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Can Pets Fly Alone?

Published on: October 5, 2023  |  Author: Starwood Pet Travel

cat in a basket by window

You may be wondering if pets can fly alone and the answer is: YES! It is not always possible for your pet to fly in-cabin with you or as accompanied baggage on your own flight. In this case, pets typically travel "unaccompanied" as cargo. While this may sound scary, it's not!

Do Pet Owners Have to Fly with Their Pets?

If it's not possible for your pet to fly with you in-cabin or as accompanied baggage, then they may need to travel as cargo. Pets traveling as cargo do not have to be on the same flight as their owner - they don't even have to travel on the same day or with the same airline! Their reservation is booked through the cargo side of the airline - not the passenger side. This process works differently than the way human passengers book their own flights. 

It is not uncommon for pet owners to have to travel ahead of or behind their pets, for a number of reasons. Your travel may be time-sensitive based on immigration formalities or job requirements and since not every airline can accommodate pets, it may not be possible for your pet to be on the same flight as you. Some airlines also have restrictions on certain breeds, temperatures, size of the pet, etc., so the flight options may be limited. Whatever the case may be, it's perfectly okay if your pet is not on the same flight as you. 

Where Do Pets Fly?

When pets are traveling as accompanied baggage on their owner's ticket, or as cargo under their own reservation, they are placed in the same spot on the plane. Live animals are placed in the cargo space underneath the plane. This area is temperature-controlled, pressurized, and oxygenated. It is roughly the same temperature as it is up above in the passenger cabin. Pet travel kennels are held into place by a thin netting that acts like a seatbelt to keep them safe and secure during transport. The pilot also signs off on a manifest prior to departure, so they are aware of any live animals onboard. 

Is Pet Cargo Safe?

Yes, it is safe for pets to fly as cargo. In fact, thousands of animals travel on airplanes every year - and not just cats and dogs! As mentioned above, the cargo area is pressurized, oxygenated, and temperature-controlled and if any of these mechanisms are not working properly, live animals would not be allowed to travel. This is in part why certain aircraft cannot accommodate pets - because the cargo space is either too small, or does not have the proper controls to ensure that pets travel safely.

How Do I Book My Pet's Flight?

If your pet is traveling in-cabin or as accompanied baggage on your own flight, then you will need to make their reservation through the passenger side of the airline. Online reservations are not always possible, so you'll need to call to make sure your pet can be booked under your ticket and to confirm the requirements and paperwork needed for your pet's travels. 

If your pet needs to travel as cargo, then this is done through the cargo side of the airline. This requires a separate reservation that can sometimes be completed by pet owners but sometimes needs to be done by a professional pet shipper or pet transport company. Depending on your destination, you may not be able to make the cargo reservation for your pet on your own. When making the reservation, the airline requires your pet's details, weight, size of their travel kennel, and weight of the travel kennel. There is also additional paperwork required. Once the reservation is confirmed, you will receive an airwaybill number which is essentially your pet's "ticket" and serves as a way to track their flight(s).

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