The do’s and don’ts of pet plane travel

We all know that our four-legged friends are more than just pets; they're whānau. But when it comes to taking them on a tiki tour in the sky, either for a holiday or a permanent move, there are some do's and don'ts we need to take into account.

Whether it's a quick hop over the Cook Strait or a long haul across the Tasman Sea, plane travel with pets can be a bit of a mission. But fret not! This guide will provide you with the lowdown on ensuring a safe and comfortable journey so those tails keep wagging – even at 35,000 feet!

Considerations when travelling by plane with your pet 

Before you buckle up and take to the skies, some considerations and preparation is important for a successful journey. Just as you'd pack your suitcase with care, your pet's travel needs must also be thoroughly addressed.

  1. Talk to your vet: Before embarking on any journey, it's important to have a chat with your vet. They can provide guidance on whether your pet is fit to travel and offer tips to make the journey as comfortable as possible.
  2. Keep identification updated: Make sure your pet is wearing a collar with up-to-date identification tags. Also ensuring your fur baby is microchipped and your contact details are up-to-date is a simple but vital step in helping keep your pet safe.
  3. Acclimate your pet to the kennel: Familiarise your pet with their travel carrier before the trip. This will help reduce their anxiety during the journey.
  4. Research airline policies: Before you book, it pays to review the airline's pet policy in detail. Factors like breed restrictions, container size requirements and maximum weight allowances may apply - so make sure that your furry companion meets all of these criteria before booking.

Overview of airline policies for pet travel in New Zealand 

Air travel with pets in New Zealand is governed by a set of specific policies and standards outlined by various airlines. These policies are designed with the safety and comfort of your pets in mind, and adherence to them ensures a seamless travel experience.

Air New Zealand 

Air New Zealand is Aotearoa's leading airline for domestic travel and has a comprehensive guide for pet parents looking to travel with them.

Here's a quick overview of what to expect:

Service dogs: Must be certified or undertaking recognised training, a 48-hour notice is required, and check-in is 1 hour prior. The dog must wear an ID tag, be restrained at all times, and be seated on an absorbent mat (provided by Air NZ).

National travel: To travel alongside your pet, you must call the contact centre of Air NZ to add your pet to an existing booking. If you have more than one pet carrier per person, you'll need to book them as cargo rather than add them to your booking. Your pet's carrier will count as your baggage allowance, so if you also need to check a bag you'll need to book an extra bag space.

You'll also pay a pet carriage fee:

  • Pets up to 25kg: NZD$75
  • Pets over 25kg: NZD$100

Air New Zealand requires all pets to travel in carriers that meet international standards and won't accept any carrier where your pet cannot stand up, sit down, turn around, or lie down.

International travel: International travel looks a little different. Due to the long-haul nature, pets are not checked as baggage but must be booked in a 'cargo' hold. Pets can only travel internationally through approved pet transporters and may be limited by breed, age, or destination restrictions.

Cargo travel: This applies when your pet is travelling without you. In this case, bookings are only through approved "pet transporters". Costs will vary across these approved transporters, but you can expect at least the base rate of NZD$200-400.


Unfortunately, Jetstar does not accept pets on board for domestic travel in New Zealand except for assistance animals.

If your travel plans are with Jetstar, no worries as you can book your pet to travel as cargo through other airlines (such as Air New Zealand) with approved pet transporters.

This applies to both domestic and international travel with Jetstar.

International Airlines 

If you are travelling abroad, you may be dealing with an international airline, whose policies will differ from our domestic airlines. Different airlines have different rules when it comes to pet travel. Here are some general policies you can expect:

  1. Book in advance: Most airlines have limited spots for pets, so it's crucial to book your pet's ticket as early as possible.
  2. Breed restrictions: Some breeds may be restricted from travelling due to health concerns. Always check with the airline before booking.
  3. Pet carrier requirements: Airlines have specific requirements for pet carriers. Make sure your carrier meets these guidelines.

Questions to ask your airlines for a smooth journey 

When booking, don't be shy to ask the airline about their pet policies. Some useful questions include:

  • What are the requirements for pet carriers?
  • Are there any breed restrictions?
  • What documents do I need to bring for my pet?  
  • Are there any medical requirements, such as certain vaccinations?
  • Are there any additional fees for pet travel?
  • What is the process to check in my pet at the airport?

By asking these questions, you can ensure that you and your pet will have a safe and smooth journey.

Finding the ideal travel carrier for your pet 

Choosing the right carrier is crucial for your pet's comfort and safety. Look for one that is sturdy, secure, and spacious enough for your pet to stand, turn around and lie down comfortably. The carrier needs a small water container that is fillable from the outside of the carrier.

Similarly, if you have a smaller pet, look for one that is lightweight and portable enough for you to carry. Some carriers may also come with extra features such as wheels or padded shoulder straps. 

You should also make sure the carrier is well-ventilated so your pet can breathe easily during the journey. Soft padding inside will help keep your pet comfortable during their travels.

For larger dogs, the recommendations regarding suitable crates vary for each airline so we recommend checking the criteria for your preferred airline before you travel. Some airlines allow larger dogs in the cabin. According to Sunair, dogs between 10-20 kgs might sit at your feet if not too large. Dogs over 20kg are subject to a Child's fare so the airline can make allowance for their weight onboard. All dogs are required to be on a leash unless they are in a crate. 

Tips for keeping your pet calm during travel 

Travel can be stressful for pets, but with the right approach, you can help them stay calm:

  1. Familiarise your pet with their crate: Spend some time getting your pet acquainted with the space they will travel in. If they are comfortable, it makes it one less thing to cause stress on the day of travel. Utilise positive reinforcement to make it a great experience all around.
  2. Consider your pet's needs: Plan plenty of bathroom breaks and exercise time for your pet prior to boarding,  especially for long flights, as these opportunities won’t be available for them once the flight starts. Make sure you also bring everything they may need: food, bowls, comfort items, and toys.
  3. Keep them close: Keep your pet's carrier nearby so they can see and smell you. This can help them feel more secure.

No matter where you are heading (fun fact: Auckland to Queenstown is the most popular flight for NZ dogs)  travelling with your pet can be a breeze if done right.

Remember to plan ahead, check and understand airline policies, and take steps to help keep your pet as comfortable and calm as possible throughout the journey. Another item to consider adding to your travel checklist is taking out cover with SPCA Pet Insurance, so that unexpected sickness or injury doesn’t upset your travels, budget, and most importantly your beloved pet.