December 1

Flying with pets can be a hassle and hazard

Jan, the mother of my close friend, found a job on the East Coast but comes back to Oregon every Christmas for an extended period. She brings her black standard poodle, Elvira, whose airline ticket costs as much or more than for a human.

And while Jan is unlikely to leave Elvira at home this year, flying with a pet over the holidays can be a hassle and a hazard to your pet. Cargo holds can become very cold, and a delay can mean an animal doesn’t get enough food or water. Airline employees do try to check, but don’t always catch if a pet has turned over a dish or is shaking in the frigid temperatures.

So the ASPCA wants pet owners to consider alternatives flying their pets on commercial airlines this year, especially if those pets will be flying in cargo like the 60-pound Elvira must do. Boarding or finding a reliable pet sitter may seem more attractive to you than expending the money and the worry to fly your pooch.

What are the real risks? The Air Transport Association has reported in the past that approximately 5,000, or 1 percent of the companion animals that are flown on commercial planes have been injured, lost or killed during transport.

“Unless your animal is small enough to fit under your seat and you can bring them in the cabin, the ASPCA recommends pet owners to not fly their animal,” said Lisa Weisberg, ASPCA Senior Vice President of Government Affairs and Public Policy.

One percent is not a large number – certainly many more beloved pets are hit by cars every year – but that wouldn’t make it any more pleasant should it happen to your pet.

If you cannot avoid flying your pet for the holidays or have already made arrangements, take some of the precautions that experienced flyers like Jan use for their pets:

  • Make sure your animal has a collar with visible identification and a microchip. Get one of the temporary I.D. tags that lists your destination and the phone number where you’ll be staying.
  • Buy a crate approved for flying and label it “LIVE ANIMAL” in letters at least one inch high. The crate should be big enough for your pet to be comfortable during the flight – it should be able to sit, fully lie down and turn around. Also make sure that you attach information on the crate with your permanent contact information and the contact information for you at your destination. Some travel experts recommend that you also attach a photo of your animal so that if it escapes, it can be easily identified and returned to its crate. Do not lock the crate.
  • Use bedding in the crate. If your pet is not a chewer, try absorbant puppy pads at the bottom of the crate, covered with towels and topped by a favorite blanket. That will keep your pet warm and dry in case of accidents. Include a chew toy or bone if that would help keep your pet calm.
  • Arrange for a direct flight whenever possible. When flying cross country, that can be tough, so Jan goes so far as to change her plans if it looks like the connecting flight might be delayed because of weather or other travel snags. Try to be as flexible as possible so you can do the same.
  • Don’t use tranquilizers or other drugs on your pet unless specifically advised to by a trusted veterinarian. Only you know what your dog can handle, but tranquilizers can impede breathing while in flight. Try a homeopathic stress reliever like Ignatia or put Rescue Remedy in the pet’s water.
  • Be sure every airline employee you deal with knows that you are flying with a pet. If conditions get bad or there is a long layover, make sure someone from the airline checks on your dog and reports back to you. In severe cases, you can deplane with your pet – which Jan has had to do.

Another option is to fly the new Companion Air, which caters specifically to pet owners and animals. Companion is not fully up and running but is offering some charter flights at this time. Check their Web site,, for details and fares.

See also: Q&A: Are poinsettas poisonous?   Goldfish need proper care, too