U.S. Pet Air Travel Regulations
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulates air transportation of pets within the U.S. and all airlines are required by law to follow the guidelines below. Individual airlines may impose further restrictions or fees for flying with your pet. For the individual policies of each airline, refer to our Airline Pet Policies page. If you will be traveling from the Continental United States to Hawaii or a foreign country, please consult our International Pet Travel page for additional regulations imposed at your destination.
- When booking a flight on which you wish to bring your pet, call the airline directly to make the reservation and confirm that there is a space available for your pet on the flight.
- 24 to 48 hours before your flight, it’s a good idea to call the airline and reconfirm that you will be traveling with your pet.
- Advance arrangements are not guarantees that your pet will travel on a specific flight. Airlines reserve the right to refuse transport of an animal for reasons like illness, an improper carrier, or extreme temperatures. Airlines can also refuse carriage of an animal that demonstrates aggressive or violent behavior.
- Animals travel under less stress when they are accustomed to their carrier before they travel. In the weeks prior to your trip, put your dog into his carrier as often as possible for trips around town.
- Please note that pets are not allowed to travel with unaccompanied minors on any airline.
THE DAY OF YOUR FLIGHT
- The USDA requires that your pet be offered food and water within four hours before you check in. Since a full stomach might be uncomfortable for your dog during travel, we recommend feeding him right at four hours before the flight, if possible.
- While its best to refrain from feeding your dog right before the flight, you can (and should) give him water right up to the time of travel. Just be sure to empty the dish before checking in so it doesn’t spill during the flight. If you’re checking the dog, leave dishes in the carrier so an airline employee will be able to provide your pet with food and water in the event of an extended wait before or after the flight.
- Exercise your pet before leaving for the airport. Carry a leash with you so you can walk your pet before you check in and after you arrive at your destination. This will help your dog calm down prior to and after the flight.
- Arrive at the airport early, but not too early. You will not be allowed to check your pet in more than four hours before the flight. Most airlines recommend arriving two hours before your flight when you’re traveling with your pet. Passengers traveling with pets must check in at the ticket counter. No curbside or self-service check-in is allowed.
APPROVED PET CARRIERS
- Whether your pet is a Chihuahua or a Great Dane, there is a pet carrier to match. The majority of carriers are made of hard plastic with holes for ventilation. No part of the animal is allowed to protrude from the carrier. As a result, wire carriers are not permitted. Soft-sided carriers are permitted in the cabin only.
- Carriers must be big enough to allow the animal to stand, turn around and lie down comfortably. If the pet carrier does not allow the animal to do this, the airline will refuse transport.
- Carriers must have a solid, leak-proof floor that is covered with a towel, litter, or other absorbent lining for accidents that might occur during transit.
- Carriers must be well ventilated with openings that make up at least 14% of the total wall space. At least 33% of the openings must be located in the top half of the carrier and the carrier must have rims to prevent ventilation openings from being blocked by other cargo.
- Carriers should have either grips or handles, so airline employees don’t have to put their fingers inside and risk being bitten.
- The carrier should contain two empty dishes, for food and water, along with feeding instructions and your signature certifying that your pet was offered food and water within four hours of your flight’s scheduled departure.
- Mark the carrier with your pet’s name and include identification tags with your home address and phone number as well as the address and phone number of someone who can be reached at your destination.
- You should mark “Live Animal” on the top and side of the carrier, with directional arrows indicating the proper position of the carrier.
- Do not put a leash or muzzle with the animal, either inside or attached to the outside of the carrier, during transit.
- Kennels can contain one adult dog. Two puppies will be allowed together if they are eight weeks to six months old, weigh more than 20 pounds each, and are fully weaned.
The USDA requires that your pet must be at least eight weeks old and fully weaned before traveling. Only pets in good health are permitted to fly. Airlines will not transport animals that are violent, ill, or in physical distress.
All pets crossing state borders, with the exception of guide dogs, are required by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to have a rabies immunization and valid health certificate issued by a licensed veterinarian within 30 days of travel. If your pet is traveling via cargo, or if you are a breeder, dealer, or research facility transporting a dog, the health certificate should be issued no more than 10 days before departure.
USE OF TRANQUILIZERS
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, in most cases, dogs should not be given sedatives or tranquilizers prior to flying. An animal’s natural ability to balance and maintain equilibrium is altered under sedation, which can be dangerous when the kennel is moved.
Whether your dog is flying in the cabin or as a checked pet, he will be exposed to increased altitude pressures. This can create respiratory and cardiovascular problems for dogs which are sedated or tranquilized. Snub-nosed dogs (American Staffordshire Terriers, Boston Terriers, Boxers, Brussels Griffins, Bull Terriers, English/French Bulldogs, English Toy Spaniels, Japanese Chins, King Charles Spaniels, Lhasa Apsos, Pekineses, Pugs, Shar-Peis and Shih Tzus) are especially affected.
While sedation is generally not advised, the decision on whether or not to prescribe a tranquilizer for your pet should be made by your veterinarian. If your veterinarian decides that tranquilizers are medically necessary, the name of the drug, the dosage, and how the drug was administered should be indicated on the dog’s carrier.
EXTREME WEATHER CONDITIONS
Extreme hot and cold temperatures can pose a health risk to pets. In summer, choose early morning or late evening flights. In winter, choose mid-day flights. Whenever possible, book nonstop or direct flights and avoid weekend and holiday travel.
If you are traveling to or from a destination where the temperature is (or is forecasted to be) either below 45F or above 85F (75F for snub-nosed dogs), you will need a letter signed by your veterinarian stating that your pet is acclimated to extreme weather. If the temperature is below 20F or above 95F, your pet will likely not be allowed to travel in the cargo area even with a letter of acclimation. And some airlines will not accept snub-nosed dog breeds in their cargo areas at all during the summer months.