There are many things you must and can do to keep your pet safe. Here are the basics.
Have your pet examined by a veterinarian. Most airlines require that you provide a health certificate from a veterinarian stating that he or she has examined your pet and approved the animal for the flight. Usually, the certificate must be issued within ten days of the plane trip.
Communicate with your airline. Each airline handles animal travel differently, so you should make sure you know what your airline will expect of you, the pet owner. If your pet is traveling to an international destination, be sure to tell the airline that fact when you call for information about pet travel. Some airlines have additional and more stringent requirements for international travel. These rules may require additional ventilation and labeling, and a shipper's certification.
Plan your trip with your pet in mind. In the summer, choose early morning or evening flights to avoid extremely hot temperatures. In the winter, choose daytime flights to avoid extremely cold temperatures. Try to book a nonstop flight for your pet to avoid accidental transfers or delays. Don't travel during heavy traffic times such as weekends or holidays.
If your pet is traveling to an international destination, contact that appropriate embassy or consulate. You should do this at least four weeks in advance to learn about quarantine or health requirements for arriving pets. Hawaii and U.S. territories also have quarantine and health requirements that you should learn about.
Purchase the appropriate travel kennel for your pet as far in advance of the trip as possible. Get your pet acquainted with the kennel by keeping the kennel in the house with the kennel door open. Try to get your pet to sleep in the kennel or eat there prior to the trip. (See Kennel Regulations, below, for rules governing travel kennels.)
Make sure your pet's toenails are clipped. You don't want them to get hooked on the carrier door or other openings.
Take a photograph of your pet. You will want to have a current photograph with you in case airline personnel lose your pet.
Purchase a sturdy collar for your pet with two identification tags. On one tag, write your pet's name, your name, home address and home phone number. On the other tag, write your destination address and phone number. Make sure the collar and tags cannot get hooked on metal grates or other parts of the kennel during flight. Veterinarians recommend breakaway collars for cats.
Feed and offer water to your pet four hours before the flight. Federal law requires you to do this. Don't allow your pet to overeat, however. Veterinarians recommend against having pets travel on a full stomach.
Arrive early, but not too early.Leave plenty of time so you aren't rushed. But, don't arrive too early -- you cannot turn your pet over to the airline more than four hours before the flight.
Exercise your pet before handing your pet over to the airline. This will help your pet to be more comfortable during the trip.