The following explains the process to ship a puppy by cargo within the continental United States via American Airlines. Many thanks to Melissa, owner of Kyuubi, for this fantastic write-up.
Note: It is our policy at Kaiju Kennels that puppies must be at least 11½ weeks of age to travel as cargo or excess baggage on a plane. Puppies traveling in cabin or by car are not subject to this restriction.
Your puppy will need to be shipped in an airline approved crate. What is an airline approved crate? Always verify with the airlines as requirements can change. Your airline approved crate needs to be of durable plastic, metal or wood. Its needs to have a metal grate door and side loaded. It cannot have a top loading door. Its needs to have ventilation on at least three sides. The metal grate door counts as one side of ventilation so as long as two other sides have ventilation that is sufficient. The crate must also be held together by nuts and bolts. Some airlines require metal nuts and bolts some will accept plastic. If your crate has plastic and you prefer or require metal there are kits for purchase with metal replacements. Plastic clips or latches are not acceptable. Wheels are not acceptable. The crate must be labeled with “Live Animal” in at least two spots with letters no less than one inch high. The crate must also be labeled with an arrow pointing in the upright direction. Two containers must be attached to the metal grate door, one for food and one for water. The crate must be lined with an absorbent material but no woodchips, straw or other loose materials. Generally crates do not come with labels, metal replacements, food/water containers and liners. Travel kits can be purchased at pet stores or from DryFur. The most convenient way to provide an airline approved crate and required parts to your breeder would be to purchase the items online and ship direct. You will most likely purchase a size 200 crate. Some airlines no longer accept they size 100 crate and your puppy will be too big for that size crate.
Coordinate with your breeder. Find out dates and time frames breeder is available to transport puppy to the airport. For cargo service, puppies must be checked in no less than 2 hours prior to flight time. If flight time is 10:00 a.m. be sure the breeder is available to have puppy checked in no later than 8:00 a.m. If puppy will be transported around the 12 week mark make note that puppies under 12 weeks of age do not need to be vaccinated. Puppies over 12 weeks of age do. Check with your breeder to find out if puppy will have received any vaccinations prior to transport. To be on the safe side, attempt to transport the puppy within a few days prior to the official 12th week.
Once you have your travel date and approximate times, you are ready to proceed with shipping arrangements. Visit American Airlines Cargo and click on pet travel services. Locate the link for animal shipping request or locate the customer service number. You will need to know the preferred drop off time (subject to breeder availability), the shipper’s contact information (breeder’s name, address, telephone number, e-mail), the consignee’s information (your name, address, telephone number, e-mail) and the animal’s information (breed, name, age). You will also be asked for the total weight and dimensions of the crate. For weight, you will need to add the weight of the crate to the weight of the puppy plus a few extra pounds for add-ons like food, water and crate liner. The weight of a standard size 200 crate is 13 pounds. For a 20 pound puppy, expect your total weight to be around 40-43 pounds. The dimensions of a size 200 crate are 27L x 20W x 19H. Submit your request. You will receive a response from the airline within a couple of days. They will provide a suggested flight time. Follow the instructions contained within the response for accepting or rejecting the proposed flight. Once you have confirmed a flight time the airline will provide you with an airway bill number but not earlier than 4 days prior to flight. If you make you an animal shipping request a few weeks in advance you do not need to continually check back with the airline. Just wait. If you do not receive an e-mail or hear from the airline 24 hours prior to flight time then you should follow-up. If you try to contact them earlier than the 4 day window they will not give you an airway bill number and become impatient with you. Once you have your airway bill number you will need to pass along to the breeder. They will not be able to check in the puppy without that number.
No more than 10 days prior to the flight, your breeder will need to bring the puppy to a veterinarian for an examination and health certificate. The health certificate tells the airline the animal was examined by a veterinarian and health for travel. There is a cost for this type of examination and health certificate which more than likely your breeder will expect you to be responsible to pay. Additionally, the airlines will only ship your puppy as long as the air temperature at the departure and arrival locations are between 45 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Under no circumstances will any dog be transported in conditions above 85 degrees Fahrenheit . Exceptions will be made for travel in conditions less than 45 degrees Fahrenheit but only with a certificate of acclimation signed by a veterinarian and not below 20 degrees Fahrenheit. The certificate of acclimation is simply a statement attached to the health certificate, signed by the veterinarian and containing the following language or similar thereto:
The animal(s) in this shipment appear healthy for transport but need(s) to be maintained at a range of temperatures (in Fahrenheit) to which the animal(s) has/have been acclimated, as determined in consultation with the owner/authorized agent to be no lower than ___ degrees for ___ minutes and no higher than ___ degrees (not to exceed 85° F) for no longer than ___ minutes.
When you make the initial shipping request and the airline responds with a suggested flight time, they will also include an estimate of cost based upon the weight measurement you provided. The final number may not be exact but expect to be pretty close unless you completely over/under estimated the puppy’s weight. Payment arrangements should be discussed with your breeder. At the time of check in the airline will either expect payment from the breeder or expect the breeder to complete a letter of guaranty. The letter of guaranty is part of the “collect” method whereby the consignee pays for cargo costs at time of pick-up. The letter of guaranty simply states the shipper (breeder) accepts responsibility for paying if you do not show up or refuse to pay for shipping. If you proceed under the collect method, be prepared to present identification and payment at the time of pick-up. Credit/debit cards are accepted at most cargo facilities, however, you should confirm this with an agent from the airline. In the alternative, your breeder may require you to advance shipping costs to them and they will pay at the time of check-in. You will still need your identification with collecting your shipment.
When you go to pick up your puppy, you will do so at the cargo facility at the destination airport. Be sure to locate the cargo facility prior to arriving at the airport. The airline website is useful in providing addresses for cargo facilities. Most cargo facilities are located just outside the airport. Do not proceed to the passenger gates or check in. In fact you will not see commercial flight passengers at all. More than likely you will be surrounded by semi-truck trailers. Once you have arrived at the cargo facility, follow posted signs for office entry. Enter the office and proceed to customer service counter. Your puppy will be brought out to you. Pay attention to your shipping request response and airway bill information, it will indicate when your puppy will be ready for pick-up. It may be 30-60 minutes after arrival time. Your puppy needs to be unloaded from the plane, placed in a van and driven over to the cargo facility. Be sure you arrive in a vehicle large enough to transport the puppy in the crate. A two-seater Miata will not work. You may wish to bring paper towels, cleaner, wet rags, etc. in order to clean up any messes that occurred during flight. More than likely the puppy will have done something in the crate. Personally, I would not recommend removing the puppy from the crate until you arrive home. Yes, that means driving home with a poopy crate. If you have a long drive it might not be as tolerable to wait until you get home. If that is the case, make sure you bring a leash and collar for your puppy. You do not want to lose your puppy. I would suggest finding a quiet, grassy area before taking the puppy out of its crate. That might mean driving out of the cargo facility area. You do not want your puppy to be frightened by semi-truck trailers or any other large and loud equipment that can be found in such environments.