Fido takes flight: Tips for the pet jet set
By Thurston Hatcher
ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- She found an apartment, lined up the movers and reserved a plane ticket before making her move from Miami to Chicago.
There was just one problem the bank executive failed to consider in advance -- how to transport her beloved cats across the country.
Because of the oppressive August weather, the airline wasn't boarding animals in the baggage hold. And only one cat was allowed per passenger. So she wound up buying a costly, last-minute ticket for her brother, solely so he could escort her second cat to the Midwest.
Flying with a pet can be a tricky endeavor, and one that requires more than a little forethought, both for your pet's well-being and your own peace of mind.
First of all, pet owners need to decide whether flying is the best option for an animal.
"If they're going on the plane with them, I am OK with that," said Dr. Bill Swartz, a veterinary spokesman for the American Animal Hospital Association. "But if they're unaccompanied, I would say you need to go ahead and really be watching out."
Bringing Fido aboard
Most airlines will allow you to bring a small cat, dog or even a bird on board, typically for a $50 to $75 fee, as long as it fits comfortably in a pet carrier that can be stored under the seat in front of you.
Airlines typically allow only a few animals in the cabin on any given flight, so passengers should call well in advance to make sure there's room. Still others -- including Southwest -- won't allow them at all unless they're service animals, so it pays to check airline policies on carriers' Web sites before booking a ticket.
Checking animals as baggage can be more complicated for you and your pet, given potential temperature extremes and the inability to check on or help your animal during flight.
Some airlines, including Continental and America West, refuse to accept live animals as checked baggage. Still others refuse to accept live animals as baggage during weather extremes. Delta, for example, won't allow any animals checked as baggage on flights between May 15 and September 15.
Northwest forbids them to and from several warm-weather states, including Florida, Arizona and Nevada, from June to mid-September, and to and from Pacific cities from July through mid-September.
Cargo's an option
Another option for your pet is flight via cargo service -- either through a commercial airline, an exclusive cargo carrier or professional animal shipper.
Delta's Pet First air cargo service ships animals in the morning and evening during the summer and midday in the winter to help ensure animals' comfort. It also offers temperature-controlled live animal holding areas in its hub cities of Atlanta, Cincinnati, Dallas and Salt Lake City.
Continental's PetSafe cargo service promises several safeguards, including a 24-hour "live animal desk" -- constant monitoring of weather conditions, a tracking service from origin to destination and personal handling in climate-controlled vehicles at Continental hubs.
If you're not going to be on the plane with your pet, Swartz stresses the importance of making a connection with someone who will be, and can watch out for your loved one in flight.
Sedation of animals is increasingly frowned on by veterinarians, animal advocacy groups including the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and even by some airlines.
Swartz said sedatives can prevent animals from adapting to adverse conditions -- panting, for example, in excessive heat -- and it can impair a pet's sense of equilibrium, increasing the chance of injury.
Swartz, a veterinarian with Clocktower Animal Hospital in Herndon, Virginia, said he might occasionally recommend a very light tranquilizer, but only for pets traveling in a cabin where owners can watch them.
"We feel the best sedative is an old sweatshirt or pillowcase with the owner's smell on them," he said.
Whichever flying option you choose, your pet must be cleared for takeoff by a veterinarian within 10 days of departure, with a certificate saying it's properly immunized and in good health.
Swartz also recommends freezing water in a dish the night before a trip, so your animal will have cool water (that won't splash at first) on the journey. He also suggests drawing attention to the pet with a bag of treats and a note attached to the carrier saying something like, "Hello, my name is Rover. I'm sweet. Please give me a biscuit."
"Most people are pet lovers," he said, "and so they're going to go ahead and speak softly or kindly to your pet and will be glad to give them a treat."
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