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Airline Travel & Your Pet Bird

If you're planning an airplane trip and want to bring your pet bird, find out what airline restrictions you might come across before you buy your ticket.

By Laura Doering
Posted: August 27, 2012, 11:30 a.m. PST

Excerpt from BIRD TALK Magazine, April 2011 issue, with permission from its publisher, BowTie Magazines, a division of BowTie Inc. To purchase digital back issues of BIRD TALK Magazine, click here.

Found a great last-minute deal on a flight to visit friends or family and want to bring your pet bird or parrot with you? “I’ll just bring my parrot along with me to the airport and hop aboard,” you think. Not so fast!

First, check with the airline to see if pet birds are allowed as an in-cabin pet or allowed to travel in the cargo hold of the plane. Not all airlines allow pets, and some that do only allow cats or dogs, not birds. There is also a service fee for flying with your pet bird.

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Continental Airlines allows birds to be taken in-cabin, in lieu of a carry-on bag, on most of its domestic flights. The fee can vary from $50 to $150 each way, depending on the aircraft. There can be restrictions in regard to the type of ticket purchased. Some airlines cannot allow in-board pets in the business class section of the plane because the seat restrictions are different from the economy class, and a pet on-board can also affect  where you are seated (you won’t be seated near the bulkhead or in an aisle with an emergency exit, for example).

rose-breasted cockatoo in travel carrier
Look for a travel carrier that is labeled as "airline approved."

If the airline you choose does not allow birds to travel with you (either as an in-cabin pet or in the cargo hold), which is the case with American Airlines, another option is to have your bird shipped through an airline-approved shipping company, such as those from FAA-registered Intermediate Air Carriers (IAC) or licensed pet dealers. The International Pet and Animal Transportation Association (IPATA) allows you to do an online search of qualified pet shippers. For more information, visit their website.

Delta Airlines will only accept transport of birds if the “shipper, or the shipper’s agent, certifies in writing on shipper’s letterhead, which must accompany the air waybill, [that] the birds being shipped were born or bred in captivity on special farms.”

Bird Travel Carrier Specifications
If you book an in-cabin flight with your pet bird, your bird must travel in an airline-approved travel carrier. It must fit completely under the seat. Check with the airline you are traveling with to make sure your carrier meets its under-the-seat height requirement. Some airlines offer carriers for sale at their airport counter desk; however, most bird behaviorists agree that a bird should be accustomed to its carrier prior to travel to reduce stress.

Common guidelines for airline-approved travel carriers include:

• The carrier must be sturdy, properly ventilated and large enough for the animal to turn around and maintain a normal posture.

• No part of the animal’s body can protrude through an opening in the carrier (no wire carriers or kennels allowed).

• The carrier’s closing mechanism must function properly, but it can’t be locked. (Federal regulations mandate the pet be accessible in the event of an emergency.)

Other Travel Considerations
Keep in mind that extreme weather may affect your travel plans. Some airlines might not accept pets accompanying passengers during winter or summer months. Also, an airline’s pet travel policy is subject to change. 

If you travel to another state, confirm that there are no quarantines in effect and that your species of parrot is legal there. Quaker parrots, for example, are illegal to own in California, New Jersey and several other states. Also, some airlines require a certificate of health from a veterinarian, so plan an appointment with your vet well in advance.

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