Not every option is available for every situation, and Service Members have some benefits that DOD Civilians won’t, but knowing all the options can help you develop the best plan for your specific situation.
1. Pet Shipping Services
There are a many Pet Shipping Services available, just type in “Pet Shipping International” and you will have a number of companies to choose from, many specializing in specific regions of the world. In Appendix C, I have listed some services that Service members I spoke to have used.
Beware of Scams! There are fake transportation companies that want to steal your hard earned money and you need to be careful. The International Pet and Animal Transportation Association (IPATA) states on its web-page that “Pet scam criminals use free websites, Craig’s List, local newspapers, or Facebook.” IPATA describes ways to recognize scams and provides lists of known scam companies on their website: https://www.ipata.org/pet-scams.
Pro – door to door service; assistance with all the transportation documentation
Con – expensive; you may not see your pets for a number of days (though some services offer tracking, updates, and even photos; it is possible to have the pets shipped on the same planes as those reserved by Military Travel, but sometimes these planes don’t have space for your pets, so be prepared for the worst scenario)
2. Military Air
The military has planes that are part of the Patriot Express program, one on the East Coast and one on the West Coast, that can provide a cheap method for transporting Service Member Pets. These programs are always changing, so I have provided links where you can find the most current updates. Also, this option is not available for all locations, has limited space and can fill up quickly.
Pro – usually cheaper than civilian air; may be more comfortable for pets; less restrictive than commercial air; Service Member travels with and can usually check on the pets during transfers; less breed restrictive than civilian airlines; transportation usually not as seasonal restrictive as civilian airlines
Con – pets must be moved to the Patriot Express start points (usually Baltimore Washington International on the East Coast or Seattle, Washington International on the West Coast); can involve more coordination than using pet shipping services; pets must travel with service member; some breed restrictions, but less restrictive than civilian airlines
3. Commercial Air with Service Members in Baggage or Cabin
Each Commercial Airline has different regulations for transporting pets that depend on time of year, locations, and length of flights. These rules are changing and you should check their web-pages and call them personally to verify all information. The airlines’ policies are continuously changing, so I provided contact information for the airlines used most commonly by Service Members.
Pro – more variety of start locations than the military aircraft / Patriot Express; cheaper than Pet Transportation Services
Con – breed restrictive; restrictive to number of plane changes; restrictive to number of hours pet can fly before transfer; seasonal restrictions; must transport pet from an airline hub; some airlines have a weight/ size limit and may insist that pets go by cargo if they exceed this; usually more expensive than military aircraft/ Patriot Express
4. Commercial Air in Cargo
Commercial airlines also offer Service members the option to transport their pets in cargo, which is sometimes the only option for very large dogs. This is usually the most expensive option and the method that pet transportation services use. Once you make the reservations for your pets in cargo, military transportation can usually assist you in getting similar transportation for you and your family to either travel on the same planes or at least arrive around the same time. Remember, military transportation must use American Carriers if you want to attempt to ride on the same planes as your pet, which may not always be the cheapest or most direct way.
Pro – allows service member to find pet lodging before pet arrival and coordinate pet transportation from the airport since they can arrive earlier than the pet
Con – more expensive than traveling with service member in baggage or cabin; limited number of plane changes; breed restrictive; seasonal restrictions
5. Outside the Box
There are unlimited “outside the box” options.
I have researched a cruise ship that allows pets to travel with Service Members from New York to England (https://www.pettravel.com/cruiseship_ferry/QueenMary2.cfm). I have not personally used this method, nor met anyone who has, but hypothetically you could visit your pets a couple times a day during the voyage. The military won’t pay for your or your pets to use this method, but if anyone is not comfortable moving their pets without being able to monitor them, this might be preferable to air travel. Of course, you would have to determine how to transport the pets and your family to New York for the start of the journey, and from the UK at the end of the cruise.
Pro – may be more comfortable than flying for the pets
Con – probably more expensive than air travel; can be logistically more complicated too; not available to all locations
The Decision is Yours
Ultimately, the decision will be yours. I’ll dive deep into each one of these methods over the next couple posts, providing links for additional information, and providing current prices. My objective is to give you as much information as possible in order for you to save money and get your pets to your next duty station safely.