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The Risks of Relocating with Your Pet in the Winter

Published on: April 26, 2022  |  Author: Starwood Pet Travel


winter scene

An overseas move can happen at any time of the year. If you will be relocating with your pet in the winter, you need to be aware of certain seasonal risks. With luck, none of them will affect your plans, but preparation is the key to smooth, safe pet travel in any season. In many places, winter is downright cold. Winter weather can be dramatic, and it is also unpredictable. Bad weather can cause:

  • Flight delays or cancellations
  • Pet travel embargoes
  • Health considerations
  • Disruption of the rest of your family’s travel plans 

Some of these risks are out of your control, others you can mitigate. Keep an eye on the weather and try to be a little flexible in case your pet's travel day needs to be adjusted.

Avoid holidays

If you have any choice about scheduling your relocation, pick dates that don’t coincide with any holidays - don't forget to check international holidays both in your origin country and destination country as these can differ. This can cause unnecessary stress and there's a risk that flights are full.

This can affect your pet as well as you. Each airline limits the number of pets they allow on any given flight, so you might assume that your pet is a lock since you’ve made and paid for their reservation. Not necessarily, though, because airlines do have the right to bump your pet if they need the cargo space. 

If your pet is traveling as cargo and requires customs clearance or quarantine reservations, you need to keep in mind that many government offices are closed for holidays.  This means that your pet's paperwork might not be endorsed in time, the customs offices may be closed, and quarantine might not accept pets during certain times like between Christmas and New Year's. Additionally, keep in mind that local pet transport companies may not have drivers available to bring your pet to the airport on Christmas Day or some other big holiday.

Weather embargoes

When the outdoor temperature drops below 45o F, many airlines will not accept pets for travel unless you have an acclimation letter signed by a veterinarian. No matter how efficient the airline’s personnel, animals have to wait on the tarmac where they are exposed to the cold during loading and unloading. It may be too cold to safely transport pets, so the airline may say "NO".

There are a few critical points to understand about potential weather embargoes:

  1. The temperature cannot fall below 45o F at any point along your pet’s journey  - the port of departure, arrival, or any transit stops. So the weather may be fine where you are now, but too cold at your destination (or vice versa). The more complex your pet’s itinerary, the more opportunities there are for weather embargoes to kick in. Of course, it all depends on where you are and where you’re going.
  2. Some airlines place complete embargoes for pet travel at certain airports for a certain period of time. This means that it doesn't matter if the forecast is showing a slightly warmer day in Denver - if that airline embargoes any pets from November to March, then your pet won't be able to travel to/from Denver during that time. 
  3. Because weather changes quickly and a degree or two makes all the difference, some airlines make decisions about weather embargoes on a day-by-day basis. If things are iffy, you may not know until your pet arrives to the airport whether travel is a “go” or not. 

Do keep in mind that weather that puts your pet’s plans on hold may not keep you from flying. If you’re scheduled to travel together, now what? Who will be left behind to deal with your pet while they await a green light to fly? It could take several days for the temperatures to warm up. It's a good idea to have a back up plan such as a boarding facility, pet transport company or friend/family member that can step in if there's an emergency.

How well does your pet tolerate cold?

Are they in good health, or do they have a chronic condition such as arthritis (or a very short coat) that makes them susceptible to cold? Dogs and cats traveling as cargo ride in a compartment that is pressurized and temperature-controlled just like the cabin where you sit. Nonetheless, you can help them stay cozy by putting a thin blanket in the bottom of the travel carrier. Use something that smells familiar, because that will comfort them and help reduce anxiety. Please note that it's not recommended for pets to be wearing any clothing like a sweater or coat while flying on the plane. Please don't be tempted to send your cat or dog with layers of clothing as this may be removed and can post a safety risk. 

Acclimation letters

Some airlines will accept a “low temperature acclimation letter” from your veterinarian. This confirms your dog is safe to travel when it’s below 45o F. However, it is at the discretion of your vet if they are willing to sign off on this document - some vets will not.  

Don’t assume, though, ask your airline specifically about this. And beware: if it’s going to be below 20o, even with the acclimation certificate, it's still possible that your pets will probably be turned away at the airline's discretion.

Weather delays

We all know that inclement weather with snow, ice and extreme winds can cause widespread delays or flight cancellations. That affects pet travel, too. 

Bad weather can also delay or prevent your pet from getting to the airport on time, even if the flight is still on schedule. You’ll want to plan ahead for that eventuality, too. An easy way to do that is to let our Starwood team handle your pet's complete door to door transport. That way, if your cat or dog needs last-minute boarding, it won’t cause a glitch in everyone’s plans. 

Peace of mind is always a top priority whenever you relocate with your pet. That comes from knowing your beloved furry family member is safe and comfortable. Unpredictable wintertime events can add to your stress, but there’s no need to worry as long as you know what could happen and take steps in advance to prepare as best you can. Call us, because we can help. At Starwood, we’re peace of mind specialists, and we’re always warm when it comes to pets.

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