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How Safe is Air Travel for Pets?

Ensuring Pet Safety During Air Travel

Are you curious about the safety of transporting pets in the cargo hold of an airplane? This practice, often referred to as cargo transportation, is much safer than many people realize. In this article, we will address common concerns and explain the measures we take to ensure the utmost safety for your pet during air travel.


Controlled Environment in Cargo Holds

The cargo holds where pets travel are both temperature and pressure-controlled. The International Air Transport Association’s Live Animals Regulations (IATA LAR) set the standards for pet transport, ensuring a safe environment for animals during flights. Airlines must comply with these regulations and can face penalties for non-compliance. Selecting an airline that follows these guidelines is crucial for your pet's safety. Pet shipping companies can assist in choosing the best airline for your route, as they are familiar with each airline’s protocols and practices.

Aircraft and Conditions for Pet Travel

Not all aircraft are equipped to transport pets. To be suitable, an aircraft must maintain a portion of the cargo hold within a temperature range of 7.2°C (45°F) to 29.5°C (85°F). While this technology is common on passenger flights, only certain sections of the hold are designed to maintain the necessary conditions for pet travel. The presence of incompatible items or other animals can further limit suitable flights. If the cargo hold air conditioning system fails during inspection, all pets must be rebooked.


Mitigating Risks

Transporting pets by air cargo comes with certain risks, particularly during the transition from the terminal to the aircraft and while waiting to be loaded and unloaded. For instance, a pet in a crate on a hot tarmac requires careful planning to minimize exposure to extreme temperatures. Choosing an airline that prioritizes pet safety can significantly reduce these risks.

Here are some strategies to ensure your pet’s well-being during warmer months:

  • Evening Flights: Choose flights that depart in the evening when temperatures are cooler.

  • Air-Conditioned Transport: Use air-conditioned vehicles to transport pets to the aircraft.

  • Breed Considerations: Avoid flying with snub-nosed breeds during the summer, as they are more susceptible to heat stress.

  • Hydration: Ensure pets have access to water once they are on board.

  • Priority Handling: Arrange for pets to be the last loaded and first unloaded from the aircraft.

Airlines that focus on pet care often train their staff to meet the specific needs of animals, which can increase the cost of transporting live animals. Pets are only accepted on certain routes to maintain high standards of care across all flights and routes.

Crate Duration and Layovers

When planning air travel for your pets, it's important to understand how long they will be in their crates. Typically, pets remain in their crates from check-in (4-6 hours before departure) until they arrive at their destination. This duration can be extended if the journey involves layovers. Choosing routes that offer pet-friendly layovers, where pets can be let out of their crates, is essential for their comfort and well-being. Not all airlines provide this service, and it may not be available for all routes or types of pet bookings.

0x Cargo Pet Relocation may prioritize routes with layovers that will allow pets to leave their crates. This is especially important for long-haul flights, such as those crossing the Atlantic, where pets might be crated for 15-18 hours. Some airlines have animal facilities at their hub airports that offer services similar to pet boarding, including feeding, watering, and space for pets to stretch and relax. These facilities cater to various animals, ensuring they receive the care and attention they need during layovers. These options may not be available for pets traveling as excess luggage on all routes.


Food and Water During Travel

Ensuring your pet's hydration is critical during air travel. Regulations require that any dog or cat over 16 weeks of age be offered food at least every 24 hours and water at least every 12 hours. As the shipper, you must inform the airline about the last time your pet was fed and watered, which should be within four hours before departure. The airline or other carriers must then provide food and water within the next 12 to 24 hours.

Pets may react differently to travel conditions. It's not uncommon for pets to skip meals during their journey due to stress, which can reduce their appetite. However, most animals will drink water provided during transit. Ensuring pets are well-hydrated before departure can improve their travel experience.

Overall Safety

The safety of pets during air travel is a common concern, but data and statistics offer reassuring insights. According to information from airlines, the occurrence of pet fatalities while traveling as cargo is remarkably low, with a rate of less than 0.01%. 

Long-distance ground transport, however, has a higher incidence of reported health complications. Pets under the care of transporters for extended periods are at increased risk of issues. Post-transport health problems, such as heart failure or bloat, can occur within hours or days after arrival, but pinpointing the exact cause remains challenging.


IATA Regulations

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) sets comprehensive guidelines under its Live Animals Regulations (LAR) to ensure animal safety during transport.

Two key standards are:

Temperature, Humidity, and Shelter – IATA LAR 50 USG05

  • Protection Against Extreme Weather: Animals must be shielded from direct sunlight, excessive heat, rain, snow, and cold temperatures.

  • Temperature Control in Holding Areas: The environment must be kept within a safe temperature range (7.2°C to 29.5°C).

  • Cooling Measures: Steps must be taken to cool the holding areas when temperatures reach or exceed 29.5°C.

  • Exposure Limits: Animals should not be exposed to temperatures outside the safe range for more than 45 minutes during transfers.

  • Acclimation Certificate: Animals with an acclimation certificate can withstand lower temperatures for a limited time.

Feeding and Watering Requirements – IATA LAR 50 USG08

  • Certification by Consignors: The last feeding and watering times must be certified and visibly attached to the container.

  • Feeding Intervals: Animals over sixteen weeks must be fed every 24 hours, and younger animals every 12 hours.

  • Watering Intervals: All dogs and cats must be offered water every 12 hours.


These regulations reflect IATA’s commitment to animal welfare, ensuring animals are transported under conditions that prioritize their health and comfort. Understanding and complying with these guidelines is essential for the safe and humane transport of animals by air.

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