These days more and more people take their pets with them on vacations and business trips that it's almost hard to remember that not too long ago the only way pets were allowed on airplanes were if they were either a seeing eye dog or locked in a small cage beneath the plane with the luggage. Over time it's been discovered that the luggage compartment can sometimes be a health hazard to any caged animal as temperatures run the risk of fluctuating from extreme cold to extreme heat if not properly insulated.
This has lead almost all the airlines to drastically alter both the way they build their planes to the way they train their employees. Now most airlines train their flight attendants as well as baggage handlers in how to treat both a well-behaved and ill-behaved pet whether their traveling in a kennel below or a small dog carrier in the cabin. We're also starting to see airlines coming out with new ways of insulating storage containers to stop the fluctuation in mid-flight temperatures which will help keep your pet calm and happy for the duration of the flight.
If your traveling companion is a small dog then you most likely will be able to them them with you on-board the plane just so long as they meet the requirements put forth by the airline. Most airlines will let you travel with a small pet as long as the pet and carrier have a combined weight of less than 40 pounds and can fit securely underneath the seat in front of you. Due to passenger discomfort and allergies there usually is a limit to the number of animals allowed on each flight so make sure to contact your airline early on so that you can be sure to get one of those pet-friendly spots.
Each airline has a different set of policies towards traveling with animals, covering both the smaller pets who are allowed in the cabin all the way down to larger pets who have to travel in kennels beneath the plane. To be on the safe side make sure to contact your airline ahead of time to learn both what their policies are as well as what type of conditions your pet will be encountering if they are traveling in the luggage carriage. Most airline employees will be more than happy to cool any worries you might have about harsh conditions or ill-treatment. Some airlines even train their employees to help passengers schedule flights that are best suited for traveling pets. An example would be early morning or late-evening flights during the middle of summer when the mid-day heat can be scorching.
Regardless of how your pet will travel, there are precautions owners need to take to be sure traveling is safe and healthy for the animal. AAHA suggests, and major airlines require, that traveling pets be examined by a veterinarian no more than 10 days before to the date of departure. You will also be required to provide the necessary rabies vaccination certifications when you check in to the airport prior to boarding.
Because their feeding schedule might be affected ask your veterinarian for tips on how to keep your pet fed and happy. The age and size of the pet, time and distance of the flight and regular dietary routine all will play a part in your pet's well-being. There is also a Federal Regulations that states that dogs and cats must be at least eight weeks old and weaned at least five days before flying. If you're meeting your pet at the airport on a different flight, you will need to be there when it lands. No late-pickups!
As far as what to look for in dog kennels just make sure whatever you get is a sturdy container with hard-walls and ventilated on at least two opposing sides (to allow for proper airflow circulation). Being free from any knobs on the outside is handy as it will catch on surrounding items less often when moving it. In addition to that your kennel should be marked with a large label at least one inch tall that reads "Live Animal" to let any baggage handler immediately know to take care when moving the container.
For pet carriers you should look for ones that are just big enough to where your pet can stand up on all four legs, turn around and lie down without much maneuvering. Almost all pet carriers these days are made with airline regulations in mind so the key thing is to look for one that's sturdy on the outside by soft on the inside. That way your pet will have a little cushioning in case of a bumpy ride. Lastly both the kennel as well as any pet carrier should have a water-resistant bottom lining to contain any accidents that might occur if your pet becomes startled mid-flight.
Even some of the best house-trained animals will have accidents sometimes when startled by a rough case of turbulence so it's better to be on the safe side. With both kennel and carrier you should also have papers either taped to the outside or placed in one of the side-zip compartments detailing your vet's contact information, any important medical or dietary requirements that your pet might require as well as a copy of your entire travel itinerary.
At the end of the day you need to remember that not all pets can handle the experience of traveling on a plane at high-altitude. Anything from sudden changes in cabin pressure to being in a confined space can result in your pet having a negative reaction to the whole experience. If your pet is the type that is sensitive to loud noises or other environmental changes then you might want to talk it over with your vet before committing to any travel plans.