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Travel

What You Must Know About Flying With Your Pet

If you want Fluffy to come with you, get your paperwork ready — and prepare to pay.

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Update: In late March, a dog died after being stowed in its carrier in an overhead bin on a United flight. Soon after, United announced that it would suspend reservations for cargo transport of pets while it reviews its program, a process it expects to complete by May 1. (It will honor reservations confirmed as of March 20, 2018.) The suspension doesn’t affect pets that travel in the cabin. However, United now identifies on-board pet carriers with a brightly colored tag.

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Airlines publish guidelines and rules on their websites for traveling with or transporting pets. The rules differ for domestic and international travel, as well as for service animals. Here are some highlights for domestic travel.

Space for pets carried on or checked as cargo is limited and offered on a first-come, first-served basis (excluding service animals), and traveling with pets isn't allowed on all types of aircraft. Call ahead to check your itinerary and book your pet. Service animals and emotional or psychiatric support animals fly free. They must fit in your lap, at your feet or under the seat, and they can't block the aisle or an emergency exit. Owners are generally required to notify the airline at least 48 hours before travel and submit a note from a doctor or licensed medical professional confirming the passenger's disability and need. United and Delta also require owners to submit a signed health certificate or immunization record for the animal, plus a signed confirmation of animal training.

Airlines prohibit puppies or kittens younger than 8 weeks from traveling. They have varying requirements for proof of vaccination and health certificates from a licensed vet. Carriers and crates must be sized and constructed to certain standards to ensure the animal's comfort and safety. Even if a carrier or crate from a retailer is labeled "airline approved," check the specific airline's requirements. If you can, acclimate pets to their carrier or crate two to three weeks before departure.

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Carry on. You can carry on a dog or cat if it fits in a carrier small enough to fit under the seat in front of you. The "kennel" counts as one piece of carry-on luggage. Airlines will charge a flat, one-way fee of $95 to $125 at check-in for each segment of your flight. Pets traveling with TrueBlue members on JetBlue will earn an additional 300 TrueBlue points for each pet fee paid.

Cargo. American and Delta charge $200 per crate. United charges by weight, from $201 for 10 pounds or less to $630 for 150 to 200 pounds (and $60 more to go to or return from Hawaii). Many airlines prohibit the transportation of brachycephalic breeds–short-nosed dogs and cats, such as pugs, boxers and Himalayans, that are prone to respiratory problems that may be exacerbated by stress and changes in air quality and temperature in a cargo hold. Overweight animals and those with preexisting health conditions may not fare well in cargo, either.

The good news is that pet injury or death during air travel is rare. In 2016, 40 out of 506,994 animals transported as cargo on major passenger airlines died or were injured during the trip, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

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