Moving To Europe V – Pet Transport Options (By Sea, By Air, Pet Carriers & More)
We’ve made it to Part II of my Pet Transport posts!
In my last post I detailed everything you need to know about pet paperwork. That part is critical no matter how you decide to travel, so if you haven’t already done so, please make sure you read that post first. You cannot travel internationally without the correct paperwork!
With that said, this is going to be another (rather long) post focused exclusively on the moving part of the process. How do you physically get your pets across the ocean? What are the various international transport options, how much do they cost, and what are the correct (and best) pet carriers to use on each option?
Here’s hoping the next ~3,500 words answer most of those questions 🙂
The 3 Ways To Travel With Paws Across the Atlantic
Believe it or not there are 3 ways you can get your pets across the Atlantic, and of course we’ve investigated all three.
- By Cruise Boat – There is ONE, yes ONE cruiseliner in the USA that takes pets across to Europe.
- By Private Plane – Yup, if you can afford it, this is an awesome option (anyone wanna sponsor us??)
- By Regular Plane – For the “regular folks” in the world. This is the most common method.
|Details||Cruise Boat||Private Plane||Regular Plane|
|Booking Window||Plan ~10-12 months ahead||Plan ~1-5 months ahead||Plan ~2-4 months ahead|
|Cost for You||~$1200-$1600 per person||$60,000-$120,000 per plane||Varies (can be FREE with points, or ~$300-$3000 depending on carrier, class & date)|
|Cost for Paws||$800-$1600 per pet||FREE||$200-$400 per pet|
|Transit Time||7 days||~7-10 hours||~7-10 hours|
Take A Cruise On The Queen Mary II
We first heard about Cunard Cruises around a year ago. We were knocking around ideas to get to Europe (yes, even back then) and they came up in one of our searches. They have ONE boat (the Queen Mary II) that takes pets across the Atlantic. It sails from New York, taking 7 days to make the crossing to Southampton UK, and it operates around once per month from ~mid-April through ~mid-Jan. And frankly, it looks like an AWESOME experience!
This is a super luxurious cruise so of course human accommodations are superb, but the pet services look equally appealing too.
Each boat has a completely separate pet management area with pet runs, pet play, and a dedicated full-time pet manager to watch, feed & walk your pets. They have visiting hours, so you can go & sit/play with your pet during the day, but dogs are also walked (an included service) and allowed to play together in the free run area during their stay. For kitties, the newest QM2 even offers a separate kitty area (away from the dogs) for their comfort & enjoyment. It’s a pretty luxurious set-up.
Booking your cruise is a breeze too. Pets are managed by a separate department, but you book everything (cabin for you, kennels for your pets) through a single phonecall. Once you’re booked the pet department sends you a detailed e-mail regarding the timeline & documents required for passage (which are still your responsibility). Then they follow-up regularly right up to cruise time.
The gotchas? There are only ~15 kennels per boat and they are SUPER popular so you have to book around a year ahead to get in. Plus, of course, it isn’t cheap. Kennel costs run $800-$1000 for dogs (more if your dog is larger and requires 2 kennels). Cats require two upper kennels at $1600 each. Also note that that there are size & breed limits. Certain very large dogs (e.g. Afghan, Great Dane, St.Bernard etc) and any banned UK breed (e.g. pit bulls) cannot be accommodated.
The Wheelingit Take: We LOVED this idea! If you don’t want your pets to travel in an airplane, then this is literally the best thing since sliced bread. We actually booked a cruise, putting down a deposit for the October transit of 2018 which was the first date we could get for 3 pets. Then of course life happened and our Europe schedule got pulled in (zero earlier sailings available for so many pets) so we won’t be traveling this way. It would have been fun though, don’t you think??!
Charter A Private Plane
Got a few extra $$$$ to spare? Then you may want to look at chartering a private plane to travel across to Europe. The advantages are that everyone (you, your friends, AND your paws) get to travel in-cabin, plus of course you get special boarding privileges and the ultimate luxury that comes with private travel. There are several companies that offer these kinds of flights (e.g PrivateFly, ElJet), but they typically only travel specific routes and of course, they ain’t cheap!!!
Just for shits & giggles we actually called up some private jet companies and priced this method out. The cheapest deal we found was ~$60,000 to charter a plane from La Guardia (NY) to Heathrow (UK). That’s the price for the whole plane (not individual seats) so that’s a fixed cost no matter how many people fly. The model we priced could fit ~14 folks, so if we’d gone this route it would have made sense to bring friends & family. Oh, and pets fly for free (at least that’s something, right?)
Occasionally private plane deals do pop up, either for “seat sharing” on an existing flight (for example, if someone charters a flight from Miami to New York, they might look for other passengers to fill out the flight & thus lower individual costs) or for “empty leg flights” (= the return flight of a plane that’s only been chartered in one direction). These tend to be last-minute deals so it’s hard to plan ahead for them, plus there are very, very few cross-ocean flights that pop up, simply because you need a larger (long-haul) plane for that route. Still if you’re patient and flexible, maybe you can score a deal?
The Wheelingit Take: As you can imagine this won’t be the way we’re traveling across, but if we had that kind of “fun money” lying around, we would do this in a heartbeat!
Travel By Regular Airplane
The last viable option for pets to travel across the ocean (unless you own your own boat, of course) is via a regular airplane route. The main advantage of this method is that it’s easy and fast (there are tons of routes flying everyday), and it’s inexpensive, compared to other options. Plus, everything is done and complete in a single day.
But it also has some restrictions.
Not all pets can fly physically with you. In Cabin pets are limited by size/weight (except for service animals), so if your pet is too large In Cargo (underneath the plane, in a separate hold) is the only way they can go. Plus for the latter, some breeds are restricted altogether.
There are 3 specific things I recommend, no matter how your pets are flying:
1/ Book A Direct (Non-Stop) Flight – Whenever you travel with pets it’s best to book a direct flight with no layovers, even if you have to drive several hours to another airport to do so. This not only shortens the time you have to spend in the air with your pet, but also avoids any issues that might come up with changing planes along the way (especially important for pets transported in cargo). Flying direct just reduces stress on everyone.
2/ Book A Flexible Ticket – Another good practice for flying with pets is to book a flexible/changeable ticket, or (at the minimum) a ticket where change fees are low. This may mean paying a bit more for your flight, but IMO I think it’s worth it! Most pet bookings can only be confirmed after you’ve booked a flight (for yourself) and sometimes it takes up to 48 hrs to get this confirmation. So, it’s important to have the option to change your ticket case your pet cannot be confirmed on the same flight, or some other issue comes up (e.g. your pet gets ill) that requires you to change your dates/routing down the line.
NOTE/ Airlines vary a TON in how much change fees cost, and they’re often different depending on booking class and type of ticket (e.g. saver versus full-fare, award versus paid). So make sure you are fully aware of the fees for your ticket/route (read the fine print on your booking!) before you pay for your flights.
3/ Buy The Right Carrier And Train Your Pet In It – Flight regulations on carrier sizes are strict so it’s important to make sure you buy the right carrier for your pet. It’s also recommended you do this WELL ahead of time (~1 month ahead) so that you can accustom/train your pet inside the carrier (e.g. for our cats we fill their carrier with cat nip and let them sleep in it during the day). Lastly it’s good idea to do some “test runs” in your carrier (e.g. drive your pet around in it) so they become accustomed to moving around while confined inside. The more comfortable your pet feels inside the carrier before they travel, the more comfortable they will be during flight.
In Cabin Carriers: For in-cabin flights a soft-sided pet carrier is your best option, but you have to be sure the carrier meets the specific size requirements for the airline you plan to travel (see below). We’ve always been big fans of Sherpa Deluxe Pet Carriers. We’ve had the same bags for over 10 years and they’ve met the in-cabin requirements for most of the flights we’ve taken over the years. For airlines with stricter requirements (e.g. Air France) this Smiling Paws Pets Expandable Bag is ~1″ smaller in width and rates very well (plus the expandable sections look like an awesome feature).
In Hold (Cargo) Carriers: For cargo travel, a rigid plastic container is required. The #1 option I recommend is the PetMate Sky Kennel, modified with these Pet Carrier metal fasteners (very important!) and zip-tied so that it meets flight requirements. This is one of the (very) few brands that meets the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Live Animal Regulations (i.e. proper construction, proper sizing, the right kind of door latches etc.), and it’s the kennels we used for our cats when they traveled to/from Asia back in the day. Just make sure you buy the right size -> the height of the kennel should be 3-4 inches taller and longer than your pet so there’s ample space to fully stand up, easily turn around and lie all the way down.
In Cabin Travel
If you’re able to fly your pet in-cabin, this is obviously the best way to go, as your pets are with you the whole time. Unfortunately in-cabin travel is limited to pets that are small in size (for international travel it’s typically max. 17lbs, including pet carrier) and can fit comfortably in a carrier underneath the seat in front of you. So this means cats and small dogs only.
Plus there are often additional restrictions.
Each airline has a limit to how many pets they can carry in-cabin per flight, plus they each have their own particular rules about the exact size of pet carrier they will allow. Also many airlines won’t allow in-cabin pets in biz or first class (just in case you’re the type that travels that way). Lastly, some countries, specifically (in Europe) the UK, do not allow in-cabin pets on ANY flight. So if you want to fly your pet in-cabin to Europe, avoid flights directly in and out of the UK.
A selection of airline rules on in-cabin travel from USA to Europe:
|Airline||In-Cabin Allowed?||Weight & Carrier Limitations||Price|
|Air France||YES, econ class only||8Kg (17lbs), including transport carrier. Carrier size cannot exceed 46 x 28 x 24 cm (18 x 11 x 9 inches). Pets must be at least 10 wks old. More info HERE.||$200|
|British Airways||NO, with one caveat||Pets are not allowed in cabin on any BA flight, EXCEPT for the Open Skies subsidiary flight* between NY and Paris. For Open Skies pets must weight less than 6kg (13.2lb) and carrier size cannot exceed 45 x 30 x 24 cm.||*$196|
|American Airlines||NO, not on transatlantic flights||N/A, in-cabin not allowed on transatlantic flights||N/A|
|Delta||YES, except to UK||No limit, but pet must fit comfortably in carrier under seat (carrier size limits dependent on the plane). More details HERE.||$200|
|Lufthansa||YES||8Kg (17lbs), including transport carrier. Max carrier size 55 x 40 x 23 cm (22 x 16 x 9 inches). More details HERE.||$100|
|Iberia||YES||8kg (17lbs), including transport container. Max container size 45 cm in length, 35 cm in width and 25 cm in depth (and the sum of those 3 measurements cannot exceed 105 cm). More details HERE.||$150|
For a more complete table of airlines & rules, check out this excellent reference by dogjaunt.com HERE
The way you book pets in-cabin is that you book your flight, and then (after you’ve booked) you call up the airline to “add on” your pet. Only one in-cabin pet can be taken per passenger and it can take up to 48 hours to get your pets confirmed, so you won’t know if the “in-cabin pet quota” is full until you hear back from the airline. As I mentioned above, it’s a good idea to book a FLEXIBLE ticket (one that can be changed) just in case your pets are denied and you need to change your travel dates.
In Hold Travel
For paws that are too big to travel in-cabin (or flight routes that do not accept in-cabin pets) the cargo hold is the only other way to go. Your pet can either accompany you on your flight (as “checked or excess baggage”) or go separately (“as unaccompanied cargo” or “freight”). Either way, someone must be present (either you, or someone you authorize e.g. a pet relocator) to check them in at the origin airport and check them out at the destination.
Pets that travel this way are placed in a separate, pressurized, climate-controlled section of the hold (they do NOT go where your baggage goes), and must be properly secured in an airline-approved carrier of the correct size. They are the last to be loaded onto the plane, and the first to come off.
Is It SAFE? Whenever anyone mentions in hold travel, the first thing they always ask is whether it’s safe. There is no doubt in hold travel is scary and that complications are a possibility. If you Google around you can easily find enough horror stories to scare you away from ever considering this form of travel. However, it’s also worth nothing that around 1/2 million pets travel safely this way every year and that deaths are rare (0.5 per 10,000 animals transported). IMO if you prep your pet properly (e.g. crate train them) and choose airlines that have the best/safest pet records (It can be really helpful to work with a pet relocator), then you will minimize the possibility of problems. We’ve worked with relocators before and our cats have traveled twice in cargo hold (to and from Asia) with no issues, so we are personally knowledgeable and comfortable with this kind of travel. However only you can decide if this is right for you.
For in hold travel, there are several additional considerations:
- Not All Planes Have An Option For Cargo Travel: Not all flight routes or planes have a pressurized hold for animals. So, for example, if you book a flight from Chicago to Paris, you’ll need to check if that same flight/plane has the ability to take pets in cargo.
- Weather (Temp) Is A Factor: If your pet is flying in cargo it’s a good idea to book flights when temps are as mild as possible. Some airlines will even prohibit pet cargo transport if the weather is too cold, or too hot, depending on location. For example, American Airlines will not accept pets as cargo when “the current or forecasted temperature is above 85 degrees Fahrenheit” (29.4 C) or below 45 degrees Fahrenheit (7.2 C) at any location on the itinerary.”
- Some Breeds Are Prohibited: Many airlines prohibit brachycephalic or snub-nosed cats and dogs in cargo, for respiratory reasons. These include dog breeds such as Tzi Shuhs, Bulldogs, Boxers, Mastiffs and Pugs, and certain cat breeds such as Burmese and Himalayan. So if you’re traveling with a breed like that and your pet is too large for in-cabin travel, your options will be more limited. Working with a knowledgeable pet relocator can help to seek possibilities.
- Some Airlines Have Weight Limits: Some airlines have weight limits, even for in-hold travel, so very large dogs might have to travel as unaccompanied cargo on a separate route.
Pricing for in hold travel costs anywhere from ~$200-$400 per pet, depending on the airline. You can see a full table of costs, limits & guidelines from dogjaunt.com HERE. As with In-Cabin travel I recommend booking a FLEXIBLE ticket (one that can be changed) just in case your pet cannot be confirmed on the flight you expect and need to change your routes or dates.
Prep & Execution On Day Of Travel
Whether you’re traveling by air or sea, the day you embark on your voyage is going to be one of the most stressful (for everyone!). However a little prep work can go a loong way to making your pet as comfortable as possible during transit:
- Arrive Early & Be Ready With Paperwork: You’ll want to be at your point of departure well ahead of time (several hours ahead of departure), and you’ll want to have all your official pet documents in hand and ready to go. Make sure you know where to go! -> For example, pets flying in cabin or as checked baggage will typically be checked-in at the passenger terminal, whereas pets traveling as freight or cargo need to be checked in in at the air freight terminal (located in a separate part of the airport).
Limit Food 4 Hours Before You Leave: It’s a good idea to limit food the day of travel (feed your paws less than usual), and to remove food altogether ~4 hours before departure. This ensures your paws are not uncomfortable with a full stomach while in their bag/crate during transport. Water is OK, and actually recommended right up to travel time. Lastly, try to find somewhere your pet can relieve themselves right before they’re put into their crate or carrier.
Pro Tip -> Did you know that most airports have pet relief areas these days? Just Google “pet relief area” at the airport you plan to use, or consult THIS LIST.
- Do NOT Use Sedatives: Many folks will be tempted to sedate their pets, especially those that fly in cargo, but according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, pets should not be given sedatives or tranquilizers prior to flying because the meds affect their heart rate & blood pressure, which can then create serious respiratory and cardiovascular problems at altitude. Just don’t do it.
Consider Natural Calmers: Although medical sedatives are a no-no, there’s plenty of natural options which are fine to use and can help calm your pet. For cats, Feliway is a natural pheromone that works great (we’ve used it for years for our RV travel). Just spritz the inside of the carrier with it before travel. Flower extracts (e.g. Rescue Remedy) are another option. You can either dab some in the carrier or on their ears before travel.
- Line The Carrier With Absorbent Material: It’s a good idea to line the bottom of your pet bag/crate with some absorbent material (e.g. a pet pee pad) in case your pet needs “to go” while in transit. This will absorb any fluids and make for a more comfortable voyage.
- Put Something In The Carrier That They Recognize: A used T-shirt with your scent on it or a favorite blanket will work.
Be Prepared On the Other Side: Once you’ve arrived & passed through customs with your pet at your final destination, your goal should be to get them comfortable as soon as possible. For dogs that means taking them out of their crate to relieve themselves, giving them some water (they’ll likely be somewhat dehydrated), and then getting them some food & a place to rest. For cats that means getting them ASAP to a room with a litter-box, litter, food and water. In order to be prepared for this, I highly recommend bringing an extra checked bag with essentials like food (unopened, in original seal), a litter-box (there are collapsible travel versions!), and some collapsible silicone water/feed bowls. You can also have these things sent ahead to your final destination (e.g. ship them a few weeks before you leave) or have them delivered from an online store (e.g. Amazon is literally everywhere). Either way, it’s best to prep ahead for this, just in case you cannot find a physical (open) store on arrival, or you cannot locate the type of food (or litter) that your pet is used to.
The Wheelingit Take: As you might have deduced by now, we’ll be going the regular flight route. We’ve booked a direct flight (night-time departure, no stopovers) on Air France and have all 3 pets confirmed on the same flight as us. Once we get there we’ll stay overnight in a pet-friendly hotel near the airport, and then we’ll rent a car and drive the rest of the way to our final destination. It’ll be a few looong, very (very, very) stressful days, but then it’ll be done. Paws crossed it all goes well!
Good, external links on pet travel:
- Ten Tips For Flying With Fido (bringfido.com)
- Airline Pet Travel Tips (pettravel.com)
- Taking Your Pet On A Plane (dogjaunt.com)
- Pet Relocation.com
UPDATE: Everything went swimmingly!! Our trip to France went smoothly, and all the pets traveled well. After we got to France we took the final step of making our pets French citizens by getting them Pet Passports & Registering Pets In France. They are now free to travel and live here indefinitely.