Alaska Air Cargo

Pet Connect with the pros: Top 5 tips for our furry and feathered frequent flyers

(Photo courtesy of Pets Across the Pond)

For the 15,000-plus pets traveling every year via our Pet Connect service – and the humans who love them – preparations begin well before the day of flight.

From securing a veterinarian’s health certificate, to verifying if a breed can travel in the cargo compartment, to ensuring an appropriate kennel size, pet owners have a detailed preflight checklist designed to keep their four-legged family members safe and comfortable during travel. 

Veteran pet shippers like Lisa Cinciripini of Across the Pond Pets and Kari Mendoza of Island Pet Movers know our checklist top to bottom.

Kari Mendoza of Island Pet Movers. (Photo courtesy of Island Pet Movers)

Mendoza’s Honolulu-based company manages logistics for thousands of people sending pets all over the world each year. “I have this passion for keeping pets with their families,” she says, remembering how much it meant to her as a kid to have the family dog in Germany when her dad was stationed there. Over the past 13 years, Mendoza’s company has shipped more than 40,000 pets, many to destinations like Hawaii and Guam that have additional requirements.

“Our clients are predominantly military families, and their needs are near and dear to my heart,” says Mendoza, who is also a Navy veteran and a member of the International Pet and Animal Transportation Association (IPATA).

Cinciripini started shipping pets about 20 years ago when she was a professional dog handler traveling to shows, and as a veteran’s wife, she knows the unique challenges for military families who hope to transfer with their pets. She fields about 10 calls a day from service members’ families. “The staff at Alaska are so compassionate, especially when dealing with our military,” she says. Cinciripini is also a longtime IPATA member and values the education requirements and code of ethics the membership signifies. Although she helps clients send pets worldwide, she prefers to focus her business on pets traveling in and out of Seattle (SEA), Portland (PDX) and Los Angeles (LAX).

Cinciripini and Mendoza work with our teams every day to take care of our furry and feathered flyers. Here are a few of their top tips for a smooth Pet Connect travel experience:

1. Know the rules for your breed.

Short-nosed dogs and cats aren’t allowed to travel in the belly of aircraft because they are prone to breathing challenges that can be heightened by the stress of flying. Examples of short-nosed dogs include bulldogs and Pekingese, and cats include Burmese and Persian. (Check our website for a list of restricted breeds.) Mendoza points out that mixed-breed pets may also be restricted. “If you have a lab-pit-bull mix, the embargo against pit bulls still applies,” she says. Smaller dogs and cats of restricted breeds may be able to fly with their human companions in the passenger cabin if their carriers fit under the seats. Check the rules and fees for adding a pet to a passenger reservation.

2. Make sure your pet is healthy enough to travel.

Cinciripini urges pet owners to ask their veterinarian to fully evaluate any health challenges and include a statement of acclimation in the health certificate if the animal is traveling to a warmer or colder climate. “Owners need to be honest with themselves to be sure the trip is really in the pet’s best interest,” she says.

3. Choose a sturdy kennel sized for your pet’s safety and comfort.

Kennels must be made of a rigid construction with a solid top – and large enough for an animal to comfortably stand, turn around and lay down. “The ears of the pet cannot touch the top of the kennel,” says Sara Goodson, an Alaska Air Cargo customer service agent who regularly answers questions about pet shipments.

Passenger cabin, checked baggage or cargo? Find the best seat for your pet

A small pet whose carrier fits under a passenger-cabin seat may be able to travel in the cabin with a ticketed passenger. Eligible larger pets may travel as checked baggage if they are traveling with a passenger, or as cargo if they are traveling alone. Here’s how to find the right option for your four-legged friend:

Passenger cabin: Small dogs, cats, rabbits or household birds may travel with a ticketed passenger over the age of 18 if the carrier fits under the seat and the pet is added to the reservation. Additional fees apply, and a limited number of pets are allowed per flight. Learn more.

Checked baggage: Breeds accepted for travel in the cargo compartment may also travel as checked baggage with a ticketed passenger traveling on the same flight. If the pet and passenger are traveling on connecting flights, the passenger must pick up the pet at baggage claim after the first leg of the journey, and recheck the pet for the next. Learn more about checking your pet as baggage.  

Cargo: Eligible breeds can travel alone as cargo. Follow our Pet Connect checklist for complete guidelines.

Cinciripini says an animal should have good airflow around it while standing in a crate. “None of us would want to be in a stuffy little box while flying,” she says. “The crate is the most important part of your pet’s journey.” Also, keep in mind that many regional flights with smaller aircraft can’t carry larger kennels. Check our kennel requirements for kennel-construction rules, as well as minimum and maximum sizes.

Pets Across the Pond Pets zip-ties food and water bowls to kennels. (Photo courtesy of Across the Pond Pets)

4. Plan for layovers.

Mendoza encourages her clients to book nonstop flights whenever possible. “We will inconvenience our human client for the betterment of the pet and a direct flight, if necessary,” she says. But when a pet has multiple flights, take care to keep the animal comfortable during layovers. Kennels are required to include clipped-in food and water dishes, and Cinciripini says her team zip-ties bowls to the kennel for extra security. She also recommends filling a water bowl with ice that can melt in transit to provide water. A pet’s food can be packaged on top of the kennel so cargo warehouse staff can give the pet a snack if the shipper requests.

If a layover is longer than six hours, the pet’s shipper must arrange for a kenneling service to pick up the pet and care for it during the layover.

5. Check on weather conditions and flight status before taking your pet to the airport.

Before a flight, check our Restrictions and Embargoes page for weather-related restrictions on pet travel. Animals often can’t fly in the cargo compartment when temperatures are hotter than 85 degrees or cooler than 45 degrees in the departure or destination cities. We do have specialized cooling vans stationed in some hot-weather destinations to expedite pet transport between aircraft and cargo stations during the warmest months. This year, we will be able to accommodate pets during some summer months through Tampa (TPA) and Salt Lake City (SLC) – and also through June in Denver (DEN). And we look forward to adding specialized animal-transport vans in Dallas (DFW) and Orlando (MCO) by summer 2023.

And remember to check the flight status before taking your pet to the cargo station. If a flight is canceled, call us at 1-800-225-2752 to rebook your pet. If a flight is delayed longer than four hours, please wait to take your pet to the station. Our cargo station teams can’t accept animal shipments more than four hours before departure.

The requirements for pet shipping may seem overwhelming for a first-time shipper, but they’re designed to ensure pets have the smoothest, safest journey. And pets traveling via Alaska Air Cargo receive VIP (Very Important Pet) treatment with priority last-on, first-off loading. “Alaska really prides itself on our animal care,” Goodson says.

“Alaska’s commitment to the pet industry is genuine,” Mendoza says.  “If you follow the rules and plan ahead, you’ll have a very successful experience.”

More pet travel resources:

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