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Flying with Pets: Are Cargo Holds Safe?

It’s the holidays and many of us will be traveling with our pets. When you’re in the family car, it’s easy to know how your dog or cat is doing, but if you have to fly there are definite hazards to consider. This week, Cassie, a cat owner from Ohio, asks about flying with her fur baby. Susan Smith gives Cassie advice on cats flying in general and what she needs to look for when flying.

“Is the cargo hold area safe for my cat when we’re flying somewhere? Is there any way I can buy her a ticket to ride in the cabin with me instead?”                                                                    – Cassie, Ohio

Susan’s Response:

“Hi Carrie – it is advisable to fly your cat in the cabin with you whenever your airline’s pet policy permits it. To do this,your cat will need to fly in an airline-compliant carrier that will fit under the seat in front of you. By airline-compliant, we mean that it must have a waterproof bottom, adequate ventilation and offer security for your cat. (zippers are preferred over snaps) Your cat must be able to stand up and turn around in the carrier. Soft-sided carriers are easier to accommodate the space under the seat than are hard-sided carriers.

You will need to contact your airline to make a reservation for your cat as the airlines only permit a certain number of pets to travel in the cabin per flight. This should be done prior to any booking you make for yourself online.

Check Each Country’s Pet Travel Restrictions

In cases where your preferred airline does not offer in-cabin service for pets or your destination country mandates that live animals arrive as air cargo (UK, Hong Kong, Australia are examples) or your pet is too large to travel in the cabin, it must travel in the cargo hold. Every airline that flies live animals in the cargo hold is required to monitor and maintain temperature and pressure levels similar to those in the cabin. Crates containing live animals are stowed in an area where they will be protected from luggage and other cargo.

Be a proactive pet owner and remind the captain or crew that your cat is in the hold and take great care at monitoring conditions in the hold. Also, ask for confirmation that your pet has been loaded prior to boarding the plane yourself if you cannot see the loading of the aircraft from the gate.

The cargo hold should be dimly lit during flight and most animals fall asleep to the drone of the engines. Know that millions of pets are flown safely each year, and many airlines do a good job at handling their precious cargo.

Protect Your Cat’s Safety in the Cargo Hold

There are important considerations when you must fly your cat in the cargo hold. If your cat is of a snub-nosed variety (Persian), it should never be flown to or from areas where high temperatures are prevalent. It should be flown in a crate that is larger than normally required with an extra-large bowl of water attached to the door. (freezing the water in the bowl the night before is a great preventative for slow melting and spillage.) Actually, risks for all pets traveling in the cargo hold increase during periods of high temperatures due to handling on the ground and during loading.

Try to fly during off-holiday seasons and avoid peak times like weekends and Mondays. There is less demand on baggage handlers during these times.

Regardless of whether your cat flies in the cabin or cargo hold, acclimating your cat to its crate or carrier is crucial and one of the best things you can do for your cat. Take lots of time with this and plenty of praise and treats are in order during training. Put familiar things in the carrier or crate and encourage your cat to go in and check it out without closing the door. After time, your cat will get to know its carrier or crate as a safe place, and this will make traveling much easier for it.”

You can learn more about Susan H. Smith on our Contributors page.


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