By November 12 we had read and heard a whole lot of things – mostly confusing – about carrying pets along in the cabin of a flight within India! So this is an attempt to put an end to all the confusion and give our firsthand experience of flying with our pet in the cabin of the aircraft that may be of help to pet owners wanting to do the same.
1. First of all, only two Indian airlines allow taking your pet in the cabin with several terms and conditions – one is Jet Airways and the other Air India!
2. For some reason, Jet Airways doesn’t allow more than half of the breeds of dogs. Since our pooch is an English Cocker Spaniel and it’s on their no-no list, our only option was to fly Air India.
3. We were travelling from New Delhi (T3) to Guwahati, which is a 2 hour, 55 minutes flight. I booked the tickets online and waited for the date of departure. I made several calls to their call center, but no one was able to give a concrete answer about any other formalities that needed to be met before the date of the journey.
4. From my calls to the call center, two things were clear. One, that the decision to allow your pet to be carried inside the cabin along with you depends entirely on the captain operating the flight on that particular day and second, that the weight of the pet shouldn’t exceed 5 kgs (including the weight of the crate or bag you’re carrying your pet in). Btw, there is just one percent chance that the captain won’t allow your pet to be carried in the cabin—if it’s a puppy or a small dog.
5. The thumb rule as I figured whether you can carry your pet in the cabin is that ‘your pet should be small enough to be carried on your lap.’ An extra kilo or so is allowed, though.
6. Apart from these, there is a list of other pointers/ rules on the ‘Policy for Carriage of Pets on Domestic Flights’ page of Air India, including dimensions of the crate or carrier bag you should buy – 18 x 18 x 12 inches. I would recommend one with a hard base because it’s comfortable for both you and your pet, which you will be carrying on your lap. Buy the IATA approved one to eliminate all unnecessary hassles at the airport.
7. Whether you have any luggage or not, the weight of your pet along with the crate will have to be paid as excess luggage. The current rate is Rs. 250 a kilo.
8. You will also need a muzzle. However if your pet is well behaved like Katie, you need not muzzle her. But you will be asked endless times whether you have muzzled your pet or not. Use your best judgement here. The point is to expose your pet to minimum trauma of travelling all the while keeping the sentiments of your co passengers in mind.
9. Put an absorbent mat or towel underneath in case your pet is still not toilet trained.
10. VERY IMPORTANT: The day before the journey visit a certified vet, make sure all the vaccines are up to date and take a travel fitness certificate. If your vet is a government employee she/he will issue something called ‘Performa for Certificate of Fitness to Travel – Dogs/ Cats.’
11. If you have the habit of arriving late at the airport, today is not the day. If you are carrying your pet make sure you reach the airport early. Our flight was at 9.40 am and we reached the airport at about 7. 15 am! I know, I know, a little too much! But then, if you want a hassle-free experience, then you’ve got to do it.
12. When we informed the ground staff at the airport that we were carrying a pet along, they asked us to go to the Counter Supervisor. Luckily, there was hardly anyone at the counter since we had arrived early. Our pup, along with the crate, was weighed and we were asked to pay the extra luggage charges. Once done, we had to wait for the captain’s nod.
13. Since the captain was unavailable and because it was quite early, after about a 15-20 minutes wait, we were issued our boarding passes and asked to proceed towards security check-in and wait for the captain’s final nod at the boarding gate. By the way, if you are carrying your pet along, you will be allotted seats in the last row.
14. Now, at the security check we had to take her out of the crate for a manual body scan. There is a special hand-held body scanner which the security personnel will use. Never allow the pet to go through the X-ray machine—only the bag/crate goes through.
15. Once we were at the gate, we informed the Air India ground staff there that we were carrying a pet along with us. They apprised the captain of the same and permission was granted! As easy as that!
16. One little thing. An hour before the flight, we gave Katie an Anxocare tablet. Crushed at home and mixed with a banana we were carrying, the vet told us that the tablet ‘controls anxiety due to fear and emotional stress, which can be caused by unfamiliar people, environment, noise and travel. It helps with behavioural problems like aggression, restlessness and hyper-excitability.’ I recommend you do too. It doesn’t make your pet drowsy or anything, but definitely calms her down for sure. Katie was a dream passenger. Not a sound out of her even during take-off and touchdown. We did maintain physical contact with her now and then to reassure her that all was fine.
17. On the return trip, though, we did have to face some difficulties and a lot of anxious moments. Because the Guwahati airport didn’t have a body scanner for animals, despite a cooperative Air India ground staff and a prompt permission from the captain of the flight, a clueless CISF staff at the security check did not allow us to proceed. Ultimately, Katie was frisked manually and the ground staff brought her from the luggage exit and handed her over to us in the passenger bus that was waiting to take us to the aircraft. The rest of the journey was smooth.
In case you have any other queries regarding carrying your pet along in the cabin in the next domestic flight, do shoot you query. We would definitely try to give you the best answer based on our experience.