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Flying the Friendly Skies with Fido

It's estimated there are about 70 million pet dogs in the United States and 74 million pet cats, and more than 60 percent of animal owners say they travel with their pets at least once a year. If you're planning a plane trip with your pet, it's important to understand everything from how you can navigate the airport with your pet to airline animal rules.

Planning to Fly with an Animal

Whether you're planning a vacation with your pet, traveling with a service animal or moving your family another part of the country, you may need to do some legwork before you can fly with an animal.

Before buying your plane tickets, familiarize yourself with the airline's rules regarding traveling with pets or traveling with a working dog. Typically, bona fide service animals – such as a seeing-eye dog – are permitted in the airplane cabin (provided the animal is not obstructing the aisle) at no additional cost. Contact your airline to find out whether advanced reservations are necessary and what documentation is needed to fly with a qualified service animal.

Many airlines allow pets to fly either in the cabin (provided they meet size requirements) or as checked luggage. Reservations and health documentation may be required, and animals must fly in approved carriers. It's critical to reserve space for your pet at the same time you book your airline tickets.

Also, remember that many airlines have restrictions on transporting certain breeds of animals as checked luggage, particularly during extremely hot or cold weather. A number of airlines now refuse to transport brachycephalic or snub-nosed dog and cat breeds at any time as checked luggage.

You'll also want to check to see whether there are any restrictions on the importation of animals at your destination city or country. Hawaii, Japan and the United Kingdom, for example, have stringent quarantine regulations.

You'll probably have to show a recent veterinarian-issued health certificate when you travel with your pet. While you're at the vet's office, discuss with your veterinarian whether you should tranquilize your pet for his or her flight.

At the Airport

Before your trip, do a little research about the airports from which you are departing and arriving. If you are checking your pet as luggage, do you check in at the regular ticket counters or will you have to go to a cargo counter? Where will you meet your checked pet once you arrive at your destination?

If you're traveling in the United States, the U.S. Department of Transportation requires all airlines and airports to create a service animal relief areas. This is good news for passengers who are flying with personal pets, as well, because these areas can be used by all animals, not just service animals. Check the airport map before the day of travel to locate the animal relief areas, which are often before the security checkpoint.

Before heading to the airport, try to tire out your animal to increase the likelihood that he or she will sleep during all or part of the flight. Also, ensure that your pet's kennel has a comfortable towel on the bottom for your pet to sit on and contains a favorite toy or two. Before entering the terminal, take the time for a final potty break.

Most animal owners will restrict food and water intake for several hours before travel to minimize the discomfort for their pets, particularly during long flights. But also consider whether you should put an ice-filled water bowl in the kennel so your pet can stay hydrated during the trip.

If your pet is flying in the cabin with you, be prepared to take your animal out of his or her carrier when passing through security. For cat owners, this means you may want to place a collar on your cat before leaving home and be prepared to attach a leash to the collar as you remove your cat from a carrier. No one wants a scared kitty to panic and bolt through the airport!

There are many animal lovers in the country, but do yourself, your pet and the traveling public a favor and keep your pet in the kennel while moving through the airport. Remember, airports are unfamiliar places to most pets, with strange noises and smells. Even the most docile pet is more likely to get scared and may act unpredictably if out of his or her kennel while at the airport.

On the Plane

If you're flying with a pet (as opposed to a service animal), it's important to remember that the vast majority of airlines require pets to remain in their kennel for the duration of the flight. (Cape Air) is one of the rare airlines that allow smaller dogs on certain flights to be carried on a passenger's lap for flights to certain destinations.) It's OK to reach your hand in the crate to sooth your pet, but do not take the animal out of the crate.

Once You've Arrived

If you're traveling with a dog, you'll want to take a walk as soon as possible after landing. And if you're traveling with a cat or other animal, don't dilly-dally when leaving the airport. Regardless of the species, your pet will surely want to get out of his or her carrier, get some exercise and have the opportunity to eat and go to the bathroom.

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