Traveling With Pets As Cargo vs. Baggage vs. Carry On

Most of you probably don’t think about your pets as cargo, baggage, or carry on luggage, but this is the way airlines view (and price) your pets when you fly with them. One of the biggest mistakes people make when preparing to fly with their pets is not getting ready far enough in advance or assuming that their pet meets carry on or other requirements without checking them.

lego plane

If you’re new to flying with your pet, there are some important distinctions you should be aware of as you begin planning out your trip. I’d strongly advise you start at 3 months before your flight to get ready.

Pets As Carry-Ons

cat in carrierAll airlines have weight, height, and length limits for pets that will be taken as carry on luggage in the cabin with you. Many of the airlines restrict the type of pets you can fly with as carry on to dogs and cats; if you’ll be traveling internationally there may be other pet restrictions when you land as well so call the appropriate embassy to find out.

  • Your pet is also likely to be weighed if they look to be near the weight or size limits. Make sure you measure your pet before making arrangements and give yourself a kilogram (~2 lbs) of leeway. If your pet isn’t full grown (less than a year old) I’d consider checking your pet as baggage.
  • If your pet is deemed too large to be taken as a carry on you might be given the opportunity to check them provided your carrier meets the airline requirements.
  • Don’t just show up at the airport with your tiny dog – even if your pet does meet the size requirements most airlines only allow 2 pets as carry on per plane. It’s first come, first serve, so if there are already 2 pets booked as carry-ons you’ll be out of luck.

It’s also important to mention your cat or dogs personality as well. Some pets are easy to panic, very hyper, or don’t do well in closed spaces or around groups of people. Make the journey easier on you, your pet, and other passengers by considering checking your pets as baggage (special cargo), or not traveling with them at all depending on how severe their anxiety is.

Pets as Cargo

Some travelers plan to send their pets before they actually fly themselves for a variety of reasons (which usually come down to poor planning). When your pets don’t fly on the same plane as you do, they are considered cargo. It’s like sending a package, which is very expensive. Sending a small dog or cat as cargo can easily cost over $1,000 and there is more paperwork to worry about. You’ll have to deal with customs as you would if you were traveling with your pets but where there are no owners around the process becomes much more cumbersome. The only way to send your pets if you’re not flying with them is domestically in the US using Pet Airways.

Pets As Baggage

dog with planeThis option is basically where your pets fly with you, in the cargo hold beneath the plane. For large dogs and many cats, this is the only way to fly with your pets. The cost is around $200 both domestically and international and you’ll need to talk to the airline and ask if there are any special carrier requirements. Often times the carrier will need to meet certain dimensions as well as have something soft and absorbent inside in case of accidents.

  • For those of you flying internationally, there is a lot of work you need to do beforehand. Start by calling the embassies (Embassy World has all the contact information) of all the countries you’ll be landing in (even for layovers) to get all of the pet requirements. Most embassy websites will also have this information.
  • Get to the airport an hour in advance of what you normally would. There will be some additional paperwork and security screening for your pets.
  • Carry copies of all the appropriate vet medical records, identification (i.e. microchip numbers), and consider a picture too if you’ll be traveling internationally.

The Best Option Is A Well-Prepared One

Whatever option you choose, you’ll save yourself time and money by preparing early – approximately 3 months in advance of any flights. The airport is the worst place to have to alter your plans when traveling with pets as often the left hand of the airline doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. Call, confirm, and have all of your papers with you and don’t forget to travel in the easiest way for your pet!

[photos by: comedy_nose, Scorpions and Centaurs, bravoinsd]

Previous post:

Next post: