New York — We dress them up. We feed them gourmet foods. We treat them like members of the family. So when we have to fly — whether it be on a beach vacation or to grandma’s house, our pets are often a first-class priority.
Bringing animals on flights has become more commonplace in recent years, but some airlines now have strict regulations — and even stricter prices — to pack a pooch or carry a cat. But with increasing concern for the welfare of canine and feline alike, there are a growing number of options to transport pets in the friendly skies.
While some incidents can’t be avoided, preparation, experts say, is the key to having a safe and uneventful flight.
Here are some basic tips to ensure happy trails in the air:
• Make sure your pet is fit to fly. Have a veterinarian examine your pet and give a clean bill of health before the flight. Most airlines require health certificates. You may also have to bring along vaccination records.
• If you have a snub-nosed dog or cat, like a pug or Persian, check with your vet to make sure they can fly. Some of these types of animals have breathing troubles that could be complicated at high altitudes.
• Consider microchipping your pet. The device, about the size of a grain of rice, can be implanted for less than $100. And because the process gives the pet a unique ID that can be accessed if your cat or dog gets lost, chances of finding them can grow exponentially. Also make sure all tags and licenses are up-to-date with your most recent address and contact number.
• Try to choose a less hectic time to travel to avoid stress on your animal. Weekdays are ideal.
• If you are flying during the summer and your pet is traveling in cargo, try and schedule the flight in the early morning or evening, when temperatures are lowest. If you’re heading out in the winter, aim for a midday flight. Because the temperature in the cargo areas can be extreme, most carriers only allow pets on board if the air temperature is greater than 45 degrees or less than 85. That excludes a lot of the peak summer and winter travel season, so it’s best to keep an eye on the forecast before going to the airport.
• Let the airline know you are traveling with a pet when you book, so you can make sure there is room for your dog or cat onboard.
• Don’t feed your pet two hours before departure to ensure it will be comfortable with the lack of potty breaks ahead. Try freezing water in a dish to fit in the carrier, so it will melt gradually during flight and avoid spillage.
• Exercise with your pet a couple hours before flight to tire them out and help them relax. Adam Goldfarb, Director of Pets at Risk program at the Humane Society, recommends against the use of sedatives because the pet won’t be able to protect itself if the carrier shifts during flight. Pets can also have reactions to the sedatives that may not be caught during flight. Sedation can be especially dangerous for those breeds already prone to breathing problems.
• Secure pertinent information to your pet carrier such as the flight number, destination and your pet’s name and age if they are traveling below deck. “Live Animal” and “This End Up” stickers are recommended by the American Humane Association. Carry a recent photo to whip out if your pet gets lost.
• Come to the airport armed with the relevant paperwork such as a recent health certificate and vaccination records for your pet if the airline requires it.
• Consider putting a harness on your cat if it won’t be with you in the cabin. If security personnel remove the cat from the carrierit will lessen the chance the cat will get loose.
There are also other options popping up for pet lovers looking for a more comforting experience. Pet Airways, which launches in July, will send your pet between major cities including New York, Washington D.C., Chicago, Denver, and Los Angeles for $250 one-way (an introductory fare of $150).
Dogs and cats will fly in a main cabin where seats have been replaced by kennels, and pets will be escorted to the four-leg only flight by attendants that will monitor the pets during flight.