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Society have said that pet air travel via cargo should be avoided at all costs, but this stance seems to be based on outdated or inaccurate information.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 Nancy Romano on May 22, 2017 at 8:20 pm

Can you give me a ballpark figure on having my 3 pets sent from RDU to BKK in Thailand. One dog weighs 11.9 lbs and her crate weighs 10lbs, the 2nd dog weighs 10.2lbs ad her crate weighs 10lbs The cat weighs 10.9lbs and her crate weighs 6 lbs.

By caitlin@petrelocation.com on May 23, 2017 at 9:16 am

Hi Nancy, thanks for your comment! Since every pet move is a little different, it's best if we're able to talk with you about your plans before offering a price estimate. One of our Asia experts will be happy to assist you when you're ready -- you can either fill out our online consultation form here: https://www.petrelocation.com/arrange or you can give us a call at 1-877-PET-MOVE. Finally here are the pet import requirements for Thailand to give you an idea of what to expect of the process: https://www.petrelocation.com/country/thailand. Hope this helps and we hope to hear from your soon!

By Michael on May 27, 2017 at 12:17 am

We thinking to relocate to California from the uk Could you please give an estimate for 2 cats Looking for to here from you soon M

By caitlin@petrelocation.com on May 30, 2017 at 9:02 am

Hi Michael, Thank you for your inquiry! Every pet move is a little different, so we'll just need a few more details before offering an accurate estimate. Please fill out our online consultation form (https://www.petrelocation.com/arrange) to connect to one of our Specialists. In the meantime, you can learn more about the US import process here (https://www.petrelocation.com/country/importing-pets-to-usa). Hope this helps and we hope to hear from you soon!

By Zinny Brandao on June 3, 2017 at 5:37 pm

I recently went to Panama City, Panama. Reason for my trip was because my husband's father was in the hospital. I came across a stray dog that I got attached to, I gave him water and fed him. He got attached to me also as soon as I got there he followed every where. To make a long story short, we left yesterday 6-2-17. If feel horrible leaving the poor helpless creature and would like to bring him with me. Could you please help me and advise me of what it is that I have to do to get this done?

By caitlin@petrelocation.com on June 5, 2017 at 8:53 am

Hi Zinny, we'd be happy to assist. First, you'll need to read over the pet import requirements for your home country and prepare to follow them (https://www.petrelocation.com/learn/international-pet-transport). Then, you'll need someone in Panama to secure a pet travel crate and also take your dog to the vet to receive the necessary vaccines/paperwork. We'd be happy to help you arrange these details! Just let us know by filling out our online consultation form or by giving us a call (https://www.petrelocation.com/arrange). Let us know if you have any more questions and good luck bringing your dog home to you!

By Kelly on June 21, 2017 at 7:25 pm

My daughter wants to bring a puppy back from Quito, Ecuador. They leave Saturday to come bsvk to US. It is small enough to fit under seat of airline allows. It has not had shots yet, however. Could they get shots in USA? Will it have to be quarantined?

By caitlin@petrelocation.com on June 22, 2017 at 8:57 am

Hi Kelly, thank you for your inquiry!

First, here are the pet import rules for the United States. There is no standard quarantine, but the dog will need a current rabies vaccine and you'll need to follow the rules outlined by the airline.

Let us know if you need some assistance with this move, we'd be happy to help!


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