The choice of airline is a complicated one when deciding to fly your pets – luckily, we’re here to help! Often, there will be only one option for that destination (i.e. only British Airways take pets directly to the Bahamas) but there may be more. It’s also important to note that just because a destination is served by an airline, it does not necessarily mean your pet can automatically travel there with them.
There are a number of pet airlines that allow pets: British Airways, Qantas, United Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, Thomson Airways, Emirates, Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways.
There are also airlines that we don’t often use to fly pets (due to the fact that they generally travel indirectly or simply don’t take pets) such as Ryanair, EasyJet, Lufthansa and Air France.
This may seem obvious, but your chosen destination will be served by a limited number of carriers. First thing to do is to find out which airlines fly to that destination, or as close as possible to that destination. For example, if you are flying to Girona/Barcelona with Ryanair and you want your pet to travel too, then they would have to go to with another carrier. These two Barcelona airports are around a 1-hour drive apart.
The number of airlines that fly pets is limited and even some airlines will only fly pets to some of their destinations. Obviously, if the airline will not accept pets for travel at all – like Ryanair and EasyJet – then you can’t fly your pets with them.
Virgin Atlantic will let owners book directly with them. Often though, it is just as cost effective to use an agent and with this, you get all the additional help an agent can give you. Virgin is an example of an airline who will not fly snub nosed dogs – like bulldogs, pugs and French bulldogs. They are also one of the very few airlines who won’t fly snub nosed cats! Emirates and Singapore Airlines are very particular about the breeds of dogs they will not fly; this includes terriers and some spaniels. Therefore, the knowledge of an agent who knows which pet breeds are allowed by each airline is invaluable.
So, you have found an airline which will take pets and the airline flies to the destination you want, but is the flight direct or indirect? A direct flight is much better for your pets. The take-off and landing are the parts that bother pets the most, so the fewer of these the better. One up and one down is the gold standard. For example, Avianca has a direct flight to Bogota, and KLM have an indirect flight – so the Avianca flight is the best one.
Check in for pets is 4 hours before departure. So, you might have a perfectly reasonable 0800 flight departure, but your pets must check in at 0400, which means a very early start for all! Some airports, more likely the regional ones, will not be able to accept pets at that time in the morning. The bigger airports accept pets 24-hours a day, but the early morning check ins will have an out of hours’ fee.
An aircraft can land at any time really, but the key thing is that it does not land after hours, otherwise the pets can’t be cleared that evening and must stay at the airport overnight after the flight. If this is likely to happen, then we can find an alternative. For example, British Airways have a direct flight to Mexico City, but the aircraft lands late and the pets can’t be cleared at this time, so they will be stuck at Mexico airport overnight before being cleared the next day. The alternative is an indirect flight with United Airlines via Houston, where the pet will fly and stay overnight at the great kennel facility in Houston, then fly to Mexico the next day. This means they will land in office hours, so they can be cleared immediately. The pets have to stay overnight somewhere, so it’s better for them to stay overnight at the kennel facility at Houston Airport, rather than in their crates at Mexico City Airport!
Just because your aircraft can leave from many airports, the airport has to have specific facilities and trained staff to be allowed to fly pets from there safely and correctly, so only a few airports can accept pets on the flights. It tends to be the bigger airport: London Heathrow, London Gatwick, Manchester, Glasgow and Edinburgh accept pets regularly.
Many of the bigger airports will accept pets for travel, but some of the smaller ones will not. To accept pets, there must a be a specifically trained animal handler present at check in to check your pet, the crate, the route and be qualified to look after the pets in the very best way. If there are no suitably qualified personnel, then your pets cannot leave from the origin airport or enter at the destination airport.
Airlines operate several different aircraft types. The pets need to have a hold which can be pressurised, heated and can fit them in physically. Often, the trouble is not the hold size, but the size of the door into the hold and different aircrafts have different sized hold doors. For example, British Airways can fly pets to Los Angeles, but the type of aircraft they use can only fit a very small pet crate through the door. So, if you have a large dog, you wouldn’t be able to use this route for your pet.
To answer this question, you need experience with flying pets. Private clients can book their own pets to fly with some airlines, but PetAir’s experience of arranging around 2,000 flights per year is invaluable. Which airline has the best facilities at the airport of check in? Which airline offers the most help at the airport of destination? Does the airline fly one pet per month or hundreds? For obvious reasons, we can’t just put our opinions here, but you are very welcome to call us for advice and information.
Whichever airline you plan to fly your beloved pet with, it’s incredibly important to plan the journey and gather any information you need well in advance. We understand that the process of flying a pet can be very daunting and so we’re here to help in every possible way you need – effectively taking a big weight from your shoulders!