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When transporting household pets by air, it is important to use pet carriers that have been specially made to comply with airline restrictions. In general, larger pets must travel in the cargo hold while smaller ones are allowed to ride with their owners. There are thus two different categories of airline approved pet carriers: those meant for transporting pets in the hold, and those meant for containing pets within the airplane cabin.
For pets that will be traveling in the climate controlled cargo hold, regulations on the types of containers that may be used are very strict. Carriers can only be constructed of certain materials and must meet stringent safety criteria. These requirements mean that most airline approved pet carriers for cargo hold use look very similar. The most common carriers are kennels made of plastic or fiberglass with a wire mesh door and/or ventilation panels. The size of the carrier is dependent on the size of the animal; the pet should be able to stand, sit, turn around, and lie down comfortably.
Airline approved pet carriers meant to be carried on the plane have more variance in style, though they usually take one of three forms. First, there are purse-like carriers which have handles so they can be hung over the owner’s shoulder or carried by hand. These are usually meant for smaller pets, as the carrying method does not lend itself to bearing excessive weight. The similarity to a purse makes them popular with fashion-conscious owners, who can choose from many different carrier appearances.
Another popular kind of in-cabin airline approved pet carriers is the duffle carrier. As the name suggests, the structure of these carriers is similar to that of a duffle bag. Most duffle carriers have several pockets to hold various accessories and a long shoulder strap in addition to duffle-style handles. Unlike purse-style carriers, these are often collapsible in order to make them more travel-friendly. This feature means that they are usually the most versatile among airline approved pet carriers as they may be able to fit into odd-shaped spaces.
Finally, suitcase- or backpack-style rolling carriers are popular for transporting larger pets. The distribution of weight from a backpack makes it much easier to carry greater weight for an extended period of time. Unlike purse-like or duffle carriers in which pets are usually situated horizontally, rolling carriers require the pet to ride in a vertical orientation when being carried or rolled and in a horizontal orientation when traveling under an airplane seat.
It can be a huge pain in the neck to travel by plane with a pet but you can save yourself a lot of hassle if you make sure to have the correct pet carrier.
A few years back I was traveling with a cat and I put her in the carrier we always use to take her to the vet. Well, it didn't meet the airlines regulations and we had to scramble at the last minute to find a bag that was acceptable. They sold one in one of the stores in the airport but I'm sure the price was inflated.