Following airline rules makes pets’ flights easier



associated press file photo


Tara Zimmerman, left, of New York, and her dog Pablo check-in with Delta Airlines employee Robert Hoffman at LaGuardia Airport in New York, in this file photo.


SuNae Martz is a 10-year-old jet-setter who’s crisscrossed the globe more than once. The catch: SuNae is a dog — a fluffy white coton de tulear.

Her owner, Gayle Martz, takes her everywhere she flies, from Paris to New York to Los Angeles. But SuNae doesn’t fly in the belly of the plane like common cargo. She’s first class, in the cabin under Martz’ seat.

“I don’t check my jewelry, and SuNae is my most precious jewel,” said Martz, a former flight attendant-turned entrepreneur who created and sells a soft-sided pet carrier, the Sherpa Bag.

SuNae is one of a half-million pets that fly each year, according to statistics complied by the U.S. Department of Transportation. But not all airlines permit pets to fly in the cabin — Air Canada, for example, does not allow it — and other policies vary too.

Some airlines charge to bring pets in the cabin; some don’t. Some airlines restrict the travel of short-nosed animals, like Persian cats and pugs, which have shorter nasal passages that make breathing difficult at higher altitudes. Most also don’t allow pets to travel as cargo in temperatures below 20 degrees F (about -7C) and above 85 degrees F (29C).

Most mishaps, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, stem not from mishandling or a panicked animal getting injured or lost but from sedation. The association advises against giving tranquilizers to pets during air travel because the results are often unpredictable, even fatal.

“An animal’s natural ability to balance and maintain equilibrium is altered under sedation,” said Dr. Patricia Olson, director of veterinary affairs and studies for the American Humane Association. “When the kennel is moved, a sedated animal may not be able to brace and prevent injury.”

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Corie Geller checks in for her flight to Kansas City with her dog Rocky in tow, at Chicago’s O'Hare International Airport.

Continental now requires passengers to sign a waiver saying their animal has not been sedated, but most airlines don’t have that rule.

All these different policies can be confusing. “It seems like it all depends on the mood of the person you’re dealing with at the airport that day,” said Eric Buss, a magician from Los Angeles who has travelled by plane with the doves and rabbits he uses in his act.

But there are some rules that you and the airlines must follow. Here’s what you need to know about flying with your pet:

  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which regulates pet air-travel, requires a health certificate from a vet 10 days before travelling for animals flying as cargo, but not when flying as checked baggage or carry-on. Martz suggests carrying such certification just in case you are asked for it.

  • Fees vary. JetBlue charges US$50 for a pet to fly in the cabin; Continental, $95, American and Northwest, $80. It’s free on USAir Shuttle and Delta Shuttle. Air Canada charges C$105 to transport pets in a temperature-controlled baggage compartment in North America, $245 internationally.

  • Some airlines only allow one animal in the cabin per flight. American allows up to seven. Sometimes certified service dogs count as a pet; sometimes they don’t.

  • Alert the airline of a pet when booking your flight to make sure there’s room in the cabin.

  • Fly during a weekday. when airports are less hectic.

  • Fly in the morning or evening during the summer, and midday during the winter to ensure safe temperatures for pets travelling as cargo.

  • Exercise your pet before leaving to help it relax and sleep.

  • Don’t give your pet water two hours before departure.

  • Tape a note on the pet container with all relevant information: name of the pet, age, destination and flight number.

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