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Alaska Airlines now requiring a health certificate for all pets

In what is, I hope, a move that no other U.S. airline will follow, Alaska Airlines has decided to require a health certificate for pets flying in-cabin (Alaska also requires a health certificate for crated pets checked as baggage/cargo, but that’s normal policy for U.S. airlines transporting animals). The new policy applies to flights on December 4, 2014 and following, and states that “All pets traveling in the cabin or cargo compartment on Alaska Airlines, (including flights operated by Horizon, SkyWest and PenAir) will be required to have a health certificate dated within 10 days of outbound travel and 30 days of return travel.”

My first inkling that this was in the works was an e-mail from reader Gery, who wrote to me three weeks ago saying that he’d been repeatedly instructed by an Alaska Air rep to get a health certificate for his in-cabin dog, and wasn’t that odd? Indeed it is: When we first started flying with Chloe in 2009, a handful of U.S. airlines required health certificates for in-cabin pets, but over the succeeding years, all of them dropped the requirement. As of April 2013, I wrote that “only Hawaiian Airlines” still required “a health certificate for in-cabin pets, and then only for travel outside the state.”

When Gery wrote to me, Alaska’s page about pet travel still looked like this:

Alaska's former hands-off approach

Alaska’s former hands-off approach

But now it looks like this:

New Alaska policy

New Alaska policy

And this:

Just in case you were feebly hoping it didn't apply to in-cabin pets

Just in case you were feebly hoping it didn’t apply to in-cabin pets

On the one hand, I appreciate their saving me a phone call by making it clear that the new rule applies to pets traveling in-cabin as well as pets stowed in the cargo area. On the other hand, I don’t really see the point of extending the requirement to in-cabin pets, who don’t face the same kind of stress that pets traveling in the cargo area have to handle.

On the third hand, it’s not a change that affects me, since I don’t fly Alaska, but I worry that other airlines will follow Alaska’s lead. I remember all too vividly how vexing it was to have to remember to plan a timely vet visit (within 10 days of travel) and ensure that the certificate covers the return trip (in the case of long vacations, that means visiting another vet at your destination). Each vet visit typically costs about $50, as Gery discovered and as I recall from the bad old days.

Can you, you know, just…well…not do it? In my experience, no. Back when United required a health certificate for in-cabin pets, I faithfully got one for each trip because the ticketing agent routinely asked to see it when we checked ourselves and Chloe onto our flights. My sympathies to you, Alaska flyers, and I hope that other U.S. airlines will resist the urge to fall into line behind Alaska. Here’s Dog Jaunt’s health certificate requirement chart, now updated, alas, to reflect Alaska’s new policy.


  • Gery O.

    Gery here. Just back from our trip to Baltimore on Alaska Airlines.

    At no point during our trip did anyone demand to inspect Alfie`s health certificate, so as far as I’m concerned I wasted $45, an hour of my time, and the vet`s valuable time for nothing.

    Of course time will tell what will change on Dec. 4th.

    An interesting thing the vet has told me is that there is some concern about possibly dogs carrying Ebola Viruses. I suppose that might be possible, however unlikely.

    Gery O

  • Pamela C.

    We recently traveled in September on Delta and I did have a health certificate with me. I probably wasn’t required to have it but I felt better safe then sorry. This is the one reason I like the Banfield pet plans, free office visits and unlimited free health certificates.

  • Jasmine Smith

    This is a reaction by Alaska due to the negative press. Alaska statistics had the highest pet death rate this last year and 48% of those were Brachycephalic or “short-nosed” dogs and cats. Veterinary experts say that short-nosed animals commonly have abnormalities that can compromise their breathing. Stress associated with flight can make those conditions worse. Still, people didn’t listen to the recommendations and flew their pets regardless and they didn’t survive. So with that said, Alaska was the ONLY airline who accepted them. Now they are under the spotlight for accepting them and see what happens? Pets die. So the easiest way to save the pets from dying is to not accept them. It will save the lives of a quite few dogs by changing this policy because some people won’t take the vet precautions and fly their dogs regardless. Many more of the deaths were due to dogs whose health and age were not fit for air travel yet the owners still flew the animals, again resulting in death. Of course, the airline gets blamed? So this is putting it back on the responsibility of the owner and the vet and taking the heat off the Airline. Very very few incidents are the result of the airlines negligence. Traveling in cabin is another story, as they are attended to the entire time and watched over. I do disagree with this change. Alaska is very open to customer feedback. Just contact their customer care and file the feedback of why you don’t think that it’s necessary to have a Health Cert. for traveling in Cabin. The more that comment the quicker they will be to change the policy.

  • Given the timing, and a comment Gery posted, I suspect this new Alaska rule was prompted by fears that in-cabin pets could be vectors for Ebola transmission — an issue that the CDC feels isn’t an issue, but watch this space for further word: The more I think about that, the more I’m considering the possibility that while a health certificate is a hassle and an expense to acquire, and I anticipate that pet dogs and cats will NOT turn out to be sources or bearers of infection, perhaps having one will be a PROTECTION for your pet in a moment of hysteria. Look, see, you could say — my pet is certified as healthy, so don’t do anything rash to her. Sigh. Now frequently checking the CDC page for updates.

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