Getting an animal, be it a mouse or a moose, on an airplane today can be more inconvenient that getting yourself on one. Your pet may not have to take his shoes off and be groped or scanned, but he will be limited by his age, size, breed, health, destination and multiple other arbitrary factors, including the weather. Flying a pet can be expensive and is not without hazards for him. Consider carefully whether your pet travels for his pleasure and benefit, or just for yours.
Check with your airline, as in general, only cats and toy dogs may accompany passengers in the cabin, while larger dogs and other species must travel with the checked baggage in the hold. Some airlines require a heath certificate for any traveling pet, wherever he rides. These are things you need to know before you even go to the airport.
Ask about the charges for a cabin pet, and be prepared for lengthy discussions and maybe even changes in plan when you are already at the airport.
Measure your pet's carrier to be sure it will fit under the seat in front of you -- approximately 19-by-13-by-9 inches. The squashy kind, such as a Sherpa bag, is the most adaptable.
Remember that your pet will not be allowed out of his carrier at any time during the flight.
Have a backup plan -- what will you do if they ask for more money, require you to check your pet as baggage or refuse to take your pet at all? What if you change your mind and decide not to take your pet? Take someone with you to care for your pet in such an event.
Ask your airline detailed questions in advance about pets checked as baggage. How long before flight time should you check in with a pet, and where -- at the curb, at the counter or maybe at another terminal? Remember, every minute adds to the time he has to spend in his crate. If you send food and water, attached to the outside of the crate, who will give it to him? How will you pick up your pet -- will he be sent to a separate terminal and will they bring him to you on a cart or just put him on the carousel?
Choose the sturdiest, most secure crate you can find that fits the specifications of the airline you will be flying -- these can vary. There are no specific travel crates universally accepted by all airlines.
Condition your pet to spending long periods of time in his crate with little food and water in a noisy environment among strangers, because this is exactly what he will encounter while traveling as baggage.
Select a direct flight with no stopovers or plane changes.
Label the crate "LIVE ANIMAL" and draw hearts and flowers on it -- this may catch the attention of baggage handlers and move them to treat your pet with extra consideration.
Ask your airline what breeds they do and do not accept -- some will not accept short-faced dogs such as pugs, bulldogs and boxers, as they may have respiratory problems while flying.
Check the weather on the day you and your pet travel to be sure it conforms to whatever temperature limits your airline accepts or your vet recommends -- too hot or too cold may affect your pet badly.
Take out pet insurance for the flight -- many animals have died, escaped or been stolen during air travel.
Consider using a service that specializes in pet air travel; some will even pick up and deliver.
Consult the service on fees, crate requirements and all other aspects of your pet's travel.
Have a backup plan. What if your pet arrives before you do? Have someone on standby to meet him. What if he is delayed -- can you get back to the airport to get him?
Check all requirements for taking your pet to your destination. Some places, such as Hawaii, may require an extended quarantine of up to 120 days at your expense -- this island state has no rabies, doesn't want any and has a good chance of avoiding it. Some entities, such as the EU (which includes the UK since January 2012), require health certificates and microchipping.
Be sure your pet conforms to any special medical requirements, such as age (animals under 8 weeks of age don't travel well), health issues (pregnancy) and vaccinations such as rabies, coronavirus, bordetella, heartworm and the 5-in-1 against distemper, hepatitis, leptospirosis, parvovirus and parainfluenza for dogs, and rabies, panleukopenia (feline distemper), herpesvirus and calicivirus for cats.
Consult your veterinarian before flying for your pet's individual travel needs.