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See how pets are transported on commercial airlines as animals increasingly accompany customers on vacation

The process of shipping a pet via cargo is simple as long as pet owners understand the industry's strict rules. ...
American Airlines cargo handler with dog
American Airlines cargo handler with dog

  • Airlines like Delta, American, United, Hawaiian, and Alaska offer pet shipping via cargo in the belly of aircraft.
  • According to DOT data, less than .01% of pets are harmed in the cargo hold of commercial planes.
  • Cargo handlers offer advice on how owners can keep pets safe and comfortable during their journey.
Flying with a pet can be stressful, especially when they do not fit in the cabin and owners are forced to check them into cargo. While it may be worrisome to check your pet, the chances of them being harmed is less than .01% based on DOT data.

Pets traveling by air
Pets traveling by air

Source: Department of Transportation

To give travelers peace of mind, Insider talked to airline cargo handlers to get the scoop on how pets are loaded into the belly of planes and tips on how to keep them comfortable during the journey.

Dog being loaded into aircraft
Dog being loaded into aircraft

While it is preferable to travel with a pet in the cabin, most airlines only allow pets in a crate that can fit under the seat in front of you. Because of this, larger animals will need to be checked.

Dog under an airline cabin seat
Dog under an airline cabin seat

Several US carriers offer pet transport via cargo, including Hawaiian Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, and Alaska Airlines, meaning the pets will ride in the belly of the plane. However, United and Delta have suspended their services due to the pandemic.

Cargo handler with pet crates
Cargo handler with pet crates

The process of shipping a pet via cargo is simple as long as pet owners understand the industry's strict rules, like ensuring the pet's crate size is acceptable, making sure the pet is not a restricted breed, and checking the outside temperature is within safe margins. This ensures the pet is safe and comfortable during the flight.

Dog in crate after air travel
Dog in crate after air travel

According to the US Department of Agriculture, pets must be eight weeks or older to travel and brachycephalic, snub-nosed, or mixed breeds of snub-nosed animals are typically not allowed to fly due to health concerns.

Restricted breeds on American Airlines
Restricted breeds on American Airlines

Source: American Airlines

Most airlines have a separate check-in area for pet owners shipping their animals via cargo. Owners are expected to provide two bowls for their pets, including one for water and one for food.

American Airlines pet check-in
American Airlines pet check-in

Source: American Airlines

Because pets will be in their crates for an extended period of time, owners are also asked to leave bathroom pads at the bottom of the kennel.

Cat in pet carrier
Cat in pet carrier

Once pets are checked in, cargo handlers deliver the animals to the aircraft where they are loaded into the belly of the plane. According to a former Delta cargo agent, pets are placed in a separate section of the cargo hold and secured for stability.

Pets in cargo hold
Pets in cargo hold

Most aircraft cargo compartments are temperature-controlled, meaning the pets will not overheat or freeze en route. However, some cargo areas do not have air conditioning, so pets may fly on a different flight than their owner.

Dog being unloaded after flight
Dog being unloaded after flight

Source: American Airlines

It is also possible pets won't fly with their owner if the outside temperature is too hot or cold. Airlines will not accept pets for cargo if the temperature drops below 20 degrees Fahrenheit or above 80 or 85 degrees, depending on the carrier.

Dogs wait to be loaded onto aircraft
Dogs wait to be loaded onto aircraft

Source: American Airlines

To make your pet as comfortable as possible, cargo handlers have offered advice based on experience, including using the biggest possible kennel to give them more space…

Hawaiian Airlines cargo handler with pet
Hawaiian Airlines cargo handler with pet

Providing a water bottle that attaches to the crate so it doesn't spill…

Pets in crate waiting to be loaded onto aircraft
Pets in crate waiting to be loaded onto aircraft

Giving them extra blankets in case they get cold…

United cargo handlers loading dog onto aircraft
United cargo handlers loading dog onto aircraft

Leaving a shirt or item with a familiar smell in the kennel…

American Airlines cargo handler with dog
American Airlines cargo handler with dog

And strapping extra food and water to the top of the crate so employees can water or feed them when handling between flights.

Pets being loaded onto a flight
Pets being loaded onto a flight

Checking pets comes as the industry sees more demand for the service, which has soared 950% in the past 12 months, according to Next Vacay. The travel service company said JetBlue and Alaska are the highest-ranked airlines for transporting animals.

Cat in pet carrier at the Phoenix airport.
Cat in pet carrier at the Phoenix airport.

Source: Insider

"There are many reasons why travelers choose to take their furry companion with them on their flight, whether they're traveling for business, vacation, or visiting family over the holidays." Next Vacay CEO Naveen Dittakavi said. "Traveling with pets is more common than ever before."

Customer traveling with her dog.
A customer traveling with her dog.

Source: Insider

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