Transporting Your Pet Overseas

Thu, Feb 13, 2014 @ 13:02 PM Karina Gafford Military Life, PCS Moves

My aging dog has anxiety issues. Ever since we rescued him almost seven years ago, his usually lazy, quiet self has made a noise akin to that of a motorcycle in the throes of a painful engine death whenever he is stressed or traveling in a car.

In a PCS by car from Florida to South Carolina, we thought his lungs would collapse from the eight hours of travel and two to three hours afterward that it took to calm him down. The mere thought of traveling with him in these conditions on an international flight is enough to give me an anxiety attack, too!

Many military families, however, do PCS with their pets, to include moving overseas with a pet. The good news is there is an entire industry that now exists to help military families secure their pet’s independent travel to their new duty station.   

Flying with Your Pet

Most large commercial airlines now have restrictions regarding the transportation of dogs in the cargo area during the summer months, the highest point of PCS season. This leaves military families with few options to travel overseas with large pets. For families with short-nosed dogs who are prone to breathing problems, such as pugs, bulldogs, and boxers, even fewer commercial transportation options exist, as many carriers have policies regarding these breeds. One great option does exist for military families in these circumstances, though, as the Patriot Express will fly up to three large pets per flight in cabin and ten below cabin.

The Patriot Express operates flights both to Germany and the Pacific region. The former operates out of Baltimore-Washington International Airport and flies directly into Ramstein Air Base in Germany. In addition to permitting ten large pets in cabin, this flight also permits under seat pet carriers of a size no larger than “20 inches long by 16 inches wide by 8 inches high.” The pet must be able to move around comfortably within this amount of space. The latter flight to the Pacific leaves directly out of Seattle-Tacoma Washington International Airport and flies into Korea via Japan. This flight has the same restrictions on pets and sizes, and both specify that only dogs and cats may travel.

In order to fly on this carrier, pets will need certain documentation. For one, military families must have orders to fly for a PCS with documentation from your Travel Management Office approving the pet’s flight, too. It is important to make these arrangements shortly after receiving orders, as these flights fill up quickly, particularly during busy PCS seasons. More specifically for your pet, he will need a health certificate within ten days of flying. No waivers exist for this date restriction. Families who choose to use a civilian veterinarian for this final health approval must complete additional paperwork that includes a USDA endorsement. For a less expensive and time consuming option, families can instead choose to work with a military veterinarian, though an Active Duty veterinarian must actually sign the paperwork.  This signature ensures that pets have successfully completed the immunization and screening process for traveling overseas. This document also serves as approval for the pet’s entry into the new duty station.

While flying with your pet in cabin may bring peace of mind in knowing that your pet is safe with you, perhaps the best part of flying with the PE are the cost savingsWith a maximum weight limit of both pet and kennel of 150lbs, the maximum fee that the PE will charge for your pet is $336 to Germany and $348 to the Pacific with a minimum fee of $112, the standard excess baggage charge at which pets are charged.  This fee makes travel on the PE significantly cheaper for military families than using a commercial vendor.

Flying Your Pet Solo

Military families may choose to send one or more pets solo for numerous reasons. Primarily, the PE flights will only permit two pets in cabin; however, within fifteen days of flying, pets may earn a Space Available slot, though this is a risky option. For families with young children, adding the hassle of a pet may make a busy day of international travel more challenging than the cost savings of using the PE flights are worth. In these cases, families can choose to use commercial pet travel services.

Though convenient, commercial pet travel services have a number of disadvantages. They have a lower weight limit of an almost across-the-board limit of 100lbs for both pet and crate. Given that a large crate can weigh approximately 40 pounds, big dogs may need to find a home with family for the duration of an overseas PCS. Further, shipped pets may only travel below cabin. Finally, these services are much more expensive than the PE, ranging from $1,300 for the coordination of pet travel with the airline, ensuring that an airline pet care specialist watches over any pets prior to and after the flight, to $2,500 for door-to-door pet service. Some pet transportation services will offer military discounts, as will many commercial airlines. 

For those shipping puppies, kittens, or pets with health issues, make sure to speak with your vet about how to properly care for your pets needs while traveling. Traveling, as my dog Leánbh can attest, is a stressful experience for any pet, so make sure to ask for any precautions that you can take to help make the experience a safe one for your furry family member! 

If you have traveled overseas with your pets and have additional advice for readers, please share them in the comments section below! Moving Overseas with Pets