General Pet Care

Pets in Transit: Flying Your Pet On A Commercial Aircraft

Written by Ken Johnson.

Hi, I am an experienced cargo pilot, but I have also worked in engineering and operations roles so I know a thing or two about the aviation industry, particularly cargo transportation. I was invited to share my specialist knowledge on ways to organise how to safely fly your pet on a commercial aircraft. This is a topic close to my heart, since I have flown extensively with my dogs over the past decade. 

Flying Your Pet On A Commercial Aircraft – A Complete Guide

If you’re moving and need to take your pet with you, or you are flying your pet to a vacation destination as you can’t leave them at the boarding kennelsUnderstanding the process of flying pets on commercial aircraft is a must. 

carrying a small dog as cargo is easier than flying with a large dog

Freighting pets on large passenger jets is a big business, and the process is well-regulated by transportation agencies, customs and other government agencies (such as bio-security). In this article, we’ll explore the ins and outs of flying your pet on a commercial airliner.

Finding A Pet Freight Agent.

The first thing you need to do is find a pet freight company that will handle the booking and paperwork for your pets. These companies are often one-stop shops that can arrange shipping of your pets by air, rail or truck, depending on their destination and requirements. 

Reputable companies include PetRelocation, Air Animal Pet Movers, International Pets, and Pet Travel. You can check them out for yourself to see if they meet your needs.

Organizing Paperwork

The next thing you’ll need to do is get the paperwork ready for your pet’s journey. Freighting pets interstate or across international borders requires specific documentation, including health certificates, registration paperwork, and import permits from departure and destination states or countries. 

You may need to fill in international dog travel documents

If you’re flying your pet on a commercial airliner without accompanying it as a passenger, your pet will need to be considered a “cargo” animal

This means that the airline will require some specific paperwork, for example, an Air Waybill (AWB) and a Shipper’s Export Declaration (SED).

Your pet freight agent can help you with all of the necessary paperwork, but it’s important to get the ball rolling early so that there is plenty of time for processing. 

Many countries also have specific quarantine regulations that must be met, and some destinations (like Hawaii in the United States) are very restrictive about the breeds and types of pets that are allowed into the state. 

Australia is another very restrictive country due to their customs bio-security requirements. Heck, back in May 2015, they even famously gave Jonny Depps the ultimatum to deport or destroy his two terriers

Choosing An Air Freight Carrier To Relocate Your Pet

The next step is to choose an airline that will fly your pet. Not all airlines accept animals as cargo, and not all animals are accepted by every airlinePets can travel in the cargo hold of most large commercial jets, but there are some important things to consider.

1. Pressurized cabins 

Pets must be shipped in pressurized and temperature-controlled compartments on the aircraft to prevent them freezing to death or suffocating. 

This usually means that they will be loaded into the lower cargo hold, where temperatures can still vary significantly between the hot tarmac (which could be over 60 Degrees celsius) and the freezing cold at altitude (a properly heated lower cargo hold could still be below 10 degrees centigrade).

there are many pet courier services choose wisley
Airport tarmacs suffer from extreme temperature variations depending on location and weather. In many hotter parts of the world, concrete and tarmac, lack of shade, and Jet engine and APU exhaust can drive temperatures above 60 degrees Celsius.

2. Noise and vibration 

Noise and vibrations from the engines can be loud and stressful for pets travelling in the cargo area, likely causing an uncomfortable and unpleasant trip for your pet, who is exposed to these conditions in a very small area, potentially in close proximity to other distressed animals.

3. Animal shipping costs

Another consideration is cost. Airlines generally charge a significant premium for transporting pets as cargo, and that fee can vary depending on the weight of your pet, the size of its enclosure, its destination and other factors. 

Be sure to ask your pet freight company for an estimate of the total cost of shipping your pet before making any plans or committing to a contract.

4. Individual Airline restrictions 

You’ll need to consider the airline’s restrictions on pet travel. Some airlines will not accept certain breeds of animals (and some prescribed breeds are prohibited from certain aircraft types or even entering certain destinations!). 

Some carriers will only allow pets to fly as cargo if they are in a kennel that meets specific size and weight requirements, as well as waterproofing so as to not damage the aircraft. 

It’s important to check with your chosen airline before booking your flight to ensure that your pet will be accepted.

 cat pet courier service agents gave this owner correct insturctions
Cats can be transported in small crates, but they will need a moisture absorbent waterproof mat to be placed in the bottom to satisfy aviation safety legislation

Alternative Solutions To Pet Transport In Cargo Hulls

The carry-on option

If all of this sounds like too much work, there may be an alternative: flying with your pet as a passenger. 

Many small- and medium-sized airports have services to major destinations, and many airlines now allow passengers to bring their pets on board in carriers that fit under the seat in front of them.

This is a good option if your pet can be comfortable on board with you, but it’s not suitable for all animals and can be expensive due to baggage fees. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to have a pet on board that is not in a carrier unless they are a service animal, such as Psychiatric Service Dogs.

Always check with the airline before booking to ensure that they will allow pets on board as passengers.

Animal transport in light aircraft

If money isn’t an issue, you could even arrange your pets own private aircraft! 

Light aircraft can be a great solution for pet transport if there’s no route coverage for your journey and can provide a more personalized and quicker solution. 

I have flown extensively with my dogs across Australia in light single and twin aircraft, and they have loved it! The drawback; they can be much more expensive.

small aircraft can be a good dog taxi
Light aircraft can be used to transport pets over medium distances and can be much more comfortable and quick, but can be more costly than cargo freight.

Alternatives To Air Travel

If you don’t want to fly with your pet, or if your pet is too large or dangerous to travel as a passenger, there are other options. 

Transporting your pet in trains or trucks

Trains and trucks can be used to transport pets overland, but these modes of transportation often take significantly longer than flying and may not be suitable for all animals.

Private vehicle pet transport

Finally, many people simply choose to drive their own vehicles when transporting their pets long distances via road. This can be the most convenient option, but it’s important to remember that driving long distances with a pet can still be stressful for both you and your animal.

This dog is looking forwared to pet friendly vacation

Make sure you take regular breaks and allow your pet plenty of exercise and water during the trip. It may also be a good idea to make sure you have a quality car seat covers to protect your car during those trips.


In conclusion, there are a number of things to consider when transporting your pet by air. Be sure to take these considerations into account and make an informed decision based on what is best for your pet before booking a flight or making any plans.

Thanks for reading, and good luck on your next adventure!

About Ken Johnson

The above blog post was written by Ken Johnson, who has 20+ years experience working in the aviation sector, including engineering, operations roles, and flying as an international cargo pilot. Ken also has extensive personal experience traveling with his own dogs around Australia via road, train and air.

Ken-Johnson from pro aviation tips

Hey! I’m Ken, I’m a freight dog, a flying instructor and an overall General Aviation enthusiast. I’ve been flying for more than half my life; everything from gliders and ultralights, ejection seat aircraft and high-performance turboprops, right through to four-engine long haul cargo planes. I have even had a go in a helicopter a couple of times! In my spare time I love getting out amongst the GA community and flying aerobatics , formation and instructional sorties, as well as mentoring my student network and writing about my passion for aviation at

Johni Barresto

Johni Barresto Is a father and animal lover. With a range of expertise in animal health, he decided to start Animal Heed. His passion is to share his knowledge to help animal owners worldwide. When not in front of his computer, he's out with his kids, teaching them the importance of animal care.

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