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Why Do Animal Welfare Organizations Recommend That Pets Fly in the Cabin of a Plane Only?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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When flying with pets, many animal welfare organizations strongly recommend that the pets travel in the cabin area of the aircraft with you, rather than in the cargo hold. This is especially true for humans traveling with emotional support animals. ESAs can't fulfill their tasks if they're away from their owners after all. Although the statistics on animal loss and death as a result of cargo hold shipping indicate that less than 5,000 animals are killed or lost every year in the United States, you do not want your pet to become a statistic. Especially if you're travelling with your emotional support animal. Not only is losing them devastating as a pet owner, this could also mean your mental health can suffer while you look for a replacement ESA--if you ever get around to getting another one so soon. For this reason, if you own a small animal such as a cat, small dog, or rodent, you should make arrangements for the pet to fly in the cabin. Also be ready to present all your valid and legitimate ESA registration requirement just in case proof is necessary to board your animal. Even more so if you're bringing an emotional support animal with you. This is so your dog's welfare as well as yours are given the importance they need. If your animal is too large to fit in the cabin, you may want to consider an alternate mode of transportation instead of flying with your pets. There are now a lot of logistics options that allow ESAs entry so that they can travel comfortably with their humans. You shouldn't have a hard time finding one. It's not just for your sake, especially if you're with an emotional support animal, but most especially for your pet. Just like humans, staying in a cramped space for hours is not only uncomfortable, it could also lead to injuries.

When traveling in the cargo hold, pets can be subjected to temperature extremes which may include excessive heat or freezing. If you have a service animal, it might also be harder for you to function with your support dog or cat away from you. For this reason, many airlines do not permit pets in the cargo hold during the summer when travelers try flying with pets, as pets have been known to die in the intense heat of the closed hold while planes wait to taxi down the runway. Although most ESAs are allowed to fly, it's still good to know that non-ESAs are given this level of consideration especially during this season. Surely this puts several fur parents' minds at ease. Secure a legal and valid ESA letter just in case the airline would wish to check if your pet is registered as an ESA. In a cargo hold with imperfect climate control, the hold can also reaching freezing temperatures very quickly once the aircraft is in flight, which could be fatal for your pet. This is devastating on its own, but it could also be worse for you if your pet is an emotional support animal. It is also possible for the cargo hold to lose pressure, and some cargo holds have imperfect air circulation systems, meaning that your animal has a chance of suffocating from lack of oxygen. This is the last thing that you want for your support dog. So if flying isn't possible, you're better off using other modes of transportation to get to your destination. This can be considered cruelty and is highly discouraged, more so if the animal is an emotional support one, which means they should be flying with their humans and not locked in a crate.

Traveling with pets can be very stressful; flying is even more stressful for the animal. To make it easy for both you and your pet (especially if you have an ESA with you), you can just take them with you in the cabin. Animals do not understand the rapid temperature and pressure changes which can occur, even in the cabin of an airplane, and the stress may adversely affect the breathing and heart rate of your pet. This may lead your pet to suffer from anxiety, or worse, this can lead to death. If you are flying with pets in the cabin, you can keep an eye on their vital signs, but if the pets are isolated in the cargo hold, they may reach a state of crisis without anyone being aware of it. When flying with pets, you should also not use tranquilizers or nervous system depressants, which may cause respiratory collapse or heart failure if the animal becomes stressed in the air. If you have an ESA with you, you would want them to be as alert as possible with no senses compromised.

In addition to death, loss is also an issue when flying with pets, especially if you are forced to transfer. Pets are viewed as luggage or cargo by most airlines, rather than living beings, and your animal's carrier may be handled roughly during transfers, adding to the emotional and physical stress that your animal feels. In addition, the cage may end up among the millions of pieces of luggage lost annually around the world. In the United States alone, roughly six out of every 1,000 pieces of luggage is lost. If your pet is lost, the airline may offer financial compensation, but this will not compensate you for the loss of a friend. Nothing will ever compensate this tragic event and it nothing will ever compensate the struggles a person has to go through if the animal lost is an emotional support dog or cat.

If you absolutely must ship a pet as cargo, animal welfare activists recommend that you consider using the services of a professional live cargo shipping firm. These firms handle your animals with care and respect in aircraft specially fitted out for animal transportation. If you refuse to do this to your emotional support pet, your best option would be to find other means to get to where you need to go. Of course if you have an emotional support animal with you, you should be allowed to take your pet in the cabin with you and skip this part. The aircraft includes medical staff to watch your animal, and the cabin is climate controlled and pressurized. Because the firm specializes in animal handling, your animal is also far less likely to be a victim of animal cruelty at the hands of an exhausted or irritable baggage handler, an unfortunate result of flying with pets on crowded airlines. This is especially helpful for humans who require ESAs to make their flights bearable. Not only does this make the trip pleasant for the animal, it also ensures that their humans are safe and stable while in the air.

WiseTour is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseTour researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon956217 — On Jun 12, 2014

"I think the argument for recommending that pets fly in the cabin of a plane is a horrible 'scare' tactic. In my case my cats can only fly in cargo (from USA-UK) it is the only option. From others that have done this it is a painless journey for the animal and to have make this argument only makes loving pet owners worried and scared."

Lots of pets die. Why is it a "scare tactic"? Do you just feel guilty that you subjected your cats to risk of death? Not trying to make you feel bad, just seems funny to deny the risk. Especially so that pet owners don't feel worried and scared.

By anon951591 — On May 16, 2014

Is it true that it's not safe pressurization wise even in the cabin for an 18 year old cat?

By anon311510 — On Jan 01, 2013

From what I have read, more people end up with pets dying or missing than alive and with them. Sure this does not kill 100 percent of animals, but I myself was skeptical about why they put animals in the cargo hold. Animals are not cargo and they are not filtered oxygen. I find it sad that airlines care so very little for the animals they care for.

By anon241640 — On Jan 19, 2012

While it's a shame when anyone's pet dies, running the number "39" at the reader is simply a scare tactic and meaningless. Unless you know the total number of pets flown against the number who died, thirty nine could be terrible or only the expectations of chance. I couldn't find the number for 2011, but in 2009 DOT estimates that 2,000,000 animals flew.

I don't have the statistics, but I wouldn't be surprised if fewer than thirty-nine human passengers died while in the air.

By anon222005 — On Oct 14, 2011

To those who doubt this article, you are lucky to be able to be a cynic. I lost my 3 year old Collie due to extreme temperatures. The airlines assured me that my dog would be fine. He was not. We picked him up from the baggage claim, he was covered in vomit and diarrhea and died in a bath tub after convulsing.

My two young children had to witness their beloved pet die in front of their eyes. My vet advised me that my dog was healthy and there should have be no problems, but he was wrong. It would have been more humane for my dog to get put to sleep rather than die the way he did. You will be sorry if this ever happens to you. I urge people to take extreme caution when transporting their pets.

By anon204952 — On Aug 10, 2011

Yes, they should fly in the cabin. Because sadly, my pet died in cargo just a month ago. It was very heartbreaking. My dog could not go with me because the cage was a little big but the cage was for the cabin. But the guys would not let us take him with us. His cage was not made to be put in cargo. So my poor baby died because it was too cold. So don't put your pets on cargo or they might come to their destination dead.

By anon141531 — On Jan 10, 2011

Even the cabin is not pressurized to sea level; only to about 5,000 feet, which is like being in the mountains. This can indeed cause breathing problems, even for some humans with certain conditions.

The cargo hold is not designed for live transport, and is not pressurized at all. That is not to say that there is no air, but merely that whatever altitude the aircraft reaches, whether it be 25,000 feet or 38,000 feet, the same will be true in the cargo hold, and as we all know, the air is very thin at those heights.

Also, it is, indeed possible for temperatures to reach extremes.

By anon102361 — On Aug 07, 2010

if the cabin loses pressure, they take from cargo to repressurize. anything living in cargo that breathes oxygen dies. Delta Air Lines has something special for transporting animals. contact them.

By anon91886 — On Jun 24, 2010

I agree with all postings. I need to bring my dogs from South America and I am worrying myself sick. I have called all the airlines to ensure that the best one is selected. This article did not help me and made me more scared.

I have no choice -- my dogs are too big to travel in the cabin and I won't leave them behind.

Pet transportation services charge an exorbitant amount of money and use the same airlines that I use to bring them myself. This article lacks sensitivity and common sense.

By anon76806 — On Apr 12, 2010

My three cats travelled from the UK to Canada with me, then again from Canada to Spain, both times in the cargo hold and both times without incident. I was as the article mentioned, advised not to use tranquilizers, so didn't, and all went well.

I find it hard to imagine an airline would be so neglectful as to let the cargo hold where animals are drop to freezing or boiling hot.

By anon16585 — On Aug 09, 2008

i have to agree with ancmc. i travel from asia to the states with my cats and since i have five, only one can go on board with me. i personally, have never had a problem. i do my homework. i make sure i have the right carriers (and if you read the airline incident reports it seems that travelers don't provide the proper type of carrier - top sided and collapsible carriers are not allowed because they make for easier escape or have a better chance of coming loose or apart. i also have read about carriers being checked in with missing parts etc. having said that, airline personnel need to be more stringent on not accepting carriers that their airlines say are not acceptable.) i also make sure my pets are tagged with their destination address and their carrier's are well marked with flight and destination numbers. i believe these days, that airlines do care about the welfare of the animals and make every effort to get them to their destination safely. it's up to the passenger to do their homework. everything you need to know is on the airline website and if you are still not sure call and ask!

By ancmc — On Jun 24, 2008

I think the argument for recommending that pets fly in the cabin of a plane is a horrible 'scare' tactic. In my case my cats can only fly in cargo (from USA-UK) it is the only option. From others that have done this it is a painless journey for the animal and to have make this argument only makes loving pet owners worried and scared.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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