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How to Take Your Bird on a Plane [Ultimate Guide]

Travelling with a bird may seem like a daunting experience, let alone getting on an airplane with one.

Birds are often prone to getting stressed quite easily, so it’s important to ensure that your bird is as comfortable as possible.

Taking your bird on an airplane will require a lot of planning. However, it is worth it to ensure that your bird arrives safe, sound and happy.

If you’re thinking of flying with your bird, you will probably be asking the following questions:

  1. What bird species are allowed on airplanes?
  2. Will my bird fly in the cabin or cargo of the airplane?
  3. Can I take my bird on an international flight?
  4. What do I need to do when booking a flight with a bird?
  5. What bird cage should I get and how should I prepare it?
  6. What documents do I need for my bird to travel?
  7. How should I prepare my bird for travel?

I will answer all these questions for you, and provide some helpful tips and recommendations along the way.

What bird species are allowed on airplanes?

Different airlines have specific rules on which bird species they allow on their planes, as either carry-on or as checked baggage.

Generally, in order to fly, your bird must be a ‘household bird’.

In other words, your bird must be a pet and not a wild bird. Household birds include parrots, cockatoos, parakeets, cockatiels, budgies, canaries and finches, among others.

Most airlines won’t allow chickens or other poultry on their flights.

Airlines also usually require that your bird is odourless and quiet.

For example – Hawaiian Airlines states that birds must be:

Harmless, inoffensive, odourless and not require attention during flight.

If you have a particularly noisy bird and want to take him/her in the cabin, call your airline to find out whether it would be okay.

It is important to note that some birds are illegal in certain countries, states or territories.

If travelling to or passing through one of these areas with a bird that is illegal, you will need to make prior arrangements to ensure you follow the state law.

For example – quaker parakeets are illegal to own in California, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Hawaii, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Wyoming.

Before travelling, check the rules for the country and territory that you are travelling to or through.

Will my bird fly in the cabin or cargo of the airplane?

Your bird may be allowed to fly in the cabin with you, depending on the following:

a) The size of your bird.

If you have a small bird, he/she may be able to join you in the cabin.

Some airlines allow birds to fly with their owners in the cabin, as long as their cage fits under the seat in front.

If you have a large bird, then he/she would need to fly in the cargo of the plane.

Generally, airlines won’t allow bird owners to buy extra seats next to them to place their birds. However, there is no harm in checking with the airline to see if they allow will allow this.

b) Which airline you fly with.

Many airlines allow small, household birds to fly in the cabin of the plane.

However, not all of them do.

Some airlines require that birds fly on the plane as checked baggage.

Airlines That Allow Birds in Cabin

  • United Airlines
  • Delta Airlines
  • Vueling Airlines
  • Aeroflot Airline
Airlines That DON’T Allow Birds in Cabin

  • American Airlines
  • Air Canada
  • Alaska Airlines
  • Hawaiian Airlines

Check the rules for the airline that you are flying with.

For more a detailed guide on the airlines that allow birds on their planes, check 14 Airlines That Allow Pet Birds on Planes [2020 Policies & Prices].

c) Where you are flying to and from.

Some airlines only allow birds to fly in the cabin of the plane, on certain routes.

For example – Delta Airlines allows household birds in the cabin as long as they are able to fit in a small, ventilated pet carrier that fits under the seat in front of you. However, when flying to or from the following countries, birds must fly in cargo:

  • Australia
  • Barbados
  • Dakar
  • Dubai
  • Hong Kong
  • Iceland

  • Jamaica
  • New Zealand
  • Republic of Ireland
  • South Africa
  • United Kingdom
  • United Arab Emirates

Additionally, United Airlines allows household birds (excluding cockatoos) to travel accompanied in the aircraft cabin on most flights within the U.S. However, they do not allow pets on flights to, from or through Australia, Hawaii, New Zealand and other locations.

Each airline has different rules, so check these with the airline you are flying with.

Can I take my bird on an international flight?

Possibly!

It depends on the airline that you are flying with, your destination country and stopover countries, and the duration of your flight.

You will need to check policies of different airlines as their rules all vary.

For example – United Airlines does not permit pets on flights to, from or through Australia, Hawaii, New Zealand and other locations. On the other hand, Delta does allow birds on flights to and from:

  • Australia
  • Barbados
  • Dakar
  • Dubai
  • Hong Kong
  • Iceland

  • Jamaica
  • New Zealand
  • Republic of Ireland
  • South Africa
  • United Kingdom
  • United Arab Emirates

Certain airlines will not allow birds on extra long flights, as this puts them at a greater risk of harm and stress.

For example – Delta and Delta Cargo do not accept warm-blooded animals on flights with an average flight time of greater than 12 hours. 

What do I need to do when booking a flight with a bird?

Before booking a flight, check the following with your chosen airline:

  1. Do they accept birds on their flights?
  2. Can birds fly in their cabin or in cargo?
  3. Are birds allowed on your specific flight?
  4. Can the airline reserve a spot for your bird on the flight?

Only some airlines will allow birds on their flights, and sometimes they are only permitted on specific routes.

Additionally, most airlines will only allow two pets of any kind in the cabin per flight. Therefore you will need to reserve a spot for your bird on your flight.

For the most comfortable and safe flight for your bird, try to follow the following guidelines when booking your flight:

a) Book a direct, counter to counter, flight.

It is highly recommended that you only book a direct, counter to counter, flight for your bird. That way, the journey will be much less stressful and safer for your bird.

On a counter to counter flight, your bird will be taken directly to the ticket counter inside the airline terminal.

However, if your bird was put on a connecting flight, then he/she risks being left in a drafty, hot or cold cargo area in between flights.

In the case that you must take a connecting flight, consider shipping your bird on a separate, direct flight.

b) Avoid booking your bird on a flight during major holidays and on weekends.

During holiday periods, airports and flights will be much busier and noisier.

Not only will the extra noise be stressful, there would be a higher risk of delays.

c) Try not to fly during the hottest or coldest months.

Avoiding travelling during extreme conditions will minimise stress for your bird.

Some airlines will even refuse to transport your pet bird during times of extreme weather conditions.

d) Ship birds separately.

When stressed, birds have a tendency to pluck their feathers and gnaw things around them.

Therefore, birds shipped together are at risk of harming each other or fighting.

Even bonded pairs should be shipped separately, or in a separate compartment within the cage to avoid stress wounds.

What bird cage should I get and how should I prepare it?

The cage that you buy depends on which airline you and your bird are planning on flying with.

Additionally, it depends on whether your bird is flying in the cabin or cargo.

BIRD CAGES IN CABIN

Generally, if you bird is travelling in the cabin with you, airlines require that cages are small enough to fit under the seat in front of their owners.

For example – United Airlines states the following:

A pet traveling in cabin must be carried in an approved hard-sided or soft-sided kennel. The kennel must fit completely under the seat in front of the customer and remain there at all times. The maximum dimensions for hard-sided kennels are 17.5 inches long x 12 inches wide x 7.5 inches high (44 cm x 30 cm x 19 cm). The recommended maximum dimensions for soft-sided kennels are 18 inches long x 11 inches wide x 11 inches high (46 cm x 28 cm x 28 cm). Soft-sided pet carriers may exceed these dimensions slightly, as they are collapsible and able to conform to under-seat space without blocking the aisle.

Your bird travel cage must be spacious enough to allow him/her to stretch and flap their wings, and climb around. Additionally, there must be room for a water dish, a food dish, a perch and a toy.

If your cage is too large to fit under the seat in front of you, then you have two options:

  1. Fly your bird in cargo instead
  2. Ask your airline if you are able to purchase a seat next to you for your bird (not all airlines will allow this)

BIRD CAGES FOR CARGO

The container must be spacious enough to allow your bird to stretch and flap their wings, and climb around.

However, it should not be too large that the bird(s) risk getting thrown around during air turbulence.

Top tip – Get in contact with your airline to ask them about their crate requirements. Airline’s requirements are not always found on their websites.

PREPARING YOUR BIRD’S CAGE

a) Label your birds cage.

Stick a note to the side with large letters saying ‘LIVE ANIMAL‘. Therefore, people will know to be extra careful when handling the cage.

Also, include your your name, contact information and destination, in case of emergency.

b) Install a perch no higher than 1 inch from the bottom.

This will prevent your bird from getting stuck underneath, if you experience some turbulence and he gets knocked off.

Perches screwed from the outside of the container, will allow airline staff to help your bird, if he/she does get stuck.

c) Cover the cage with lightweight, breathable fabric.

This will reduce stress as your birds won’t be able to see the commotion happening around them.

With this said, the container must still be able to be inspected be security.

Top tip – do not line the bottom of the cage. Given today’s security issues, the airport may require the contents of the cage to be clearly visible.

d) Fill the bottom of the travel cage with food.

Depending on your bird’s diet, fill the bottom with seeds or pellets.

Not only will this provide them with nourishment during the flight, but it will work as a good bedding liner.

Also pop some pieces of fruit in a container on the floor. This will provide them with liquids during their flight

Top tip – put extra food in case the flight is delayed.

e) Add tie wraps to the sides and front door of the cage.

This is just for extra security.

If you have a large, strong bird like a parrot, avoid using plastic and ensure that the cage is extra strong and unbreakable.

What documents do I need for my bird to travel?

You will need a health certificate for your bird, to show that he/she is fit and healthy for travel.

Health certificates for your bird are only valid for 10 days.

Therefore you will need to obtain it within 10 days before travel. Additionally, if you are planning on staying at your destination for over 10 days, you will require another health certificate for your return flight.

Furthermore, when travelling to or through certain countries and territories, you may require additional documents.

For example – In the US, you must obtain all necessary documents from USDA and the Department of the Interior’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service before taking your bird abroad.

It’s also important to note that the requirements to return to your country may be different than those to leave it and travel to another.

Check the specific requirements of your airline, departure country and country/territory of arrival.

How should I prepare my bird for travel?

WEEKS LEADING UP TO YOUR FLIGHT

a) Condition your bird.

It’s important that you condition your birds with stress-formula vitamins and minerals for at least a week before your flight. It’s also recommended that you also condition them for a week after your flight.

These will help reduce stress levels. Additionally, the vitamins and minerals will make them less prone to getting sick from the flight by averting bacterial infections that result from stress.

Avitec’s AviBios and Mardel’s Ornabac™ are powdered mixes that can be added to your bird’s soft foods, such as fruit.

b) Familiarise your bird with his/her travel cage.

You want your bird to feel as calm and at home in their travel cage.

Introduce him/her to their travel cage weeks before your flight. Give them treats whilst in there and fill it with some of your bird’s favourite toys.

Some people recommend that you clip your birds wings. However, I do not recommend this. Your bird’s wings will only grow back once the feathers fall out. Growing them back can also take a long time, and they don’t always grow back as strong.

THE DAY OF YOUR FLIGHT

a) Ensure your bird has plenty of food and water.

As mentioned earlier, fill the bottom of his/her cage with food, pellets or seeds, depending on their diet. Also put some fresh, juicy fruits in their food dish. They will all provide your bird with extra liquid on their flight.

Watermelon, cantaloupe, grapes and peppers (capsium) are all good choices. If your bird isn’t used to having these fruits as part of their diet, incorporate them slowly over the weeks prior the flight.

Top tip – put extra food in case the flight is delayed.

b) Double-check all identification material and stickers on the cage.

c) Arrive at the airport early.

Try to arrive at least 2 hours early. However, some airports or airlines may require you to arrive extra earlier, so check beforehand.

When checking in at your ticket counter, be sure to mention that you have a bird joining you.

You will probably be required to show them your bird’s health certificate and receipt of reservation. Hold onto these as it is likely you will need to present these again to airport or airline staff.

If your bird is not flying with you in the cabin, stay with your bird as long as possible. This will relieve stress for both of you.

Top tip – remain calm and helpful at all times as airport staff can be under pressure and stressed.

Conclusion

Okay, so as you have now learnt, taking your bird on a flight does take a lot of planning. However, it is worth it to ensure your flight is as stress-free as possible for both you and your bird.

Be sure to check your airline’s policies, get your bird an appropriate travel cage and ensure he/she is fit and healthy for the trip.

In addition, obtain your bird’s health certificate within 10 days of your flight. If you are planning on staying abroad for longer than 10 days, look into obtaining another health certificate for your return trip.

If you are concerned about anything, or if your bird has had some problems travelling before – ask your veterinary for advise.

Hope you have found this helpful.

Happy travels!

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