December 4, 2023 | Rome, Italy

Pet travel protocols

By |2018-03-21T18:33:19+01:00February 1st, 2010|Lifestyle Archive|
Hardly this easy...

he other day, my friend Vincent told me he was returning to the United States and intended to bring his year-old pound puppy with him. He asked the same questions that everyone asks, “Is it hard to bring a dog or cat into/from the U.S.?” Not at all, I replied emphatically — except when you’re flying via London, which unfortunately Vincent is.

In general, I avoid Britain when traveling transatlantic with my pup Bella. From my brief research, flying a dog through the UK requires a perseverance and patience far deeper than nuns had for Maria in the “Sound of Music.”

Many carriers are unaware Britain’s transit flights requirements. They’ll happily tell you pet conditions in your country of final destination — Italy requires a pet passport while the U.S. wants a Certificate of Health and up-to-date vaccines — but most omit the middle. British pet requirements represent a very serious middle: No matter what, your pet flies as unaccompanied cargo, and can be subject to local restrictions regarding rabies and depending on breed.

Pet nonchalance has always worried me. My worst nightmare is to arrive and discover that I’ve lost Bella to a gang of fluorescent-jacket-wearing dudes in that DMZ known as Cargo City. At the very least she deserves better fashion. Kidding aside, she deserves hassle-free travel.

Below is my Pet Travel Protocol (PTP):

  • Don’t fly through London, or anywhere in the UK. It’s a pain.

  • Don’t wait until the last minute to see if all your pets vaccinations are up-to-date as most countries require that vaccinations are at least one month old. (Also, avoid flying with young animals for same reasons.)

  • If your pet is small enough, fly it in-cabin. You can monitor your pet far better. (Note: In-cabin pets are cats or small dogs.)

  • If your pet is feisty, don’t drug it. If you’re worried about it bothering fellow passengers, consider flying the pet as cargo. Cargo pets are either, 1. Large animals that travel in the hold as extra baggage on pet ticket fares (up to a certain size) or, 2. Unaccompanied cargo (i.e. not confirmed on your flight) priced per pound. Essentially, you’re shipping your pet to your destination as cargo hoping the pet arrives. Note: Unaccompanied cargo has specific requirements you must get from carrier and airport.

  • Don’t buy your ticket without making sure of the following:

    — Regarding cargo pets, that the airline flies pets when you intend to travel (bear in mind some airlines don’t heat cargo bays in winter, and some don’t cool them in summer.)

    — With cabin pets it’s all about availability. In-cabin pet reservations are limited. Specify race, breed and size. Note: you’re reserving, not buying, your pet’s ticket.

  • Once your pet’s ticket and your ticket has been confirmed, follow up a week before the flight to ensure the pet reservation is still there.

On to airport etiquette.

  • Cabin pets. Check yourself in first, noting that you have a pet. Clerks will tell you where you pay for your pet’s ticket. You will then hand the pet ticket receipt back to the main counter.

  • Cargo pets depend on the nature of the cargo: independent cargo is usually checked in several hours before flight departure in the “cargo” designated area of the airport complex (i.e. far away). Cargo-as-extra-baggage pets are checked in at the main gate a minimum of four hours in advance. US Airways is a hybrid: international flights leaving from the U.S. demand pet check-in at least four hours in advance; however, when leaving Fiumicino via US Airways with Bella as cargo I’ve brought her all the way to the departure gate before bidding her farewell.

  • If flying with a Pet Passport, make sure to bring pet vaccination documentation as well.

  • Don’t bring pet food when traveling from one country to the next. You’ll be required to place food and water in the cages of cargo pets. Extra food (in suitcases, etc.) will likely be barred by the destination country’s food and agriculture laws.

  • When you arrive and/or pick up your pet, keep it caged until you’re both outside in the fresh, exhaust-filled parking lot air. The airport will thank you.

Airlines that allow pets in-cabin for transatlantic flights (and I’d be happy to learn of more) are Delta, Air France, Alitalia, KLM, Lufthansa, Northwestern, and SAS.

About the Author:

Erica Firpo wrote The American's pet advice column from 2006 to 2009. She is a freelance travel and culture writer who lives in Rome with husband, daughter and faithful sidekick Bella. She has worked for Fodor's Rome edition, Luxe City Guides and National Geographic Travel, as well as writing art reviews for Zing and other U.S.-based magazines.