Pandemic Pet Travel: Has COVID-19 Changed the Way Pets Fly?

This year has been a year of abrupt change, and one industry that’s had to quickly adapt to the effects of a pandemic is the travel industry. This can be seen with new requirements, physical distancing efforts, and other protocols implemented to keep passengers safe. Us humans are well aware of how different it feels to book and board an airplane these days. But what about our pets? While Fido won’t be asked to wear a mask, there are still a number of new challenges we are learning to navigate for our furry clients.

As a result of COVID-19, airlines are experiencing a shift in the level of service they can provide. We’re doing everything we can to stay one step ahead of the everchanging airline processes and limitations. While some things are simply out of our control, we will always make sure you and your pet get the best travel plan and service we can provide. If you are planning a move, here are some important factors you should consider. 

Challenges Booking a Flight 

In March 2020, a number of airlines suspended their pet programs. This leaves us with fewer options to offer our clients, as the flights remaining are in high demand. While our relocation coordinators always try to accommodate our client’s desired date of travel, these limitations may affect your timeline. 

Most airlines offer flight bookings for live animals within an approved booking window. This is usually about two weeks to ten days before your proposed day of travel. PetRelocation submits a flight booking on the earliest possible day, but this doesn’t always guarantee a travel date. For example, Hawaiian Airlines  (one of only two airlines currently taking pets unaccompanied from mainland US to Hawaii) will give priority to pets who are traveling accompanied by their owners while also offering limited space for pets traveling in general. Passengers are not subject to such strict booking limitations and therefore may book the pets tied to their ticket weeks before we can. Thus, it has not been uncommon for anyone booking a flight for an unaccompanied pet to have their booking rescheduled to the following day or even week.

Marley moved to Singapore
Marley’s coordinator submitted many flight bookings before securing his flight to Singapore

Lufthansa is another example of this. If your pet is traveling internationally, we’ll likely look to Lufthansa due to their offering of worldwide routings. However, this is another airline experiencing capacity issues that result in failed flight booking attempts. On top of their flights being in high demand, Lufthansa has recently changed its policy and will only allow a very small number of pets per flight. Many international airlines are adopting similar policies and we expect to see this trend to continue for the remainder of the year. 

Because of this, we are encouraging our clients to remain flexible and allow for a contingency plan to be created, just in case we cannot get the booking you had hoped for.

Flight Plans May Change 

When an airline accepts our flight booking, they will inform us that your pet’s spot is reserved. This is great news! However, an airline’s capacity for pets may change day to day, so it’s important for you and your relocation coordinator to discuss a contingency plan.

For example, if an airline employee tests positive for COVID-19, this will result in that airline likely shutting down the route that the sick employee serviced for 14 days. PetRelocation witnessed a similar situation as a cat we were moving was being checked into her flight. That is how quickly things may change. Luckily, our team was able to retrieve the pet and bring her to a trusted boarding facility, as the pet owner had already left the country. We were able to secure her a similar flight on a route out of a neighboring city later that week. Even one day’s difference in travel can result in the reworking of an entire move plan.  

Boba moved to Taiwan
Boba’s flight plan changed multiple times while planning his move to Taiwan

It’s not just flights that run the risk of cancellation due to the pandemic. When a pet flies internationally, they may be taken care of at one of the many airport animal lounges worldwide. Since so many people and animals come in and out of these lounges and then go onto many different international destinations, the risk of spreading COVID-19 is taken very seriously. If an employee, client or vendor is thought to be sick, the animal lounge may suspend their services while the entire staff is tested and large kennels and catteries are given a deep clean. So, if your pet’s flight was meant to arrive or transit through one of these airports, that flight may be canceled or rerouted and you’ll need a new course of action. 

If a flight is canceled, PetRelocation may need to seek a different route or airline altogether. Airlines have varying policies surrounding breeds restrictions and heat embargoes. If you are hoping to move your pet during the summer or if your pet is considered a “snub-nosed” animal, please be aware that the smallest disruption in a carefully laid out plan can possibly change the entire timeline. 

Costs Might Change 

Before you agree to hire PetRelocation, you and your dedicated sales consultant will review the services required and the estimated required costs associated . A large part of your required costs will be airfreight. Airfreight is typically calculated by the airlines based on your pet’s weight, measurements, and the mileage of the flight.

Unfortunately, many airlines are not currently offering reliable and consistent rates. In most cases, we recieve final airway pricing at time of flight booking (2-4 weeks from departure date). However, in some extreme cases, we are seeing airfreight increases once pets are measured & weighed at check-in.

One example comes from our agent in Hong Kong, Relopaws. In June 2020, British Airways was one of the only airlines relocating pets consistently out of Hong Kong. So that they could continue to accommodate their pet program while operating on limited passenger capacity, the cargo airfreight for animals was increased by a shocking 900%. The decision was made and implemented quickly, allowing pet parents in Hong Kong little time to make informed decisions.



While we have yet to see such a dramatic increase in the United States, there have certainly been surprises in airfreight spikes all over the world. This is why it’s so important to remain flexible. Ask your dedicated sales consultant about the possibility of airfreight increases and be open to having an honest conversation with them about the possibility of added costs due to limited flights. 

If you and your family are making a move during a pandemic, it’s important to understand the many moving pieces and how things can change from day to day. PetRelocation is dedicated, as always, to assisting you and providing guidance to pet parents during these times of great change.

If you have questions about pet travel during a pandemic, let us know. And if you’re ready to get started with an expert pet shipping professional, let’s get started today!


PetRelocation Team


Air Travel, Ask the Experts, News



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