The Humane Society of the United States warns that it is dangerous for pets to fly as cargo in an airplane, due to temperature extremes, lack of ventilation, poor oxygen levels and rough handling by airline personnel. If possible, transport your pet by automobile or in the passenger area of the airplane. If you must transport your pet in the cargo area, follow these tips for a safer flight.
Choosing an Airline
Choose an airline that has a good safety rating for transporting pets as cargo. The U.S. Department of Transportation publishes a yearly report on pet-related incidents on airlines in America. Find an airline that has a pressurized and temperature-controlled cargo area for pets.
Booking the Flight
Before booking the flight, ask what the airline's pet cargo requirements are. The Federal Animal and Welfare Act specifies that dogs and cats shipped as cargo on airplanes must be 8 weeks old or older and be weaned for at least 5 days. Individual airlines may have additional regulations for pets shipped as cargo. Some airlines have restrictions on the types of pets, the specific breed, and the size of pets. In addition, ask the airline about quarantine requirements for the destination your pet is flying into. Some states and countries, such as Hawaii, require most pets to go under quarantine to check for rabies. Book a non-stop flight to minimize the amount of time your pet must sit on the tarmac waiting to be loaded on the next plane. For your pet's safety, book the flight in mild temperature weather conditions -- warmer than 45 degrees Fahrenheit and cooler than 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
Most airlines require a health certificate from a licensed veterinarian, dated within the previous 10 days from the flight, stating the pet is healthy enough to fly. Pets generally must be current on their vaccinations as well. Even if the airline does not require a health certificate, it is a good idea to take your pet to your veterinarian for an exam to make sure he is healthy enough to fly in the cargo department of an airplane.
Purchase a shipping container for your pet that adheres to the International Air Transport Association guidelines. The IATA specifies that shipping containers must be large enough for the animal to stand, turn around and lie down comfortably, and it must have adequate ventilation holes, must close securely and must be sturdy. Pet owners must attach food and water containers securely to the shipping container if their pets will be in the container for more than 12 hours. Shipping containers should have handles for easy transport and should be labeled "live pet" and with the pet owner's name and address. Inform airline personnel if you need them to administer medication to your pet during transport. Place the medication in a bag and attach it securely to the outside of the shipping container, along with instructions on how to dispense the medication.
Preparing Your Pet
Get your pet accustomed to staying in the shipping container before the flight, to minimize his stress. Start by placing your pet in the container for a couple of minutes at a time. Gradually increase the amount of time he spends in the container, until he is able to stay in the container for as long as the flight, without being stressed.
The Day of Transport
Feed your pet a light meal 2 hours before the flight. Do not give your pet any sedatives, unless recommended by your veterinarian. Remove collars, halters, leashes and muzzles before placing your pet in the crate. These items can pose safety risks during transport. Wait until the last minute to put your pet in the shipping container. Airlines specify how early before a flight pet owners must deliver their pets. Do not bring your pet any earlier than the airline requires. The longer your pet sits in the shipping container, the more stressed he is likely to become.
After the Flight
Pick up your pet as soon as he is unloaded from the airplane. Check the condition of your pet to make sure he is in good condition. If your pet appears to be in poor condition, inform the airline and go to a veterinarian immediately.