Saturday, November 29, 2014

Flying on Airplanes with Guinea Pigs

In past posts, we have talked about what options humans have for their guinea pigs when going out of town, and took an in-depth look at car trips with your guinea pig (both short and long trips). In this post, we're going to explore issues and options when it comes to flying with your guinea pig. As mentioned in those previous posts, we prefer staying in familiar environments, and find travel to be stressful. So, if you're just flying somewhere for a couple days and then coming home, you're probably better off looking into other options than bringing your guinea pig on a plane. However, just like with driving, sometimes flying might be your best (or only) option, such as if you are moving overseas.
Credit: "When Guinea Pigs Fly" by Lesley DeSantis.
If you have determined that flying with your guinea pigs is necessary, here's what you need to know:

Before You Fly

  • Before traveling, make an appointment with your vet. Some states require a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection (CVI) from a licensed veterinarian, which indicates your pet is healthy enough to travel and is free of communicable diseases. For example, guinea pigs must have a CVI within 7 days prior to arriving in Hawaii. Even if it's not required for your travel plans, it's still a good idea to discuss your travel plans with your vet first to make sure your guinea pig is healthy enough to fly. Note that very young and very old guinea pigs might not be good candidates for flying, and neither are pregnant guinea pigs.
  • Make sure you research the laws and policies of the state or country you plan to visit. For example, if you were planning on moving to Guam with your pet, you should be aware of their strict policies to prevent the spread of rabies that include vaccinations, microchips, and blood serum tests. Even though guinea pigs "rarely get rabies and have not been known to cause rabies among humans in the United States," the Guam webpage uses the terms "pets" and "animals," which would seem to include guinea pigs. When traveling to another country, you should contact their consulate first (at least 4 weeks in advance of your planned trip) to ask about their health and quarantine requirements for guinea pigs. Certain states and countries are stricter than others; Australia, Britain, New Zealand and Hawaii are said to be particularly strict with their pet requirements.
    • We cannot stress enough that you need to take this very seriously! If you do not have the required paperwork for state or country you are traveling to, "you run a very high risk of having your guinea pig confiscated, quarantined, or in some extreme cases even destroyed." Don't risk your guinea pigs' life by being too lazy to make a few phone calls and send a few emails! A good place to start your research is to call the USDA at (800) 545-8732 and ask about what forms are required for your specific travel plans.
  • Try to book a non-stop flight to reach your destination as quickly as possible and minimize the amount of time we'll be spending in a stressful situation. In addition, be aware that if your connecting flight is on a different airline, there may be different policies on guinea pigs between them.
  • Make sure you buy a carrier that is large enough for your guinea pigs to comfortably move around, but not so large that it exceeds the maximum size allowed by the airline. In addition, if the carrier suddenly moves or falls over, there is a greater risk of injury in large carriers since there's more room for your guinea pig to roll around. Many guinea pig-specific carriers are too small. Small cat carriers tend to be good choices. Include plenty of towels and/or fleece lining to help keep us warm. Bring food for us as well.
    • We've heard that PetTravelStore.com's Pet Carrier for Small Animals is a good choice for flying with guinea pigs. It's supposed to be a good size for small animal comfort, and compliant with airline size requirements. We haven't tried it ourselves, however. (Let us know in the comments if anyone has.)

Ways to Travel with Your Guinea Pig

  • Carrying on your pet: This is where your guinea pig can travel with you in the cabin. This is the preferred option.
  • Checking your pet: This where your guinea pig is accepted as checked baggage. Due to noise, temperature changes, pressure changes, and other stressful conditions, this is not a preferred option. Pets have been known to die from these conditions on rare occasions; even if the chance of this happening is very low,  flying is stressful enough for a guinea pig without the added risks and discomforts of being treated as baggage or cargo.
  • Shipping your pet as cargo: This is where your guinea pig is shipped without the owner, and will be made available for pickup at a cargo facility. As with checking your pet, this is not a preferred option.

Guinea Pig Policies for US Airlines

Pet policies vary by airline. Some will let you carry on your guinea pig; most will not. Airline officials have said that the reasons they don't allow animals other than dogs and cats as carry-on is because dogs and cats are required to receive vaccinations, and owners are required to show proof of this, while animals like guinea pigs are not. In addition, they worry that small animals like guinea pigs would be difficult to catch if they escaped their carriers.

If you can find an airline that accepts guinea pigs, make sure you let the airline know you have a guinea pig at the time you make your reservations. Reconfirm with them that you will be bringing your guinea pig 24-48 hours before departure. Only a certain number of pets are allowed on each flight, and these are usually given out on a first-come, first-serve basis. You'll want to take every precaution that you don't show up at the airport with your guinea pig for nothing.
We currently only know of a few airlines that are believed to allow you to carry on your guinea pig (always confirm with the airline before making travel plans!):
  • Frontier Airlines: Guinea pigs are allowed to fly in the cabin on Frontier on domestic flights only. Only dogs and cats may be carried on international flights. There is a $75 fee for this service. Your pet carrier will count as your carry-on or personal item. Carriers need to large enough for pets to stand up, lie down and turn around, but cannot exceed the maximum dimensions of 24" length x 16" width x 10" height. No more than 2 guinea pigs per carrier are allowed. Certain seats on the plane cannot accommodate carry on pets, such as exit rows.
  • Island Air (Hawaii): Guinea pigs are accepted in the cabin on this airline, although they will require "State Dept. of Agriculture inspection."  Only 4 pets are allowed per flight, and only 2 in the cabin. Pet carriers must fit comfortably under the seat. There is a $35 fee for this service.
  • Ravn Alaska: The language used on their website suggests guinea pigs should be allowed in the cabin (although you should call to confirm before planning a trip with them). Animals crossing state lines must have a current health certificate from their vet. There is a $75 fee for this service, which increases to $100 if connecting to other airlines or checking your pet.  
Other US Airlines have stricter policies:

If Your Airline Doesn't Allow Guinea Pigs

  • In some cases, it may be possible to get exceptions to standard pet policies if your pet receives a special classification. 
    • Service animals are defined by the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) as "dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities." As far as we know, it is not possible for a guinea pig to be considered a service animal. 
    • Emotional support animals (ESA), also known as comfort animals, provide therapeutic support to people with mental illness. To be an ESA, there must be a prescription from a mental health professional stating that the human has a major impairment, and the animal helps with their condition.
      • Some airlines do have special accommodation policies listed for ESAs. For example, while Alaska Airlines normally does not allow guinea pigs as carry on pets, they also state: "You may travel with an emotional/psychiatric support animal in the cabin if you are a qualified individual with a disability and certain documentation requirements are met."  In 2013, a student at Grand Valley State University sued the school to have her guinea pig consider an ESA due to her pacemaker and chronic depression, and the school settled the lawsuit. If you have a legitimate mental health issue that your guinea pig helps you with, don't be afraid to look into getting them registered as an ESA!
        • However, we would like to emphasize that this should only be used if you have a legitimate mental health issue. Skeptical articles of ESAs are starting to appear in the media (e.g. The New Yorker, The New York Times), in part due to people abusing the system. Don't contribute to this.
    • Therapy animals "provide affection and comfort to various members of the public, typically in facility settings such as hospitals, retirement homes, and schools." Therapy animals do not generally receive special accommodations from airlines and other businesses, however. 
  • Another option you can look into is a specialized pet transportation services. However, make sure you do your research on them first! You'll want to make sure that your guinea pig would be in the main cabin and not in a cargo area, and you'll want to check their online reviews to ensure they're someone you'd want to entrust your guinea pig with. Some companies include (not necessarily recommended):

International Travel with Guinea Pigs

  • If you plan on flying your guinea pig internationally, things can get even more complicated.
    • There is probably going to be a lot of paperwork involved. One person who was moving to Germany claimed she needed to get her guinea pig a European Union (EU) pet passport, a CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) certificate "saying she is not wild caught nor an endangered species," a "USDA certificate saying she's healthy and not directly harmful to humans," and "a US Fish and Wildlife certificate saying she's not an invasive species."
    • An admin at guineapigcages.com gave the following advice about traveling overseas with guinea pigs: "Start well ahead of when you think you will need to to get all the forms, certificates, etc. You'll need to talk to government agencies as well as to airlines. Keep notes on who said what when so you can refer back to them when arguing with the next agency."
    • The USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has a page on traveling with pets that has some good information to get you started.
    • Due to the complexities involved with traveling internationally with your pet, we're only going to be able to scratch the surface here. (We may go more in-depth in a future post.)
Has anyone flown with your guinea pig before? If so, tell us about your experiences in the comments section!

7 comments:

  1. My piggies lives on our closed in glass Sun porch. It has a different temperature from our house. What is the ideal temperature I should set for him?

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  2. Is it safe for your guinea pig to fly internationally?

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  3. I'm moving from CA to CT. Best Airlines to take my piggies on?

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    Replies
    1. We would say Frontier since it's the only national air line we found where guinea pigs are allowed in the cabin. However, it looks like they only go to New York (LGA), not Connecticut. It should then be about a 2-hour drive to CT. Make sure you read our post on car safety and comfort if you go this route!

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