North America Pet Travel Spotlight: The Facts About Cargo Pet Travel

north america pet travel spotlight part two

Let's face it: pet travel can be confusing and stressful, so in part one of our North America Pet Travel Spotlight series we discussed the basic elements of planning a safe pet move. Now that you've mastered these essentials, it's time to dive deeper into those areas of pet travel that tend to bring up even more questions.

For example, many North America pet travelers have concerns about how their pet will be traveling if they are too big to fly in the cabin, and they're often initially opposed to cargo travel. Here's a look at the different options available along with the reasons that, contrary to popular belief, cargo air travel is often the best and safest choice for pets.

Facts About Pet Cargo Travel

  • Each airline has different ways of transporting pets, and some are simply more pet friendly than others. Do some research as you decide which carrier to choose, and note that we primarily work with United and Delta for our clients' pet moves within the United States.

  • When flying via cargo, pets travel unaccompanied (you do not need to be on the same flight).

  • Check-in will be at the airline's cargo facility.

  • The employees pets encounter during this process are trained to handle live animals safely.

  • Pet safe airlines shipping pets via cargo have a last on, first off policy (which means pets are attended to first, transported in temperature controlled vehicles, and are not left to sit on the tarmac).

  • PetRelocation books all pets' travel as manifest cargo.

  • This method tends to be more expensive due to the higher standards of care involved. It's also more expensive the larger your pet is, as freight price is based on the weight of the pet plus the kennel.

Facts About Flying Pets as Excess Baggage

  • Airline requirements vary, so be sure to check airline websites for restrictions and pricing.

  • Pets must be accompanied -- meaning this option is only available if the owner is flying on the same flight.

  • Check-in occurs at the main terminal.

  • Temperature restrictions usually apply (since temperature-controlled vehicles probably aren't being used, pets won't be able to travel if it's too hot or too cold outside).

  • Airline cargo employees are the ones handling pets rather than specialized staff.

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

  • This option is less expensive -- it's usually a flat fee around $100-$200 in addition to the passenger's ticket.

What Are the Similarities Between Cargo Travel and Excess Baggage?

  • Pets fly below the plane in a temperature and pressure controlled cargo hold.

  • Pets always need to travel in airline approved travel crates.

  • Airlines will require a health certificate issued by a vet prior to travel (usually within 10 days of departure).

  • Tickets must be booked in advance (often at least 24-48 hours depending on the airline).

Note: Signaling a significant development in pet air travel trends, Delta has announced that beginning March 1, 2016 they will no longer accept pets as excess baggage (United does not fly pets via excess baggage, only cargo). Most industry leaders view this is a positive change that will lead to safer experiences for pets -- Delta has a history of negative incidents flying pets via excess baggage and it sounds like they're ready to adopt an approach more focused on safety. Read more about Delta's decision to focus exclusively on in-cabin and cargo pet travel here.

What About Ground Transportation?

Often pet owners who contact us are looking for ground transport options. We don't include this on our list of services at this time and find it less than ideal for the following reasons:

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

  • It's not always possible to find reputable agents available to travel to your preferred destination from your point of origin.

  • By the time gas and labor costs are factored in, this option can be as expensive or more expensive than air travel.

In some cases ground transportation is the best or only option (if you're moving a snub-nosed pet, for example). If you're in this situation and are looking for a reputable agent, we suggest using to search for one.

What We Recommend

Based on years of experience, we feel that cargo travel on a pet safe airline is the best option for traveling pets. Trusting your pets to trained employees working for an airline truly committed to taking good care of pets (not just treating them like baggage) is well worth the higher cost, and we have flown thousands of pets safely via cargo. Read more about pet safety statistics here.

Still have questions? Our North America team would be happy to discuss your options with you -- just give us a call or fill out our online consultation form to connect.

This is Part Two of PetRelocation's North America Pet Travel Series. Check back soon for more updates and contact us if you'd like to start planning your pet's move.


Banner Photo: Prayitno/Flickr


PetRelocation Team




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