effects from another passenger’s pet on board an aircraft.
Why do I even bring that up?
Because inevitably, there are passengers carrying pets that insist on removing the pets from their carriers in flight despite the airline policies and Federal regulations governing the carriage of pets aboard passenger airlines. Don’t do it–for the sake of others, and for your own sake–because there are serious physical liabilities for others on board, and major legal consequences for pet owners who claim an exemption from the rules they agreed to upon boarding the flight. Sure, your pet is the cutest pet on the planet–in your eyes. But when on board an aircraft, yours are not the only eyes involved and regardless of your pet’s loveableness, they and you must comply with all government and airline directives.
So that’s it: you know have the big picture and as importantly, the associated federal regulations governing the carriage of pets on commercial aircraft. Read carefully, plan accordingly and if you do travel with your pet, enjoy your flight.
He’s amassed over 20,000 pilot hours in the Boeing 707, 727, 737, 757, 767 and 777: we go live
with Boeing Instructor Captain Mark Rubin.
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This entry was posted on January 22, 2012 at 10:08 am and is filed under airline pilot blog with tags a day in the life of an airline pilot, air travel, airline cartoon, airline pilot blog, flying pets, passenger. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.