Last week, an interesting picture of falcons in an aircraft cabin was shared widely online.
As with all content that goes viral, the spinoffs from the picture were hilarious and clever: “Saudi prince brings 80 hawks on plane,” “Raptors on board,” “Magnificent birds of prey take flight.”
The picture was not that strange, considering the appetite for exotic pets in the Middle East region.
Before the falcons, there was a picture of an Emirati man and his cheetah taking a drive in a luxury car.
Falconry is a traditional hobby for the rich in the Middle East, and most if not all carriers in that region accept their transportation in the cabin if the paperwork meets their requirements.
The birds are issued “falcon passports” that allow them to travel to Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Morocco and Syria.
Though blindfolded throughout the flight, the owners will usually fly with their falcons in first or business class, with the birds occupying passenger seats.
Don’t get excited yet, the truth is, you are not about to fly with your favourite cow or goat in a seat next to you.
Governments have varying laws, regulations and restrictions about cross-border transportation of animals.
It is worthwhile to familiarise yourself with the government requirements on transportation of animals at point of origin, transit and destination ahead of your booking.
A key consideration is usually the vaccination certificates or health status of the animal or pet to be transported as certified by a veterinary officer.
Additional permits may be required if the animal is protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
Over 180 countries are members of CITES. Some of the paperwork may need to be validated by the embassy of the country of destination.
Most regional airlines will accept the transportation of animals and pets as cargo or in the baggage compartment except for a guide or service dog, which is usually accepted in the cabin if it’s aiding a passenger with disability or reduced mobility.
Even with airlines that allow guide or services dogs in the cabin, there may be restrictions depending on the route and destination.
Airlines do not usually charge for guide or service dogs provided they do not occupy a seat. However. most carriers need ample notice before departure as policy will sometimes restrict travel to only one animal per cabin.
Since guide or service dogs are usually in the cabin without a kennel or cage, they are expected by the airline to be properly harnessed, trained to behave properly and not exhibit disruptive behaviour.
Airlines will readily accept birds, cats and dogs but are usually wary of snakes and other reptiles. As such, pet or animal owners need to declare the type of pet and size of container or kennel during the reservations process.
Most likely there will be restrictions on the size of kennel or cage allowed as airlines have limited space depending on the aircraft type.
The declaration of intent to travel with a pet is important as the animal will probably end up being transported as manifested cargo; so they must always be shipped in pressurised and ventilated holds.
It is recommended not to feed your pet solid foods less than six hours to the flight; however keep the animal well hydrated and accustomed to the kennel to minimise their distress at being caged if they normally roam free.
Unless you cannot avoid it, try as much as possible to travel with your pet on a direct flight to avoid the punitive layover between flights.
When it comes to transportation of animals, each airline has its own policy, so acceptance by one carrier does not automatically mean its partner airlines will also accept the pet or animal under the same conditions.
Even though the animal will be manifested, it doesn’t hurt to mention to cabin crew that you have a pet in the hold and get confirmation that it has been loaded.
Remember, just like baggage, airlines lose animals in transit too.
Ahead of the flight it may be advisable to ensure your pet has an identifiable collar and a name tag with your contacts. The latter should also be on the cage.
Michael Otieno is an aviation consultant based in Nairobi. Twitter: @pmykee143, Email: [email protected]