AAA Offers Advice on Air Travel For Pets

Is it safe for pets to travel by air? All airlines are subject to the basic requirements of the Animal Welfare Act, but there are other considerations that should be made before putting your pet on a plane, according to AAA.

To help you decide whether your pet should fly, AAA advises pet owners to get answers to these five questions before reserving space for their furry friends.

Is your pet fit to fly? Dogs and cats must be at least eight weeks old and weaned at least five days before air travel. Very old, pregnant, ill or injured animals should not fly.

Where will your pet fly? Animals that can fit in a crate small enough to go under the seat in an airplane can travel with their owner in the passenger cabin. If the animal is too big to fly in the passenger cabin, ask whether live animals fly in a hold separate from items classified as "dangerous goods," such as dry ice and toxic chemicals. Some animals, such as cats and snub-nosed dogs, are prone to severe respiratory difficulty in a plane's poorly ventilated cargo hold and should travel only in the passenger cabin-if size allows-with their owner.

Will the hold's heater be turned off during the flight? If so, temperatures in the hold can drop to near freezing. Make sure that the flight crew knows that your pet is traveling in the cargo hold. Since a cargo hold is not heated or cooled until takeoff, time spent on the ground in this unventilated compartment can be dangerous. Animals are prohibited from being in the hold or on the tarmac for more than 45 minutes when temperatures are above 85 degrees or below 45 degrees. Some airlines have even stricter policies, but you should ask to ensure your pet's safety.

What is the airline's animal welfare policy? Investigate the airline's animal transport and welfare policies, especially if you are flying with a small or commuter airline. Specific standards of care vary widely from one company to another.

Will the airline insure your pet? While most people consider a pet part of the family, the legal system assigns them the same value as luggage when they travel on a plane. An airline that won't insure animals in their care may not be the right choice for your pet.

Asking the right questions, however, is just the beginning. Owners can do much more to ensure their pet's safety while flying. AAA offers these tips:

Reserve space for your pet when you arrange your own flight well in advance of your travel date. Flying non-stop will avoid any problems that may arise from the pet being put on the wrong connecting flight, and reduces the risk of heatstroke or hypothermia during layovers.

Alert the flight crew if your pet is in the hold so the pilot will activate the heater. If there are layovers or delays, ask the flight crew if you or one of the crew can check on your pet.

If your pet is traveling in the passenger cabin, you may be asked to take it out of the crate when you pass through security on your way to the gate. Make sure the animal is wearing a collar and leash.

Let the passenger sitting next to you know if your pet is traveling as carry-on luggage. Someone with allergies may want to change seats.

Arrive at least two, but not more than four hours before your flight. Exercise and feed your pet before the flight, but don't feed him more than four hours prior. If the pet is traveling as cargo or checked baggage you may need to deliver him to the cargo terminal, which is often in a different place than the passenger terminal.

Carry an up-to-date health certificate for the pet, list of emergency contact phone numbers, a written description and a recent photo of the pet. These will be necessary in the event your pet does get lost en route.

Reconfirm flight arrangements for you and your pet 24-48 hours before the flight. Be prepared to pay an additional fee of about $50 each way; the cost is usually more for a large animal traveling without its owner.

More information on pet travel is available from Traveling With Your Pet, The AAA PetBookŪ (ISBN 1-56251-662-0, $15.95 US/$24.50 CDN). This and other AAA travel guides are available at participating AAA club offices, on participating club Web sites at www.aaa.com and in retail bookstores.

As North America's largest motoring and leisure travel organization, AAA provides 45 million members with travel, insurance, financial and automotive-related services. Since its founding in 1902, the not-for-profit, fully tax-paying AAA has been a leader and advocate for the safety and security of all travelers.