Flying With Pets in the Cabin to the United Kingdom

Updated on March 4, 2017
Rachel Roodhardt profile image

Rachel is a Marketing Geek. Anything where technology meets Sales & Marketing is her passion! She also loves travel and plays the clarinet.

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How to Avoid Putting Your Best Friend in the Hold

Recently my friend told me that she was having trouble flying from the United States to the United Kingdom with her Shih Tzu, Brussels. Her main concern was that it wasn't possible to fly together with her dog in the cabin and she would be forced to put him in the hold which, having heard some of the stories about animals being exposed to extreme cold, or even dying, was something she really didn't want to do. I think my friend's exact words were "they seem to want to treat my best friend like a piece of luggage".

I jumped into research mode and began looking into the main issues surrounding flying from the US to the UK with a pet. The first consideration is the Pet Travel Scheme outlined by DEFRA (the UK government Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs). The second, more pressing issue, was that UK Authorities do not permit animals to fly to the UK within the aircraft cabin because they wish to prevent rabies from entering the country via infected animals. There are strong border controls in force checking animals that travel in the hold, however they feel it would not be possible to prevent rabies from entering the country if animals were routinely allowed into the cabin. Only certain airlines are permitted to carry dogs, cats and ferrets into the UK under the Pet Travel Scheme and none of them are permitted to bring in animals within the aircraft cabin. The exception to this rule is if you are travelling with an Assistance Dog.

Whilst looking into a solution for Brussels, I discovered that flights into Charles De Gaulle airport (CDG) were not constrained in this way and it would be possible for her to travel with him across the Atlantic in the aircraft cabin with him at her side.

The flight with Air France to Charles De Gaulle was also cheaper than the one to the UK because Brussels was considered to be "Excess Baggage" rather than "freight"!

Lots of Dead Ends...Then We Found Barry

"Great," I thought. "We're across the pond, now we need to get across the Channel". It turned out to be less straightforward than I thought. Here are the dead ends I went through before finding a solution:

Eurostar
Eurostar is a super fast passenger train that operates between Europe and the UK which I discovered do not allow pets on board their trains, although Assistance Dogs are permitted when booked in advance.

Ferries from Calais to Dover
If you're travelling from Calais to Dover on a ferry as a car passenger you can carry your pet with you, however you will be required to leave your pet in the car for the whole journey. Even if my friend did have a driving licence, I'm pretty sure she wouldn't have gone for that option since it could be almost as distressing as being put in an aircraft hold. I'm told that car alarms are triggered regularly on ferries and the car deck is a noisy and unpleasant environment for a pet alone in a car. As a foot passenger she would not be permitted to travel with her pet at all.

Travelling on Eurotunnel
Although pets are permitted on Eurotunnel (with a valid Pet Passport), foot passengers are not because the train is a drive in, drive off service with no seating and very basic facilities.

Putting aside my friend's requirements, going via a ferry or Eurotunnel by car would be possible if you hired a car at the airport and drove across the channel, however you'd still need to drive it back to Charles De Gaulle airport in a timely manner because there aren't any car hire companies that will allow you to drop a car off in a country where the steering wheel is on the "wrong" side.

Pet Couriers
I did find a few pet couriers who would transport Brussels from Charles De Gaulle airport to the UK, however they seemed to transport several animals at the same time in cages and it didn't seem to gel with what we were looking for. I also wondered how they dealt with walking the dogs on long journeys and comfort breaks.

Pet Taxi / Chauffeur
This is where we finally found our solution. We found a company that was able to transport my friend, her luggage and Brussels the dog from Charles de Gaulle airport, across the Channel on Eurotunnel and directly to her front door. He had a VW people carrier which was very comfortable and had ample room for the journey. When we added up what the other options would have costed, and the unacceptable compromises we would have had to have made, it really made sense. The guy who drove her was called Barry and he worked for a company called Pet Moves who are a DEFRA approved animal transport service who are also happy to take humans and luggage!!

Getting the Paperwork Right (Pet Travel Scheme)

Aside from the logistics of getting from the US to the UK without putting her dog in the aircraft hold we also needed to consider the UK regulations for bringing pets into the UK and avoiding quarantine.

The Pet Travel Scheme was put in place to ensure that all animals entering the UK have been microchipped, vaccinated against rabies and treated for tapeworm. There are other regulations for specific countries. For example, cats coming from Australia must have a certificate showing protection against Hendra disease; to check the regulations for your particular country of origin please read this article on the DEFRA mini site.

It is important that you have all the vaccinations and the necessary documentation well in advance of travelling. For example your pet must be vaccinated against Rabies at least twenty one days before travel. If you haven't arranged this within the specified timeframe then you will either not be permitted to travel or you will be asked to put your pet in quarantine in the UK. Please note that if your pet has previously been vaccinated against Rabies, providing that you give a booster vaccination before it expires, you will not have to observe the twenty one day waiting period. In my friend's case we were able to give Brussels a booster vaccination and they were able to travel two days later.

She told me she was terribly nervous that they would take Brussels away at the border, but Barry reassured her by making sure her paperwork was right ahead of the journey and handled the border checks with ease.

So whilst it took some time to work out the best way to travel the final solution turned out to be the simplest. Fly to Charles De Gaulle airport with Air France and Barry from Pet Moves will pick you up from the terminal and transport you, your pet and your luggage to the UK via Eurotunnel. Hope you found this information helpful and it saves you time organising a flight to the UK with your best friend!

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2013 Rachel Roodhardt

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    • profile image

      martin 

      3 days ago

      All those arguing that your pet should be allowed in the aircraft cabin can I ask you a question?

      In the event of an emergency evacuation of the aircraft can you be trusted to leave your pet behind and evacuate the aircraft without disrupting and/or impeding the evacuation of your fellow passengers and the flight crew?

      Most aircraft accidents occur at survivable speeds (for restrained passengers) during take off or landing and the majority of deaths occur in the subsequent fire.

      You have no more than 90 seconds to fully evacuate the aircraft.

      The cabin is likely already cluttered with cabin baggage and other debris, injured and visibility and orientation may already be an issue.

    • jedmonds123 profile image

      jedmonds123 

      6 weeks ago

      Thanks for your story - it's very helpful as my wife and I are currently in the same boat. We are travelling from Canada to the UK via France, so that we can take them with us in the cabin for the flight. From there we are getting a ride through the Eurotunnel from my awesome family.

      My question is this - because we are technically entering the UK from an EU country, will we require an EU Pet Passport? In Canada, vets do not issue Pet Passports but instead give Vet Certificates. Either way it will have all the same information for the UK border check, but did your friend manage to enter the UK without the European document?

    • profile image

      milesliza1@gmail.com 

      2 months ago

      Thanks for this. I am trying to bring my cat from Canada home to Scotland. The UK rules are ridiculous if the pet is properly documented. So sad. Have contacted Barry

    • profile image

      Karolina 

      5 months ago

      Stupid uK rules! Every dog to travel needs passport valid vaccinations deworming and rest so how on earth you can spread rabies when just traveling in the cabin?!! It can be checked same way as with cargo. Other island countries doesn'thave this problem!

    • profile image

      Kevinworrell31@gmail.com 

      6 months ago

      P&O ferry from Rotterdam to Hull allows pets and is easy,,, forget the airlines whatever they say on their website,,, especially the confused staff at Lufthansa

      Kevin

    • profile image

      Corey 

      7 months ago

      Is all paperwork checked in Paris? Or would it be checked upon entry into UK? I saw this online (govt website) and makes it look like the tapeworm treatment has to be entered by a EU doctor?!

      After entering the EU, dogs subsequently traveling to the United Kingdom, Ireland, Finland, Malta, or Norway will need to be treated for tapeworms by an EU veterinarian within 1-5 days before entering those countries. The EU veterinarian will add the tapeworm treatment information to the EU health certificate issued in the United States. It is your responsibility to ensure your pet meets the import requirements of each country you visit.

    • profile image

      Ilse 

      7 months ago

      This confirms my worst fears and is super helpful! I need to travel with my cat from the US to the UK (Edinburgh) and had until last night thought I could take her in the cabin ...only to have my heart sink as I researched all night long ...even for an ordinary cat or dog, cargo is dangerous. But she is a rescue with a very delicate nature who is terrified of loud noises and humans -she would not survive cargo.

      The added flight and drive times will be a challenge for her, but if she can stay with me the whole time I think she will be ok ...I Will also look into Delta from Paris to UK as mentioned by Simon ...thank you again for this info!

    • profile image

      Leah 

      8 months ago

      Thank you so much for sharing your research! We are in the process of moving our family including our previous cat, Rufus, from Seattle to London. I really did not want him to be separated from us during the flight so we will try to follow your advice.

    • profile image

      ClaireNewman 

      8 months ago

      Thanks very much for this article! I should preface the following by saying that any of the rules or methods mentioned below may of course have changed since we made our journey, so PLEASE don't take them as guaranteed!

      I recently took my 15-yr-old, 14+ pound cat to the UK from Los Angeles. I chose Air France because they let me fly with him in the cabin internationally to Paris CDG (unlike most American carriers it seems, in particular my usual airline of choice, American Airlines). Rather than go with the more expensive and complicated (in terms of advance booking etc.) pet chauffeur method, I hired a rental car at CDG airport and drove to Calais, where I took the Eurotunnel train to the UK. I chose Eurotunnel rather than a ferry because you stay in the car with your pet and I didn't want to leave my cat alone on the deck of the car ferry if he was potentially sick after the plane ride / during the ferry journey. I also paid more for a Flexi-Pass ticket that meant I could drive onto the first train leaving, and I visited the "Pet Reception" on the French side of things where my paperwork was speedily checked and approved, hence no wait in the UK.

      The only downside of not using a pet chauffeur service was that I had to reverse my journey 10 days later to return the rental car to CDG before I flew back to the US. However, I was planning to return there anyway to finish up some arrangements before my temporary move to the UK, so that wasn't a huge issue for me. If I'd decided not to return, I could have driven it back and then taken a flight back to the UK; a waste of a day, but acceptable in my view.

      Air France were great - I didn't make a big production of it, but I had my cat (in the carrier of course) on my lap most of the flight, except for during takeoff, landing, and meals, and no one had a problem with this. I was also lucky in that my neighbor was a cat lover, but even if he hadn't been the carrier stayed on my side of the seating area and the cat wasn't actually visible at all unless you peered through the mesh. I also have to say the Mr Peanuts [expandable] carrier was fantastic (very comfy for my cat apparently, and its light weight also helped us stay under the 17 pound weight limit).

      I hope this helps anyone needing to do the same thing in the near future. I spent hours if not days researching the best approach on websites like this one, so I wanted to pass on my experiences!

      One more comment: the health certification stuff was a nightmare. For the UK you need to get the certificate signed (by your vet) and endorsed (by the USDA APHIS) within 10 days of your arrival in the UK, so I chose to go in person to the USDA APHIS office in El Segundo (near LAX) in case there was a problem with the certificate (mailing it to Sacramento had a fast turnaround time but they couldn't guarantee better than 2-3 days I think). Turns out I needed a bilingual certificate (since I was traveling via France) and more importantly my vet's printer hadn't printed out the strikethrough lines that are on the form you download from the USDA APHIS website!! But after two trips there I finally had the endorsed form. In that time I heard many other people's applications being refused also, for reasons ranging from the rabies shot having been given before the microchipping (the latest rabies shot must have been given *after* a microchip is in place) to the shot and chip having been done less than 21 days ago, to the vet who signed the health certificate not having their USDA certification up to date. So be warned!

      [And for those in the LA area: you now need to make an appointment for the El Segundo office before you go. Otherwise, best case scenario you'll have a very long wait, worst case they won't see you.]

    • profile image

      Jessie 

      13 months ago

      I am an American living in London and all of this sounds horribly familiar. I ended up finding a loophole and making my dog an "emotional support animal". You can fly most US based airlines (and Norwegian!) using the letter from your doc and the only fee is the airport reception center (£350). There is still the hassle of the pet passport/vaccinations, but it's by far the easiest way to travel with a small pet to and from the US.

      Also, wanted to comment on taking the ferry across the channel. My dog is old and very anxious and did just fine staying in the car during the journey. All of the cars with animals are kept on the same level of the ship and the whole process was really easy. I'd recommend it for anyone traveling by car.

    • profile image

      Kar 

      14 months ago

      What happens with travel on the way back from England to Paris?

    • profile image

      ElleP 

      14 months ago

      Thank you this is really hepful!

    • greenmind profile image

      GreenMind Guides 

      21 months ago from USA

      Strong article with good ideas for traveling with a pet. I would love to see more photos!

    • profile image

      Simon 

      3 years ago

      Delta mistakenly allowed me to fly direct from the US to the UK with my 14 lb. terrier mix in the cabin last year. Upon arrival in the UK there was quite a bit of bother, but they, eventually, let me and my dog into the country, as it was Delta's fault for selling me the ticket (I had all relevant paperwork for my dog). However, I had to change my return flight to the US from a direct one, to one that first flew to continental Europe (in my case, Paris). I was told by UK customs that it IS permitted to enter or leave the UK with an in-cabin pet via Europe, but not direct from the US (go figure?).

    • profile image

      Dalia 

      3 years ago

      Hi, I live in UK and travel a lot to visit my family in finland. this is bother me every time, and its so expensive and time time consuming, and here is the comparism:

      travel from UK to European country:

      1- your pet is in cabin with you ( no stress for both of us).

      2- cost is 40 Euro only.

      3- no paper work or documents required at booking time or arrival at the airport ( except the pet passport with the vaccination required).

      4- soft bag carrier ,which can be fold easily later.

      on the other hand ( the exhausting UK process)

      1- one day before travel, you need to go to the cargo to check and approve your hard box, paying the amount of (400 Euro from helsinki airport) ( 1150 Euro from Charle de guale airport).

      2- going 4 hours earlier on the travel day to deliver your pet.

      3- on arrival to heathrow: going outside the airport ( taxi cost 40 GBP) to animal quarintine)

      4- paying 170 GBP to animal quarintine to do the paper work and logistics ( about 20-25 pages file ).

      5- processing time for documents 1 hour.

      6- waiting time to collect your pet ( 2-4 hours).

      I hope we can do something for people like me ( frequent flyer with small size pet) FYI i have a female maltese 2 kgs

    • profile image

      Sophie 

      4 years ago

      This was extremely useful, thanks for posting it. As a bit of an anxious cat mummy of two, I didn't really want to be apart from my cats on such a long and stressful journey. I don't like the idea of dumping my cats in cargo, like a suitcase. I'm worried if I did that, something terrible would happen, like the temperature dropping dangerously low. Suitcases and clothes can be replaced, my cats can't!

    • profile image

      Fábio 

      5 years ago

      Do you have any idea on how much your friend paid for the shuttle service? thank you

    • profile image

      Meredith 

      5 years ago

      I'm taking this route with my 2 cats in a few months. Barry sounds awesome, and his prices are really reasonable when you compare them to the cost of sending the pets as cargo!

      I just had a question about the requirements to get the cats into Paris - is there anything special we need to consider on that front? I already have the details we need to get them into the UK, but just want to ensure there isn't anything more than that.

      Thanks for the detailed article!

    • ReuVera profile image

      ReuVera 

      5 years ago from USA

      Great information! Who would know that it might be so complicated to fly a pet to UK... I hope your article will help a lot of people to find a solution.

    • clairemy profile image

      Claire 

      5 years ago

      What a very well informed article and one that I shall retuen to as I too have small animals I may want to transport between countries.

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