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Do planes hurt cats?

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Plane Talk: Traveling with Animals


Federal and state governments impose restrictions on transporting live animals. In addition, each airline establishes its own company policy for the proper handling of the animals they transport. As a shipper or owner you also have a responsibility to take the necessary precautions to ensure the well being of the animal you ship.

Animal Welfare Act

The federal Animal Welfare Act is enforced by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Here are several of the more important requirements.

  • Dogs and cats must be at least eight weeks old and must have been weaned for at least five days. Cages and other shipping containers must meet the minimum standard for size, ventilation, strength, sanitation and design for safe handling. (Sky kennels furnished by the airlines meet these requirements.)
  • Dogs and cats must not be brought to the airline for shipping more than four hours before departure. (Six hours is permitted if shipping arrangements are made in advance.)
  • If puppies or kittens less than 16 weeks of age are in transit more than 12 hours, food and water must be provided.
  • Older animals must have food at least every 24 hours and water at least every 12 hours. Written instructions for food and water must accompany all animals shipped regardless of the scheduled time in transit.
  • Animals may not be exposed to temperatures less than 45*F unless they are accompanied by a certificate signed by a veterinarian stating that they are acclimated to lower temperatures.
  • Animals cannot be shipped COD unless the shipper guarantees the return freight should the animals be refused at destination.
  • See the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s website “Pet Travel” at

Airline Policies

In addition to the USDA rules, each airline establishes its own policies. Consequently, it is important to check with the air carrier you intend to use. However, the following are some provisions you will likely encounter at most airlines:

  • Airlines generally require health certificates from all shippers. So it’s a good idea to have a licensed veterinarian examine animals within ten days prior to shipment and issue a certificate stating that the animal is in good health. Airlines may not require health certificates for service animals used by passengers with disabilities.
  • A pet may be transported as baggage if accompanied on the same flight to the same destination. Some air carriers may impose a special fee or “excess baggage” charge for this service.
  • Pets may be shipped as cargo if unaccompanied, and many airline cargo departments employ specialists in the movement of animals. Animals must always be shipped in pressurized holds. Some airlines allow the kennel to be carried in the passenger cabin as carry-on luggage if it fits under the seat.

Tips for Pet Owners

In addition to compliance with federal regulations and airline company policy, there are a number of precautions the owner/shipper can take to ensure the welfare of a shipped pet.

  • Before traveling, accustom your pet to the kennel in which it will be shipped. Make sure that the door latches securely.
  • Do not give your pet solid food in the six hours prior to the flight, although a moderate amount of water and a walk before and after the flight are advised.
  • Do not administer sedation to your pet without the approval of a veterinarian, and provide a test dose before the trip to gauge how the pet will react.
  • Be sure to reserve a space for your pet in advance, and inquire about time and location for drop-off and pick-up.
  • Try to schedule a non-stop flight; avoid connections and the heavy traffic of a holiday or weekend flight.
  • When you board, try to tell a pilot and a flight attendant that there is a pet in the cargo hold. The airlines have a system for providing such notification, but it doesn’t hurt to mention it yourself.
  • For overseas travel (including Hawaii), inquire about any special health requirements such as quarantine.
  • Write your name, address and phone number on the kennel, and make sure your pet is wearing a tag with the same information. Consider purchasing a temporary tag showing your destination address and phone number. Bring a photo of your pet, in case it is lost.
  • With careful planning, your pet will arrive safely at its destination.

Reporting an Incident

To report animal mistreatment by airline personnel please complete the U.S. Department of Agriculture, animal welfare online complaint form, or contact:

U.S. Department of Agriculture, APHIS, Animal Care 2150 Centre Ave. Building B, Mailstop 3W11 Fort Collins, CO 80525-8117 Email: Phone: (970) 494-7478 Fax: (970) 494-7461

No More Emotional Support Peacocks As Feds Crack Down On Service Animals On Planes

Under a new rule issued last week by the Transportation Department, only dogs that meet strict service animal standards will be allowed to fly with passengers. Jeff Greenberg/Universal Images hide caption

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Jeff Greenberg/Universal Images

Under a new rule issued last week by the Transportation Department, only dogs that meet strict service animal standards will be allowed to fly with passengers.

Jeff Greenberg/Universal Images

The days of bringing your emotional support cat, pig or even a miniature horse on a plane may soon be coming to an end. The federal government is enacting a new rule restricting the types of service animals allowed on commercial airline flights, allowing only dogs that meet specific training criteria.

The new Department of Transportation rule is in response to a growing backlash in recent years to airline passengers trying to bring all kinds of wild and outlandish pets onto planes, including the woman who tried to bring an «emotional support» peacock on board a United Airlines flight in 2018, and the «comfort» turkey that was actually allowed to fly on Delta Airlines back in 2016.

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«It’s gotten really out of control,» says Paul Hartshorn, Jr., a flight attendant for American Airlines and spokesperson for the flight attendants’ union there. «For years, our members have been dealing with untrained, sometimes wild animals in the aircraft cabin.

«For the most part, I will say it’s dogs that are not properly trained, but we’ve seen everything from pigs, to monkeys, to hamsters. You name it, we’ve seen it,» Hartshorn added.

The untrained animals can have behavioral issues, and some even relieve themselves on the plane.

«This has made many passengers incredibly uncomfortable,» Hartshorn says. «It’s the incessant barking, defecation in the cabin which happens more times than I care to tell you.»

Hartshorn says the menagerie of «comfort» animals packed with passengers inside a cramped metal tube can make a flight miserable for allergy sufferers, and he says some flight crew members and passengers have even been bitten by these untrained animals.

The reason they’re even allowed on a plane is because of travelers exploiting a loophole in federal law to avoid paying for their pets to fly with them.

Most airlines charge passengers a hefty fee to bring their small pets with them inside the cabin, but federal law allowed people with disabilities to have service animals free of charge, including emotional support and comfort animals, without defining what those are.

«Anybody who simply mentioned emotional support animal was giving themselves a blank check to bring on any animal that they wanted,» says Gary Leff, author of the airline industry blog View from the Wing. He calls the previous rule allowing emotional support animals «incredibly permissive,» allowing passengers to circumvent airline rules and fees to travel with their pets.

But after a yearlong rule-making process, the Department of Transportation is cracking down. The new rule, issued last week, defines a service animal strictly as «a dog, regardless of breed or type, that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.»

New Barking Orders For Documenting Support Animals Before Boarding Planes


New Barking Orders For Documenting Support Animals Before Boarding Planes

The passenger must provide the airline with documentation of the disability and that the dog is certified as a service animal.

«So it’s going from one extreme to another extreme,» Leff says.

Airlines and their employee unions support the new rule, saying it is long overdue, but some advocates for people with disabilities argue it goes too far and will keep people with legitimate needs for emotional support animals from traveling with them.

Curt Decker, executive director of the National Disability Rights Network, says there are animals, including cats, rabbits and even miniature horses, that may not have service animal training or perform specific tasks, «but may in fact lower the anxiety level of someone with an intellectual disability, autism or other kind of mental health issue where flying is very stressful and would be calmed by having a legitimate emotional support animal with them.»

Decker acknowledges that there were widespread abuses of the system in the past, but he says the one-size-fits-all narrow new rule will hurt a wide range of travelers, including those with anxiety disorders or post-traumatic stress disorder.

«Now people who do feel they need this kind of support and cannot afford [to pay the pet fee] will now be eliminated from flying,» Decker says.

Decker and other advocates for people with disabilities say they’ll lobby the incoming Biden administration to reverse or revise the new rule.

The new rule will go into effect in early January and allows airlines to continue to allow emotional support animals on flights if they so choose. Otherwise, passengers will have to pay the pet fee of up to $175 to bring their small support or comfort animals on the plane with them.

  • emotional support animals
  • service animals
  • department of transportation
  • new rule
  • service animal
  • Disabilities
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