Where is Jack?

Making Air Travel Safe for Pets

Flying as “Checked Baggage” or “Cargo”

If you are in a situation where you feel you have NO OTHER CHOICE but to fly your pet as checked baggage or cargo on a commercial flight, we want to help you make the journey for your fur-kid as safe as possible.  Here are some things to consider as you and your pet prepare for your flight…


The “AIRLINE APPROVED” designation means almost nothing.  All it really means is that the airline says the carrier is an approved size – it means nothing about the carrier’s safety for your pet.  Do not be fooled into thinking an “airline approved” carrier is a SAFE carrier.
Do not use a carrier where the top and bottom are “clipped” or “dialed” together with a plastic latch.  These carriers separate easily, and may even come apart when your pet shifts it weight during transport.  They are extremely dangerous for your pet!!!
Our friend Lisa at DryFur.com has an incredible amount of knowledge about pet carrier safety and recommends the Vari Kennel and Sky Kennel brands of pet carrier.  (The site also has lots of other helpful information about traveling with a pet.)

Many websites recommend that you get your pet “acclimated” to the carrier, and this will make them “calmer” during travel.  While acclimation is a good idea, do not think that just because your pet is able to sit in their carrier calmly in your living room, they will be just as calm in the airport.  Know that no matter how used to their crate they are, your pet is going to experience some stress when going through the process of traveling, particularly when they are separated from you as “checked baggage” or “cargo”.


DON’T DO IT.   Period.  In the words of the American Veterinary Medical Association: “It is recommended that you DO NOT give tranquilizers to your pet when traveling by air because it can increase the risk of heart and respiratory problems.”  The American Humane Association suggests that it also impacts their balance and makes them less able to brace themselves if the crate is jostled or falls, making it more likely they will be injured.


It is ILLEGAL for airline employees to stack crates containing animals in the U.S.!!!

THE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO REMEMBER:  DO NOT ASSUME AIRLINE EMPLOYEES CARE ABOUT YOUR PET.  Even though your pet is away from you, do not think that someone who cares about your pet’s safety is watching out for your pet.  It is your responsibility to ensure your pet’s safety at EVERY STEP OF THE WAY.
After you go through the TSA screening process, make sure the carrier is secure before you give it to the airline employee (more on what that means below).  Make sure the employee understands (in their native language – and ask for translation help if needed!!) that the animal that is in their care is very important to you and they are to be VERY CAREFUL.  Watch how the employee handles the carrier and, if necessary, show them how to be more careful.
Make sure the carrier is not placed on top of any other baggage.  If you are traveling with 2 carriers, make sure they are not placed on top of each other.  IT IS AGAINST THE LAW (the Animal Welfare Act) for airlines to stack carriers.
If you see a carrier being stacked on another carrier or on anything else, please take a picture, if possible.  IMMEDIATELY tell the airline employee that this is not only dangerous, but against the law, and ask them to place the carrier or carriers so that they are not resting on top of anything else.
Make sure you have zip tied the carrier to insure it will remain closed.
Watch to see the baggage being loaded on to the plane.  Live animals should be loaded last.  Ask the gate agent to confirm with the ground crew that your pet has been loaded onto the plane.  IF YOU HAVE ANY DOUBT, refuse to board the plane.  Current TSA regulations prohibit a plane from leaving if checked baggage and a passenger are knowingly separated.  Use this information to make absolutely certain your pet is on your flight – or use it to delay the flight if you don’t get a response that you find compelling.
Stop at the front of the plane when you board and ask to speak to the pilot.  It is the pilot who controls the climate in the under-plane baggage area.  Tell the pilot you have a pet flying below and ask at what temperature the below-deck cargo hold is heated/air conditioned (depending on the season).  Ask for the pilot’s help in keeping your pet safe!!!
IF THE PLANE IS DELAYED AT ALL  FOR ANY REASON, ask the flight crew what is being done to keep your pet safe & comfortable.  In many planes, when the engines are turned off, the climate control system in cargo is also turned off.  THIS MEANS YOUR PET MAY NOT BE KEPT APPROPRIATELY WARM OR COOL, and it may mean your pet is not even receiving fresh air.  Ask questions about what is being done to care for your pet if your flight is delayed.  If you’re not satisfied with the flight crew’s response, ask to speak with the pilot.  Still not satisfied with the response??  CALL THE AIRLINE’S CORPORATE OFFICES or CALL THE USDA/APHIS  OFFICE at 301-734-7833.


Upon arrival at your destination, ask your flight crew to please alert the ground crew that you have a pet traveling down below and to please be especially careful in handling that pet.
DO NOT open your pet’s carrier unless you are in an enclosed area!!!  Your pet is likely to be highly stressed after the flight and may try to bolt.  Bring the carrier to an enclosed area before opening it even a little bit even experienced handlers have lost dogs and cats after a flight!!!  IF YOU HAVE GOTTEN THIS FAR SAFELY, DO NOT TAKE ANY CHANCES!!!

Some pet parents might worry that they are being a pain in the butt…


They are overworked and underpaid.  That sucks.





6 thoughts on “Flying as “Checked Baggage” or “Cargo”

  1. Not sure if anyone should count on a cat harness being able to contain their cat while on a leash. There are concerns about cat harnesses. Perhaps that advice only applies to dogs?

    I placed a harness and leash on our cat and took the cat to the vet’s in a pet carrier. It was his first trip and he was kind of wild. Once in the exam room, I opened the carrier and held onto the leash. The vet and I watched as my cat quickly twisted himself out of the harness and ran around the closed room. We just watched him until he stopped, and then I picked him up. I let him hide his head under my arm while the vet finished examining him.

    There is a real danger to cats who get loose outside or in a strange building while wearing a harness. While our cat twisted out of his while I was holding the leash, harness are not designed like cat safety collars which will allow an entangled cat to get free without choking.

    Tragically, a different cat we had choked to death when someone tethered him outside on a string harness while I was at work. Nothing appeared wrong with any part of the harness. Either the clip wasn’t snapped all the way on the ring, or someone came and undid it (unlikely). It was the type of harness that comes with a couple of feet of string attached. Someone went out and found him hanging from the fence where he had jumped up and tried to jump back down into our back yard, but the string got caught on a picket. They said they were checking on him frequently, but it didn’t take long for this to happen.

    I believe Kat Albrecht of Missing Pet Partnership had a case where a cat got lost while wearing a harness and leash. I think a tracking dog located the cat with its leash tangled up under an outdoor hot tub. Without the tracking dog I’m not sure if the cat would have been found in time. (I looked for a link to the case but haven’t found it yet.)

  2. I studied Aeronautical engineering and to make something clear and this means asking the air crew to make sure the main engines are working since this is the palce where the plance takes the air to ventilate the cabin and the pressurized areas. That is why on groudn there is no AC working, since it takes it form the engine and on flight the air up there is below freezing, but on the ground is jus ambient air.
    Make sure the cargo area is presurized, not all airplanes have presiruzed cargo areas, or they have only one of the presurized and can be controled by the pilot, so make sure the pilot is aware of having the pet loaded into the pressurized cargo hold and that the cargo hold is the pressurized one and will be pressurised during flight. Otherwise you can requets to be off loaded form the airplane even if ist rolling to get to the take off track, the airline has the responsability of getting you back to th eterminal an unload your luggage, i.e pet

    For handlig cats I recommend that you do not just get content of their harness, as on the comments they do now how to get off of them. Use the harness to be able to grab your cat from the top of their neck (just as the momys do when thei are kittens) this makes the cat go still at the moment whitout causing any harm to it and be able to handle it(it can be done as well to give them medicines they do not like 😉 ). Only release this grab when he si back on the carrier or on a close room.

  3. Thanks for the information… I feel a lot better about flying my cats to our new home!

  4. I was given some very helpful information by some dog show folks which I acted on in 2005 to fly my dogs from Los Angeles, (w/3 day layover in New York) to Rome and our new home in Italy. They said to put prominent name tags on the carrier cage saying Champion Yada Yada Yada. Since my dogs were Samoyed mixes what worked for me was Ob. Champion Rufus Valentino Bugatti etc., since anyone can be an Obedience Champion. Next, to insure the dogs. I had difficu

    And here is how I found out it mattered… When the man came to wheel the pallet with their cages away the check-in counter person VERY SURREPTITIOUSLY indicated the ‘insured’ stickers she had plastered on their cages…..he very surreptitiously nodded, AND TURNED AROUND AND TOOK THEM AWAY IN THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION! What does that tell you???

    Well, it was hair raising in any case buy they made it okay. Nevertheless, I will never take that risk again, esp. after reading this site!! Both my lovely guys who came to the new land with me are gone now over the rainbow bridge, and i have two more who have never had the privliege of seeing a dog park. I want very much to return to Calif and will do so the minute it is possible. So I want to ask if anyone has any information on what ships will do this (with me on board, of course) or any tips in that area?? Hope to hear…. Michele and Sophie and Sailor who are of course future instant Obedience Champions.

  5. My cat lost his voice during a 10 hour flight. What could be the reason..? He died after a while.He was also given a calmer before flight.

  6. The best advice I ever heard was to insure your pet. I did this when coming from L.A. to Rome (we moved to Italy) and this is how it worked. I got this advice from people who show dogs. They said to put on the crate in the most professional looking tag possible saying “CHAMPION SO AND SO” As my two dogs were not purebred I put OB. CHAMPION RUFINO VALENTINO BUGGATTI and OB. CHAMPION LA PALOMA DE SANTA LUCIA. Ob champ of course being Obdeience Champion which is not necessarily a purebred. So at the airport I requested the highest possible amount I could get to insure each dog which was around $50 each (this was 10 years ago, probably more now). The check in person put “INSURED” stickers all over the crates and then they were place on a wheeled pallett. The man came to take them away and I saw this…he headed off to the left but the check in person gave him a very subtle handsign indicating the insured signs… definitely not meant for me to see… and he gave her a little nod and …aswitched directions, .turning right. So clearly there is a better place for insured animals. It was still horrifically stressful for us all and I will never do it again short of moving back across the big water but have no plans to do so but I am quite sure that insuring them was helpful.

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