Facts About Pet Transport Safety

henry with his travel crateLearn More About Cargo Pet Travel

Cargo or cabin? Ground transportation or excess baggage? One of the most common and emotionally charged questions we receive is about how pets travel.

Many people are surprised to find out that PetRelocation recommends cargo travel for pets, but in our experience the more you learn about how air cargo transportation works, the clearer it becomes that this really is the best option for your most precious passengers.

As you research the safest pet travel options, here's a look at the facts about pet air travel and the pros and cons of the various methods of transit available.

Facts About Pet Air Travel Via Cargo

  • Some airlines are more pet friendly than others, so do some research as you plan your pet's trip and check with a pet travel expert to see which carrier they recommend based on your origin and destination.

  • An airline that is “pet safe” signals that employees are specifically trained to handle animals and they follow a last on, first off policy. This means pets are given priority, they are transported in temperature controlled vehicles, and they are never left to sit on the tarmac.

  • Check-in occurs at the airlines' cargo facility and pets are tracked during each stage of their their journey.

  • The cargo area is pressure and temperature controlled.

  • Pets do not need to travel on the same flight as the pet owner and they're not attached to the ticket of their pet owner, which makes it easier for people to plan their own travel routes.

  • This method tends to be more expensive because of the higher standards of care involved. Also, the larger your pet is, the more the ticket will be because the freight prices is based on the combined weight of the pet and their kennel.

  • PetRelocation books all pets' travel via manifest cargo (barring very special circumstances).


Myths About Cargo Travel

Though you may have come across various news stories that make cargo travel sound remarkably unsafe for pets, when you examine the numbers, this simply isn't the case. According to the last Department of Transportation report released on this matter, about 2 million pets flew in 2014 and there was a negative incident rate of about .0022%.

Pet authorities like the Humane Society have said that pet air travel via cargo should be avoided at all costs, but this stance seems to be based on outdated or inaccurate information. Contrary to what many people believe, the cargo area where pets are placed is pressure and temperature controlled just like the cabin, and pet safe airlines are dedicated to making sure pets have a safe experience and aren't just treated as luggage. (See above and read more about flying pets safely here.)

Facts About Pet Air Travel Via Excess Baggage

  • Check-in occurs at the main terminal and pets must be accompanied by their owner and fly on the same flight.

  • Airline requirements vary, so check the carrier's website carefully or give them a call to find out exactly what to expect.

  • Airline employees will handle pets and haven't necessarily received special training about how to do so.

  • Pets may be moved with general cargo and may spend more time waiting on the tarmac.

  • This option is cheaper—usually about $100 - $200 in addition to the passenger's ticket.

  • Temperature restrictions usually apply (since there is no “pet safe” system in place, which includes having temperature controlled vehicles on hand, pets can't travel if it's too hot or too cold).

cat travel crate

Reasons Excess Baggage Travel Isn't Ideal for Pets

Many people think it's better to have a pet attached to their own ticket, but if a pet is bumped from the flight (which happens more than you might think), this creates serious complications that can be difficult to deal with on your own. International pet travel is stressful enough without adding in additional unknown variables—just ask Biko, the subject of a recent NPR story.

Also, this option simply isn't as safe because pets are not given the attention and priority they receive when traveling with a pet safe cargo operator. The airlines that do not offer excess baggage for pets are doing it for good reason, and they tend to be the carriers who are the most devoted to safe pet travel.

For example, in a step to be more pet friendly and transparent, Delta recently discontinued their pets-as-excess-baggage policy. Though the media sometimes paint this as a negative decision because it limits pet owners' options, we think it's a positive move that will ultimately lead to more pets having better experiences when they fly.

Gabo and Family

Pet Air Travel in the Cabin

To be accepted, pets must fit underneath the airline seat in an airline-approved travel kennel, so this option is only available for small pets. Also, not all routes allow cabin travel (no matter how small your pet is), including many international routes.

Many pet owners understandably think that keeping their pet in sight is always the best option, but the noise and chaos of the cabin can often be more stress-inducing to a pet than the more predictable cargo area.

A Note About Ground Transportation

We receive quite a few domestic travel inquiries from pet owners hoping to book ground transportation. We currently don't offer this as an option and consider it less than ideal for a few reasons:

  • Ground travel almost always takes much longer than air travel and can be more stressful for the pet.

  • Finding reputable agents available and willing to drive from your origin to your destination can be tricky (this is probably not a situation where you want to settle for a non-vetted driver discovered on Craigslist).

  • Ground travel tends to be very expensive because you're paying one or more people for several hours or days of their time, and you'll also need to factor in gas and possible hotel costs.

  • Sometimes ground transport is the only option (perhaps you have a snub-nosed breed that simply can't fly, for example). In this case, we recommend using IPATA.org to locate a trustworthy ground transportation agent.

bob the cat in his travel crate

PetRelocation's Recommendation

For our clients and for pets in general who are flying, we recommend cargo travel on a pet safe airline. This method provides the safest and least stressful experience for pets, which is our number one priority (and probably yours, too).

We have flown thousands of pets safely via cargo during the last 10+ years—read some of their stories here and find out more about U.S. DOT reporting statistics here.

Still have questions? Contact us to discuss how to help your pet move safely!


PetRelocation Team


Air Travel, Airlines, Airports, News


Cats, Dogs


United States, UK, Australia, EU, South America


Add a Comment

By Meylee on August 10, 2018 at 1:23 pm

My dog just turned 16 and he is my life. Rehoming is not an option. We are PCSing From FL to Hawaii. My dog is used to sleep in his kennel and the veterinarian said that his heart is and sound perfect, even though he is that old, He has travel the world (including Hawaii) with us before but for the last few years we didn't have the need to travel. Now is time to move back to Hawaii and we are really nervous. How old is too old for a dog to fly? Do you have an age limit to relocate dogs? Please help.

By Maegan at PetRelocation on August 14, 2018 at 2:28 pm

Hi Meylee! Thank you for taking the time to seek our advice. While there is not an age limit for pets to fly, ultimately this will be a question to discuss with your vet, as he or she is the best person to evaluate your pet's fitness. However, here are some tips on traveling with an elderly pet. Hope this helps with your research!

By Surabhi Agarwal on July 5, 2018 at 7:08 am

Hi,I have a 7 year old pug who is fat (12 kg). She is otherwise healthy. Is it possible to transport her from New Delhi, India to Amsterdam? If yes, how? She is precious to me and I may decide not to move at all and lose a great opportunity if there is the SLIGHTEST risk to her life.Please help!

By Christina at PetRelocation on July 12, 2018 at 1:41 pm

Hi Surabhi,That's a great question! The safety of air travel is very individual to the pet. It will be up to the discretion of your veterinarian to evaluate her fitness to fly. Airlines require a health certificate from your vet that indicates this. Just like with people, there is always a risk associated with travel, although rest assured that over 99% of healthy pets travel with no incident. If you and your vet decide that she is well enough to fly, you will need to make sure you meet the requirements for importing a dog to the Netherlands from an unlisted country, which you can find . Hope this helps!

By Surabhi Agarwal on July 5, 2018 at 7:07 am

Hi,I have a 7 year old pug who is fat (12 kg). She is otherwise healthy. Is it possibly to transport her from New Delhi, India to Amsterdam? If yes, how? She is precious to me and I may decide not to move at all and lose a great opportunity if there is the SLIGHTEST risk to her life.Please help!

By Jayde K Levesque on June 24, 2018 at 7:12 pm

Hi! I am looking into moving to the UK from NY (USA) next Spring and I have two 50lb labs. Both have severe separation anxiety but react differently. They are both very healthy and are microchipped and up to date with all vaccines but I’m very concerned with traveling without them and having them go through customs without me. One of my dogs is fear aggressive with strangers so I’m terrified of him being handled by strangers after the stress of travel. Do they stay in their crates the entire time? Any help or insight is greatly appreciated

By Maegan at PetRelocation on June 27, 2018 at 8:25 am

Hi Jayde! Thanks for the question. We have a wealth of knowledge & information about pets traveling to the UK, specifically about the arrival process at the Heathrow Animal Reception Centre. If you would like a consultant on our UK team to reach out you about tips & tricks for reducing anxiety, please fill out our Arrange A Move form. Looking forward to speaking with you!

By Gabriela Hennigan on April 29, 2018 at 12:18 am

Hi, I would like to transport a 1 year old labrador from Dublin Ireland to Poland and want to know which airlines allow pets:- given the size of a large dog, he will need to travel as cargo - i want to see if i can travel by ryanair on the same day or do i need to travel on the same flight with him - what is difference in price for the dog transport in all the airlines operating from ireland to poland - what is the cost of travelling by ferrythank you

By Christina at PetRelocation on April 30, 2018 at 4:43 pm

Hi Gabriella! We have a comprehensive pet-friendly airline guide that may help you figure out which one makes most sense for you.

For pricing and routing, you can visit the airline websites, which are linked from each of our booking guides. Since we deal almost exclusively with air travel, we aren't able to provide ferry pricing, but recommend reaching out to a local company that provides this mode of transportation or contacting a local IPATA pet shipper that may have experience moving pets that way. Happy travels!

By Courtney Lambert on April 18, 2018 at 10:56 am

I am needing to fly my two cats (6 months old) from Liberia Costa Rica to Austin Texas the beginning of July. Can someone please let me know how this can be done. I have a vet that can do all the international paperwork. I just can’t have them in the cabin with me. Thanks Courtney

By Maegan at PetRelocation on April 19, 2018 at 3:59 pm

Hi Courtney, Thanks for reaching out to us! Here are the requirements for moving pets to Costa Rica.We'd love to help with your kitties move. In order to connect you with a consultant, please fill out our Arrange A Move Form here. Looking forward to speaking with you soon!

By Hady najem on April 7, 2018 at 2:47 pm

Hello, i want to ship a dog i bought online from hungary to lebanon can i know about the cost and all tje procesures? I might open a business sgipping many dogs from there later Thank you My number is 009613440352

By Maegan at PetRelocation on April 9, 2018 at 10:00 am

Hi Hady, Thanks for your question! In order for us to assist, please fill out our . Arrrange A Move form and it will connect you with a sales consultant to walk through the costs & logistics. Thanks!

By Stephani on March 29, 2018 at 3:56 am

I'm trying to get my little Chihuahua from the United States by Seattle Washington to Australia I have been working with the Vets getting everything done I just need to know how much it is to get him for the travel part and need someone to help me with the table apart from Seattle Washington to Melbourne Australia to the quarantine

By Christina at PetRelocation on April 4, 2018 at 5:27 pm

Hi Stephani! We are happy to help with this, and even have a dedicated Australia team that specializes in moving pets there. If you could please fill out this form at your convenience, a relocation consultant will contact you as soon as possible!

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