Every year, more than 2 million pets and other animals travel by plane in the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
However, figuring out which airline suits your needs can be complicated. In addition to individual airline regulations, the USDA also monitors the transportation of certain pets, including dogs, cats, ferrets, rodents, hedgehogs, reptiles (turtles, frogs) and some birds, creating another layer of confusion.
If you’re considering traveling with your furry companion, here are a few factors to consider long before heading to the airport.
It’s still important to touch base with your specific airline carrier to be sure you’re in compliance.
Prepping your pet before travel
1. Reserve a spot for your pet in advance and inquire about the time and location of drop-off and pick-up.
2. Try to schedule to avoid connections, heavy holiday traffic or weekend flights. See if you can get a nonstop flight to your pet’s destination.
3. Airlines generally require health certificates and clearance by vets, so it’s ideal to schedule a checkup about 10 days before the flight. Overseas travel, including to Hawaii, may include special health requirements such as a quarantine. Confirm with your airline about any specific additional medical clearance your pet may need.
4. Be sure your pet is wearing a tag, but also buy a temporary tag showing your destination, address and phone number.
5. Bring a photo of your pet in case it gets lost.
6. Be sure your animal has time to adjust to its kennel, which should be large enough for him or her to sit or stand in. Be sure the kennel door latches securely. No part of your pet can protrude from the kennel, so wire carriers are not allowed. Soft-sided carriers are only allowed in the cabin.
Cargo vs. Cabin
Ideally, you should fly your pet in the cabin, but only pets small enough to fit under your seat are allowed there. Larger pets must fly in the cargo section. Be sure the animal has enough space in its carrier to move, and toys and blankets to keep comfortable during the flight.
1. Don’t feed your pet solid food six hours before the flight, but do take it for a walk and provide a moderate amount of water before and after the flight.
2. When you board, let a flight attendant and the pilot know your pet is in the cargo hold.
Pet Carriers 101
Carriers must have a leak-proof, solid floor that is covered with a towel, litter or absorbent lining. Carriers should have grips or handles so airline employees don’t have to put their hands inside the carrier.
Inside the carrier, there should be two empty dishes—one for food and one for water—along with instructions on how to feed your pet with a signature certifying that your pet was offered food (not solid) and water within four hours of your flight’s departure.
On the outside of the carrier, write “Live Animal” with arrows directing the proper position of the carrier, in addition to your pet’s name and contact information.
Not all birds can fly
Not all birds qualify as pets.
Several species of birds are classified as poultry and must meet different requirements.
Chickens, doves, ducks, geese, grouse, guinea fowl, partridges, peafowl, pheasants, pigeons, quail, swans and turkeys don’t qualify as pet birds and must meet different requirements.
What qualifies as an emotional support animal?
The Air Carrier Access Act, a federal law, prevents airlines from discriminating against emotional support animals for passengers. While there are no universal regulations regarding size or what type of pet can be considered an emotional support animal, airlines are imposing their own restrictions after several in-flight dramas, including one that involved a pig defecating in an aisle.
Two ESAs recently turned away from flying were a hamster (named Pebbles) and a peacock (Dexter) who weren’t allowed to board flights despite being certified. However, a kangaroo, miniature horses and a 15-pound Sulcata Tortoise named Xena have made it into the sky.
The difference between ESAs and service animals
Both fly free. ESAs require a certification, whereas a service animal requires a specific training program in addition to certification.
Pet relief spots at McCarran International Airport
McCarran International Airport has several locations outdoors and post-security where your pet can relieve itself after a long flight.
Indoor post-security locations can be found at
Terminal 1, gates A, B, C and D, and at Terminal 3. Outdoor locations can be found at Terminal 1 baggage claim, Terminal 1 ticketing and at Terminal 3.
If you need help to one of the locations, contact your airline, the Department of Aviation Passenger Services staff at the terminal (702-261-5211), or the ADA Section 504 coordinator (702-261-5157).
This story originally appeared in the Las Vegas Weekly.