Flying with pets internationally wasn’t a topic on our radar until we decided to relocate from Scotland to Portugal with our dog Django. We had never even seen a dog at an airport never mind on a plane! Since then, we’ve flown many times with both Django and Arya, both to and from the United Kingdom, (UK) and across the EU. So if you’re planning on flying with dogs, cats or other animals, we have a plethora of knowledge in this area. Here you’ll find all you need to know for flying internationally with pets in 2022, whether you’re travelling in the UK, Europe or further afield. Be aware that some governments may allow a pet cat or dog to fly out in the cabin of the plane. However, the UK, Australia and New Zealand are among a few locations that don’t allow pets to enter in the plane cabin. When travelling with small or large dogs by plane, there’s plenty of pet friendly airlines. But, be aware that restrictions apply to certain dog breeds flying in the cabin or hold. In general, airlines don’t allow dogs, whether large or small, that are classed as ‘dangerous’ to fly in either the cabin or hold. Nonetheless, you may find a pet cargo courier that will take responsibility for transporting ‘dangerous’ dog breeds to and from the aircraft. In addition, most airlines only allow snub-nosed cat and dog breeds to travel in the plane cabin. This is due to breathing difficulties that they may experience in the cargo hold. Read on for everything you need to know about flying cats and dogs in the cabin, or in the hold as checked baggage or cargo, as well as airport pet reception centres, countries with quarantine and more!
Estimated reading time: 12 minutes
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Flying with Pets Laws, Policies & Regulations
Due to the boom in pet ownership, the pet travel market has experienced an explosive expansion. Flying with cats and dogs, in particular, has encountered incredible growth in recent years.
While airlines have to adhere to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) laws and regulations for the transport of live animals, some countries also have their own specific rules for the carriage of live animals.
For example, you may find flying with cats or dogs to the United Kingdom (UK) to be a little overwhelming. Unfortunately, pet flight options are still quite limited when entering the UK (Scotland, England, Wales & Northern Ireland) as well as Ireland. In these cases, you may not be able to fly directly to your destination of choice.
Which Documents do I Need for Pet Travel?
Always be sure to comply with the necessary pet travel scheme regulations, and the laws of your destination country. When travelling within the EU, you simply have to adhere to the rules of the EU Pet Travel Scheme.
However, if you’re flying between the EU and UK, different regulations apply due to Brexit. The UK was separated for pet travel purposes to Great Britain (Scotland, England & Wales) and Northern Ireland (NI). For logistical reasons, NI remains subject to the rules of the EU Pet Travel Scheme. Whereas Scotland, England and Wales must adhere to laws set by the Department of Forestry, Environment and Agriculture (DEFRA), so have a look at:
- Flying from Great Britain to the EU
- Flying from the EU to Great Britain
At the very least, when flying with a pet in the cabin, or in the hold as checked baggage or cargo, your cat or dog will have to:
- Be microchipped
- Be vaccinated against rabies,
- Have a Pet Passport, Animal Health Certificate, Pet Health Certificate or Pet Import Permit for the country you are visiting
Countries with Pet Quarantine
When travelling with a pet, the dreaded ‘quarantine’ word may arise. Fortunately, the EU, UK and North America, as well as many other popular destinations, don’t require pets to be quarantined up arrival, provided that they meet travel requirements.
This is all thanks to the EU Pet Movement Policy which came in to effect in July 2004, and produced the EU Pet Travel Scheme. The Scheme introduced the EU Pet Passport, meaning that pet travel was streamlined and made more accessible to pet owners.
Member countries of the EU were required to meet the EU Pet Travel Scheme requirements, but the UK didn’t fall in line until 2011. Nowadays, pet quarantine is pretty avoidable provided that you ensure your cat or dog meets your destination’s pet travel laws.
However, there are still countries that require pet quarantine, and in most cases, this requirement depends on your country of origin. The country of origin is usually deemed to be where your cat or dog has been located in the 6 months prior to travel.
Quarantine is required for pets to manage the control of rabies, therefore a Rabies Vaccination is always required for pet travel. When a specific location has rabies under control in the animal population, the government tends to set strict pet entry requirements to litigate the possibility of a rabies outbreak.
Countries that require mandatory quarantine for cats and dogs include:
- New Zealand
- Hawaii (not a country, but has its own specific pet entry rules in addition to US laws)
But, if you’re travelling from the UK, Ireland, Finland or Malta, the majority of countries don’t require pet quarantine as long as your pet has all the necessary documentation.
Can my Cat or Dog Fly in the Cabin with Me?
Lots of airlines have options for taking your pet in the cabin with you, provided that they’re under a certain weight. Most airlines will only fly cats or dogs in the cabin, although some allow other species such as rabbits, ferrets and birds.
For pets flying in the plane cabin, a general maximum weight of 8kg tends to apply across airline policies. However, there’s a handful of airlines that permit pets of up to 10-11kg. The maximum weight for a pet flying in the cabin is calculated as that of your cat or dog whilst in their travel carrier.
In addition to weight restrictions, each airline sets the maximum dimensions allowed for the pet travel carrier. The carrier has to fit under the seat in front of you when flying with a pet in the cabin. As we know, airlines all have varying legroom available for passengers, so the dimensions allowed depend on the space under the seat in front of you.
If you’re hoping to fly into the UK with your dog or cat, it isn’t possible to have your pet in the cabin with you. On certain routes to the UK, some airlines do permit your pet in the hold of the plane, but only as cargo, not as checked baggage. However, if you’re travelling from the UK, there are several pet friendly airlines that allow cats and dogs in the cabin.
While most of us pet travellers would rather have our pet with us in the cabin, this isn’t always possible. Have a look at 7 Countries that Don’t Allow Pets to Enter in Cabin.
Whether your cat, dog or other pet can fly in the cabin with you very much depends on:
- Your departure country
- Your destination country
- If the airline allows pets in the cabin
- The type of pet you have
- The size of pet travel bag required
- The weight of your pet in their carrier
Despite popular belief, South Africa does accept pets entering in the plane cabin, but upon landing, airline staff must take your pet from the cabin so that they can go through the manifest cargo process. You’ll then collect your pet once you’ve been through airport security.
Pets Flying as Checked Baggage or Cargo
In general, cats or dogs weighing more than 8kg will have to fly in the hold of the aircraft. Airlines transport live animals in the hold either as:
- Checked Baggage
If your pet flies as checked baggage, you’ll make the booking directly with your chosen airline. On travel day, your pet will be checked-in for the flight at the same airport desk as you. The airline itself has responsibility for transporting your cat or dog to and from the aircraft. When a pet flies as checked baggage, you or a responsible adult, must travel on the same fight.
On the other hand, some airlines only fly pets as cargo, and a few countries only permit pets to arrive as manifest cargo rather than checked baggage. In this case, the airline will either have it’s own cargo branch, or will appoint a pet cargo courier to manage all aspects of the pet flight. You’ll make the booking directly with the cargo company, who will handle the reservation details. When a pet flies as cargo, you don’t have to travel on the same flight as them.
You can read more about flying a cat or dog as checked baggage or cargo.
Pet Cargo Couriers
Pet Cargo Couriers are always required to manage cats and dogs flying in the hold as cargo. Your pet will have to fly as cargo when:
- an airline doesn’t accept pets as checked baggage
- your destination country requires pets to arrive as manifest cargo
- you are flying on a different flight from your pet
- your dog exceeds the maximum weight for flying with the airline as checked baggage
When your furry friend flies as cargo, the Pet Cargo Courier is responsible for checking in your cat or dog for the flight, as well as transporting them to and from the aircraft cargo hold.
Airport Pet Reception Centres
Airport Pet Reception Centres are responsible for carrying out border inspections for animals travelling on international flights. In some cases, your pet may be flying on a different flight from you, therefore they’ll usually be looked after in the special airport animal facility until you’re both reunited.
Services at Airport Pet Reception Centres vary, but in general, they:
- Collect your pet from the aircraft and accompany them to the airport’s animal reception centre
- Check paperwork for compliance with the relevant pet travel scheme
- Provide temporary accommodation to animals in transit
- Are responsible for the safety and comfort of all animals in their care
- Provide a temperature controlled environment for animals travelling outbound and inbound, or onwards on a connecting flight
- Give your pet clean drinking water
Flying with Snub-Nosed Breeds of Cats or Dogs
Snub-nosed (brachycephalic) breeds of cats or dogs, aren’t allowed to fly in the hold of a plane, either as checked baggage or cargo. This is due to respiratory issues they may face in the ventilated aircraft hold, which can be fatal. However, snub-nosed breeds are permitted to travel in the cabin by pet friendly airlines.
There’s a current conundrum in flying with a snub-nosed dog, as most weigh more than the maximum permitted in the cabin by the majority of airlines.
The following breeds are included, so if your feline canine travel companion is affected by this rule, you may have to find alternative transport, such as a pet friendly ferry, train, or courier by road:
- Boston Terrier
- Bulldogs (All)
- Lhasa Apso
- Shar Pei
- Shih Tzu
Flying with ‘Dangerous Dogs’
Some countries have banned the import of dog breeds classified as ‘dangerous’. This means that these dogs can’t fly in the cabin, or in the hold as checked baggage, but an airline may have an option for them to travel as cargo. If an airline allows a ‘dangerous’ or ‘fighting’ dog breed to fly as cargo, they will likely require that your pet is muzzled, and travels in a special travel crate.
The breeds affected by this rule vary by country, but tend to include:
- Akita Inu
- American Staffordshire Terrier
- Argentine Dogo
- Fila Brasileiro
- Pit Bull Terrier
- Staffordshire Bull Terrier
- Tosa Inu
Flying with Assistance & Service Dogs
Assistance & Service Dogs are subject to different travel rules from other animals. Provided that your Assistance or Service Dog has been trained to perform a specific task for you by one of the following organisations, they can fly in the cabin with you free of charge:
For an Assistance or Service Dog to be formally recognised and permitted to fly in the cabin free of charge, the dog must have received training from an affiliate of one of the following organisations:
Airline weight and size restrictions for pets flying in the cabin don’t apply to Assistance & Service Dogs. You must provide the necessary paperwork to prove that your dog has been trained and certified. Be aware, that some international destinations don’t allow any dogs to arrive in the cabin, including Assistance & Service Dogs.
Be aware that following changes in 2021 to Emotional Support Animal (ESAs) legislation in the USA, ESAs are no longer permitted to fly under an airline’s Assistance & Service Dog policy. Emotional Support Animals are therefore subject to the same rules as other pets. However, Psychiatric Service Dogs (PSVDs) are permitted to fly free of charge in the cabin on routes to and from the USA. PSVDs differ from ESAs as they have been trained to perform a task, or tasks, to aid their owner’s health and wellbeing.
Aviation Adventures Await!
We know that figuring out pet friendly flight routes can be a daunting task, especially if it’s your first time flying with a pet. So, to put your mind at ease, have a look at the following pages for all you need to know about flying with a cat or dog on a commercial plane:
- whether cats and dogs can fly in the cabin and/or hold of the plane
- details of other pet species accepted by the airline
- weight restrictions per pet flying in the cabin or hold
- the airline’s options for pet transport by cargo
- types of pet travel carrier accepted
- costs for flying a pet in the cabin, as checked baggage in the hold, or as cargo
- restricted breeds and routes
In addition to complying with all the pet travel rules and legislation, remember that your cat or dog may encounter foreign critters that carry dangerous diseases. So it’s an absolute must to protect your pet against bites from sandflies, mosquitoes, fleas and ticks.