The goal of the U.S. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is to keep your pet as safe and as comfortable as possible during what will be a stressful and possibly frightening experience. To that end, the Service and its parent, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, have established a number of regulations that you must follow when transporting your pet in a plane's cargo hold. These regulations are designed to keep your pet -- and the airline personnel who will be caring for your pet -- safe and healthy.
In order to travel in the plane's cargo hold, your pet must travel in a kennel that meets the following requirements (most pet stores and airlines sell kennels that meet these requirements):
Kennel Size and Strength. The kennel must be big enough for your pet to stand, sit and lie in a natural position. The kennel must be easy for airline personnel to open (latch the kennel door, but do not lock it!) in case of an emergency, and it must be strong enough to withstand the rigors of transportation. Make sure that the kennel is free of any objects that might injure your pet during the loading process or in flight.
Kennel Floor. Your pet's kennel must have a solid leakproof floor. Although the regulations allow for wire or other types of ventilated subfloors, they prohibit pegboard floors. Be sure to cover the kennel's floor with litter or some other absorbent lining.
Kennel Ventilation. Obviously, your animal must be able to breathe freely and comfortably during the flight. Therefore, the regulations are quite specific as to how much ventilation your pet's kennel must provide. The ventilation openings must take up at least 14% of the total wall space of the kennel. At least one-third of the openings much be located in the top half of the kennel. The kennel must have rims -- usually on the sides -- to prevent the ventilation openings from being blocked by other cargo. These rims must provide for at least three-quarters of an inch clearance.
Grips. There must be grips or handles on the kennel so that airline personnel can lift the kennel without having to place their fingers inside the kennel, where they might get bitten by an anxious and frightened pet.
Markings. Your pet's kennel must be marked so that airline personnel know that it contains a live animal. Writing the words "live animals" or "wild animals" on the top and one side of the kennel will do the trick. The lettering must be at least one inch high. Also, draw directional arrows on the kennel to show which side is up. Although the law does not require you to put your name, address and phone number on the kennel, it is a good idea to do so. You should also put the address of your travel destination if it is different from your home address.
Regardless of how long or short the flight is scheduled to be, you must provide airline personnel with written instructions for feeding and watering your pet over a 24-hour period. This is because the flight may be delayed or your animal may be diverted from its original destination. You must attach these instructions to the kennel. Also, you must securely attach food and water dishes to the kennel in such a way that caretakers can access the dishes without opening the kennel door. Attach a bag containing food to the outside of the kennel.
Federal regulations require airline personnel to provide food and water to puppies and kittens that are between 8 and 16 weeks of age every 12 hours. Airline personnel must give food to older animals every 24 hours, and they must give water to older animals every 12 hours.
To learn more about how to transport your pet by airplane, call the U.S. Department of Agriculture at 800-545-USDA. For an up-to-date practical guide to the legal issues that affect dogs, their owners and their neighbors, read Every Dog's Legal Guide: A Must-Have Book for Your Owner, by Mary Randolph (Nolo)