Anyone who knows me can attest to my obsession with my dog, Boozer. I usually refer to him as my best friend and can be regularly found talking to him as I would anyone else (though he rarely responds.)

I’ve observed that many other military spouses feel equally strong that they have the best pet in the world, and it makes sense. In a lifestyle that is sometimes so unstable, our pets are always by our sides – keeping us company through deployments, PCSs and much more – and  symbolize one of few household consistencies. Regardless of where we live, our pet will be there.

However, recent rules and airline pet policy changes by some airlines might make that more difficult. The thought of leaving your dog behind when you PCS is unthinkable for most of us. These restrictions pose a challenge for all, but are particularly concerning for families currently based overseas who now have even more limited and costly options for animal transport when they return to the mainland. While the Defense Department officials indicated in May that they are communicating with commercial airlines to help pet-owning military families currently overseas, there is no timeline or commitment on what that would look like. So, what do you need to know about these rules and ensuring that your furry friend can travel with you?

Every airline has a slightly different policy as it relates to traveling with animals, most of which are publicly posted on their websites. Most of the rules fall into the following categories:

1. In-cabin versus cargo

When flying with your pet there are two options – bring your dog in-cabin or check your animal in cargo like you would your suitcase. If you have a large animal who can’t fit in a carrier under the seat in front of you– like me – the first option is out. That leaves the second option of checking your animal. When making flight reservations, it is important to understand which airlines allow for each. For example, while Southwest is very animal friendly in-cabin, it does not permit checking animals in cargo under any circumstances.

Some of the other airlines provide this option, but others require you to go through their cargo transport group – which is often located outside of the airport – rather than through regular baggage claim. Note that there can also be limitations on bringing animals in-cabin depending on the country to which you’re traveling.

2. Breed restrictions

The biggest challenge arising for PCSing families is specific breed restrictions. United Airlines recently published new breed restrictions prohibiting the transport of specific types of dogs and cats, without the inclusion of a military clause. Meaning, if you are traveling on that airline, your animal is not coming with you. This is particularly challenging when PCSing to and from bases that already have limited flight options, like Guam.

The breed restrictions include animals that are at increased risk due to hereditary respiratory issues, those deemed as “historically aggressive,” and large dogs requiring a crate over 30 inches high. While United Airlines has been getting the most press on this issue, other airlines – like American Airlines and Delta — also have breed restrictions. Some of those breeds restricted include:

Dogs: Affenpinscher, American Bully, American Staffordshire Terrier, Boston Terrier, Boxer (All breeds), Brussels Griffon, Bulldog (All breeds), Cane Corso, Dogue De Bordeaux, English Toy Spaniel, Japanese Chin, Lhasa Apso, Mastiff (All breeds), Pekingese, Pit Bull, Presa Canario, Pug (All breeds), Shar Pei, Shih Tzu, Staffordshire Terrier, Tibetan Spaniel

Cats: Burmese, Exotic Shorthair, Himalayan, Persian

  • All major airlines have specific rules about transporting animals based on temperature. For the animal’s safety, they do not allow the checking of animals if the temperatures are too hot or too cold. Most airlines will refuse transport if ground temperature is higher than 85° F or less than 20°F in the origin, connection or destination city. Additionally, Delta will not transport animals from May 1st through September 30th to and from Phoenix, AZ, Palm Spring, CA, Las Vegas, AZ, or Tucson, AZ.

While the cargo area is pressurized and thus the temperature doesn’t vary much during the actual flight, there is concern for your animal when they are waiting to be loaded on and off the airplane. Airlines don’t want to risk having your dog or cat sitting in a kennel on the tarmac in the middle of heat wave or blizzard. We know the military doesn’t usually give much leeway about we get to PCS, but keep the seasonality of your move in mind when evaluating how to transport your animal.

In addition to these items, there’s much more to consider as well before planning to transport your pet by air, like:

  • kennel requirements
  • documentation from your vet
  • pet age
  • flight length
  • if the specific aircraft type supports animal transport
  • potential quarantine based on your destination, and more.

Additionally, if you have an animal other than a dog or cat, there may be additional limitations and restrictions on how to transport your animal. For example, United will now only transport dogs and cats, while Delta will still transport household birds, guinea pigs, rabbits, hamsters, and marmots within the domestic US.

If all of this sounds too overwhelming, there are private organizations who will do all the research about airline pet policy and coordinate the logistics on your behalf for a fee, like Sarah’s Pet Paradise, AirVets Pet Relocation and Happy Tails Travel, who also offers military discount. There are also sites like Citizen Shipper and Shipley that will gather customized quotes based on your travel details from a variety of animal shipping companies.

Regardless of how you transport your pet – whether it be on a major airline, a third-party cargo carrier, or another method – it’s clear that the expense of PCSing with a pet will now be higher than ever. Nonetheless, despite the cost, most of us can’t put a price on our furry friend’s love and will inevitably pull out the ol’ credit card when the time comes.

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