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Traveling with pets during the holidays

Posted by Stephanie St. Martin  December 14, 2012 08:48 AM

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Tis the season -- of travel.

Whether going on a plane, train or automobile, adding your pet as your passenger doesn't make things any easier. The roads are busier, airports are crowded and flights are packed. The holiday spirit seems to leave faster than we can dash through the snow.

If your family is planning to invite your furry friend to bon voyage, you need to be prepared. Before you go to the airport, make sure you and your pet are ready for travel. Check with the airline. It's so important to know what is allowed and what isn't so you aren't surprised when you arrive.

Get Your Pet's Health Certificate
If possible, book a health certificate appointment at your local veterinarian's office. Many pet owners aren't aware of airlines' requirements for pets to have a valid health certificate prior to flying.

What is it? This piece of paper that assures the airline that your pet is up to date on his/her rabies vaccination, is healthy enough for travel, provides microchip information (if applicable), and is signed by a veterinarian. Most airlines will only accept a health certificate within 10 days of it being issued, so timing is key. Be sure to make your appointment within 10 days of travel to be sure that it's valid.

Most vets charge around $50 per certificate, so budget your holiday expenses accordingly.

Booking Your Tickets

    • Research restrictions. Some breeds are restricted and cannot be checked. Most of the restricted breeds are short-nosed dog breeds (such as the King Charles spaniel, American Bulldog, Pug, etc). Refer to your airline to make sure your pet is allowed to be checked. If the breed is restricted, you must carry-on your pet.

    • Book early. A limited number of animals are allowed on each flight so to ensure your pet is accommodated, book your reservation early.

    • Find your flight. Go online and look at the flights you wish take to your destination and decide what days you want to travel.

    • Call to book your pet. Pets cannot be booked online. Call the airline's Reservations phone number and ask the agent to check for pet availability (checked or carry-on). If they have availability on the flight, book your ticket online (it's $25 for you to book your ticket over the phone so you save money by booking online) and then call them back to book your pet.

    • Budget for the fee. Pets will carry a fee associated with their travel. Ask the airline what their prices and policies are. (Note most pet fees are non-refundable so you want to be certain your pet is coming with you before you book his ticket.) Fees associated with pets can be $75-$125 for a carry-on pet and $175-$250 for a checked pet each way.

    Carrying-on Your Pet

    • Know the rules. Carry-on pets are not allowed on transatlantic flights, pets cannot come out of their carrier, and only one animal is allowed per customer.

    • Check the fit. Make sure your carrier meets the requirements. You can find carrier dimensions guidelines on most airline websites which will let you know the maximum size of cabin pet carriers. Some airlines may allow carriers 19" long x 13" wide x 9" high while others may allow a maximum of 17" long x 12.5" wide x 8.5" high so research ahead of time. (Check out the links to the airline pet policies below). There may also be restrictions on the type of carrier you can use (leak proof bottom, etc). Click on your airline's Pet Policy guide below to see what the maximum size and other restrictions are.

    • Travel light. Your pet carrier will count as your one personal carry-on item. Use a pet carrier with side pockets. Store all necessary items in the side pockets and check all other baggage.

    Checking Your Pets

    • Go inside. Pets must be checked at the ticket counter. Pets cannot be checked with curbside services or at the Self-Service kiosks.

    What to Bring

    • Required vaccinations and health certificate

    • Pet's license and identification tags

    • Favorite toys-to give him or her a sense of home!

    • Blanket/comfortable bed (Some airlines, like JetBlue, carry great Pet Travel Kits available for purchase.)

    • Leash

    • Things your pet will need in the travel destination

    • Snacks and treats

    • Puppy pads (just in case)

    More Tips and Links

    Exercise helps. Tire your pet out before you take off! Take your dog for a longer walk than usual. Play fetch. Make your cat chase a toy. After a long day of exercise, your pet will be able to sleep soundly and comfortably on the plane.

    Arrive to the airport extra, extra early. Around the holidays, most experts suggest arriving two hours early to make sure you get to your gate on time. Add an extra hour (to be on the safe side) if you are traveling with a pet. Don't forget let your pet take care of his business before you go through security, otherwise you will have to return through security again if nature calls him!

    Click on these airlines for more information about their specific pet travel policy:

    American Airlines
    U.S. Airways
    Alaska Airlines
    Air Tran

    Trip Advisor's Seat Guru has a comprehensive list airline information, including pet policies. Click here to find out the pet rules for your airline.

    A word of advice: Not all pets are the best travelers. If your dog or cat gets car sick, a plane ride may not be the best idea. Watch your pet's temperament. If you think Rover or Fluffy would do better staying behind, consider having a friend keep an eye on them or hiring a pet sitter.

    Let's hope this holiday travel season is safe, and hairball-free!

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