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Traveling with your pet amid COVID-19 restrictions

According to Time, humans and pets have been bonded for at least 14,000 years, citing physical evidence of the human-dog connection. A 2015 Harris Poll study found that nearly all pet owners (95%) view their pets as family members. Our pets provide love and comfort, especially during crises like the COVID-19 pandemic. It makes sense we’d want to travel with our pets, especially in uncertain times riddled with travel restrictions.

But traveling with pets today is more complicated. Travel alone places risks on pet owners, as seen by stories of travelers being separated from pets for months at a time. Reuters reports more than 1,000 pets are currently stranded worldwide by border closures and flight cancellations. In May 2020, ABC News reported that one woman trying to move back to Australia with her pets had spent more than $40,000 on travel and living expenses due to being stranded in the U.S. because of pet flight restrictions.

Traveling with pets by air these days can be tough, depending on the type of pet you have and where you’re going, but there are travel options with pets available. This guide provides an updated status on where airlines currently stand on pet travel and how to use alternate travel options to make the most of traveling with a pet, so you can successfully get to your final destination together.

Flying with a pet comes with certain restrictions depending on the airline. (Image by Stock)

Flying with your pet

Typically, flyers have two options for traveling with pets: carrying the pet on the plane or checking the pet as cargo. There are some restrictions on types of pets that can travel on board, including dog breeds. For example, airlines like Delta never allow pit bull dog breeds as carry-on dogs on planes. Some airlines are more pet-friendly than others.

When pets are allowed as carry-ons, most policies only allow small dogs, cats, and potentially rabbits, guinea pigs and household birds. On the plane, a pet must be kept in a ventilated pet carrier that fits under the seat in front of you.

If a pet has met Service and Support Animal Travel guidelines, the animal may be allowed to sit on the passenger’s lap or sit on the floor space below a passenger’s seat. There are no size limits on service dogs, but Service Dog Registration of America recommends contacting the airline if you’ll be flying with one so the airline can make appropriate accommodations. While there’s typically a charge for carry-on pets, there is generally no charge for service and support animals.

A pet counts as one carry-on item. If a pet doesn’t fit in a carrier for a carry-on item, the pet will not be allowed on the plane and must be shipped as cargo, but not all airlines allow pet travel as cargo. There are usually minimum age requirements for pets traveling on board or as cargo as well, which is around eight to 10 weeks old.

Currently, there are more restrictions for pets as cargo due to the pandemic. Reuters reports major airlines like United suspended pet cargo programs because they no longer made financial sense or could be done safely during the pandemic. Instead of shipping pets, airlines can make more money shipping other types of non-animal cargo.

Already, many airlines don’t allow pet cargo travel because of the dangers and horror stories that have accompanied pet cargo travel, since it’s a riskier form of pet transport compared to carry-on pet travel. It’s unknown when — or if — airlines that have suspended pet cargo travel will reinstate it. Presumably, without a coronavirus vaccine, pet travel by cargo is suspended indefinitely.

Pets shipped as cargo must get separate flight bookings. Pets may be shipped on different flights to the same destination and must be picked up at the airline’s cargo station.

For pet safety, some pets will not be transported as cargo to hot destinations in the summer, like Phoenix or Las Vegas. Some airlines, like American Airlines, don’t allow cargo pets that have been sedated.

If you want to fly with a pet, it might be wise to work with a travel adviser, since flights that allow pets are more difficult to come by these days. If your reservation gets changed, you’ll have to wait until the next flight that allows an animal.

If you fly with your pet as cargo or as a carry-on, look into the airline policies as early as possible. There may be restrictions on how early you can book a flight for your pet, as well as evolving restrictions due to COVID-19. 

Alternative options to flying with your pet amid COVID-19

If you’re not able to fly with your pet, but you need to get somewhere, there are other ways to travel with your furry or feathery friend if air travel isn’t feasible.

Traveling with your pet by car

(Image by Emerson Peters / Unsplash)

Consider taking a road trip with your pet. The best way to ensure safety while on the road is to put the pet in a well-ventilated carrier or crate, or to attach the pet by a safety harness to the seatbelt. Get your pet used to the carrier at home before the trip, so they’re not as anxious once you’re on the road. You can also go on short drives before your big trip to get them used to spending time in the car in a carrier or with a safety harness.

When you’re driving with a pet in a carrier, ensure the crate is secured in the back seat so it doesn’t move around. Make sure your pet is wearing a collar with current tags. It’s best to have your pet microchipped as well.

You’ll need to have rabies vaccination records for crossing over state lines with your pet. Some states may require this proof at interstate crossings.

Take plenty of pit stops so your pet can go to the bathroom and walk around. Bring your own water and pet bowl for your animal to drink from, in case there’s not a water source close by or the pet is hesitant to drink from an unfamiliar water source.

If you’re traveling with a pet by rental car, be aware of the pet travel policies. Typically, car renters are responsible for any damage the pet causes to the car. To avoid cleaning charges, you’ll need to return the rental vehicle clean and free of pet hair.

Traveling with your pet by ship

There aren’t many cruise lines that allow pet travel for pets other than service dogs. When pets are allowed on cruise lines, they’ll typically be confined to a kennel, not a private cabin.

However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people defer travel on cruise ships worldwide because of the spread of coronavirus, issuing a Level 3 Travel Health Notice for cruise ship travel. Passengers who do travel by ship are requested to quarantine for 14 days after returning.

If you do take the risk of traveling by ship with your pet, the Humane Society of the United States recommends checking on your pet frequently in the kennel to make sure it’s protected from the elements.

There may be some small boat lines that allow pet travel. Enquire about specific policies before booking.

Traveling with your pet by train

Train travel with a pet may be a more viable and comfortable alternative than flying.  Amtrak allows dogs and cats up to 20 pounds to travel on trips up to seven hours on most routes. Pets must be in an approved pet carrier and must be able to sit and lie down without touching the sides of the carrier. The pet carrier counts as a piece of carry-on luggage.

Amtrak also allows service animals to travel on board. Service animals must sit under the passenger’s seat at the passenger’s feet. Pet owners are expected to feed and exercise their pets at train stops.

The Humane Society of the United States reports some smaller U.S. railroad companies may permit animals on board as well. These include Alaska Railroad and the Connecticut CT Rail Shore Line East. Generally, non-service animals must be able to fit in small carriers at the passenger’s feet to be permitted on board.

Although no specific pet restrictions are noted, it’s a good idea to review Amtrak’s latest COVID-19 policies before booking.

The bottom line

If you have to travel during COVID-19, it’s understandable to want to bring your pet along. Pets are such a meaningful source of joy during stressful times. It makes sense to want to be close to them, especially as travel restrictions evolve. Being separated from your pet because of travel cancellations would be heartbreaking. Plus, it can get expensive figuring out how to reunite.

Avoid complications with pet travel by carefully researching pet travel policies with your preferred mode of transportation. It can help to work with a travel adviser, so you have backup plans in place in case plans fall through.

Ensure your pet is up to date on all immunizations before you travel and that you have the proper paperwork to show vaccination proof available on your trip. Get your pet used to travel beforehand by exposing them to elements like a pet carrier and rides in the car. Always prioritize your pet’s safety and carefully consider the value of travel and how it will affect your pet before you book. With proper preparation, it’s possible to plan a trip with your pet during COVID-19.

By Nicki Escudero

This content was originally published on Million Mile Secrets and is used with permission.