Flying with Rabbits
By Theresa Mueller, Pridelands Rabbitry - published in Mane Musings 2007
Flying with rabbits is really not all that difficult in and of itself; it's really all the prep work that is the most difficult. The best advice I can offer is to START EARLY and always double and triple check all reservations. Start by checking with the airlines that you plan to fly on. Make sure that they allow pets as excess baggage.not all airlines do, which means you'd need to ship your rabbits through cargo which can add extra cost and hassle to your travel experience. If they allow pets in the cargo hold, check how many will be allowed in each carrier/kennel. This varies greatly between the various airlines. Some only allow 6 or 8 and others allow 12. Also ask the price per carrier. This too can vary greatly between the different airlines. We paid $100 per carrier (each way) for our trip to the Ohio State Convention this past spring. A friend traveled out from Seattle with a different airline and paid almost $300 in shipping (one way) for half the animals we traveled with! Once I get an answer on these two questions, I will typically call back to see if the next agent gives me the same answer before actually booking the flight.
Try to book your flight at least four to five months in advance; this helps ensure that you'll be able to fly with your pets as there is limited space on each aircraft for animals. Book the rabbits reservation at the same time you book your flight and do BOTH in person on the phone. Make sure you get the name of the agent who books the flight just as "extra insurance". Make sure to double check that the rabbits are booked ROUNDTRIP. When we flew out to the HLRSC Nationals in Pueblo, CO, we forgot to double check this and sure enough the rabbits only got booked one-way. Frontier was great to work with though and got them on the return flight with us without a problem. We cannot always count on being that lucky, so I always double and triple check our reservations at least a month in advance of the actual departure date.
Another trick that is frequently helpful, especially when traveling to a really large show like the ARBA Conventions, is to book a flight to a nearby city rather than directly into the host city. If you are willing to drive a few hours and arrive/depart from a neighboring city, you can frequently avoid the rush to get out of town after the show is over. This is where most problems with overbooking of rabbits occur and you can save yourself a lot of stress and hassle by avoiding the mass exodus or waiting an extra day before departing.
Once you've made your flight reservations, it's a great time (if you haven't already done so) to book your room reservations. We try to book our room reservations even earlier than our flight reservations as they are easy to cancel if we decide not to attend the show. If you plan to keep sale rabbits in your room, make sure that you double check with the hotel that they allow pets.
We also make our rental car reservation at the same time as our flight. Keep in mind the number and size of the carriers you are traveling with and whether they will fit (with you and luggage) into the car you are looking to rent. We typically find we are better off going with a Mini Van or SUV depending on how many rabbits we are traveling with. When we flew in for the HLRSC National show in Watsonville, CA in 2003, we discovered that while we had booked an "SUV", we hadn't checked what "type" of SUV we had booked. We ended up with this TINY, sub-compact SUV. Cheryl and I just stood there staring at the car wondering how in the world we were going to fit 30 some rabbits, luggage AND US into this SUV that was barely bigger than a Ford Escort! It took quite a bit of finagling but we did finally manage to cram all the bunnies into the car by putting rabbits in the front passenger seat and having myself ride in the back with the other carriers of rabbits beside me on the rear passenger seat. It was a long winding drive from San Jose to Watsonville, and, boy, THAT was a ride I DO NOT want to repeat again!
Most airlines require a health certificate dated within 10 days of your flight, so make sure to plan ahead with your vet for an appointment the week of your departure. Keep in mind the date you are returning if you plan to use the same h/c on your return flight. If you don't have a regular vet you use for health certificates, start looking EARLY. Some vets charge atrocious prices for rabbit health certificates, so ask around and see if other breeders in your area know of one that will do them reasonably.
Many people fly with their carriers packed in X-Large dog shipping crates. Personally, we've found it easier not to mess with the dog crates. I know the one time we had our rabbits miss our flight, we were the only ones that actually had our rabbits watered while they were missing (almost 24 hours), since the agents couldn't get into the carriers that were stacked in dog crates. So we travel with them in 6 hole carriers with solid metal tops like we use when shipping rabbits via cargo to buyers. We connect two 6 hole carriers together with the cage clips made specifically for this purpose which you can get from most cage companies. This allows us to get our allowed 12 rabbits per carrier without having to pay for each 6 hole carrier individually. We attach coop cups inside each cage for food and water. We also provide each rabbit with a small handful of hay that we strap together into a bundle using small plastic zip-ties to prevent excessive mess at the airport.
On the day of the flight, ARRIVE EARLY, be prepared to be a spectacle, and don't forget your humor despite the stress of flying with rabbits! Most agents are very helpful and accommodating about the process if you act like you know what you are doing and are pleasant to deal with. Have your health certificates handy as you'll likely be asked for them. Most airlines are requiring a security check of all "oversized baggage" now, so be prepared for this. We've had some of these security checks go super easy and others that were downright nightmares. Some want each and every rabbit taken out of the carrier (one at a time, obviously) while they inspect the food cups and cage floor. Others don't care about taking the rabbits out, but have had us take the cages out of the drop pans so they could see underneath the cages. Some have been a simple formality. Be prepared for the worst and hope for the best. Most of the agents we have dealt with have been accommodating and easy going as long as we are friendly and up beat about the whole process. We've also found that the process is a bit easier if we use pet potty pads (like used for training puppies) rather than shavings in the drop pans. They are cleaner and easier for the agents to inspect. We will typically layer then two deep and remove the top layer when we arrive at the airport so that the pad in the tray is clean when the agents go to inspect the trays.
So now you've got your boarding pass, the rabbits have gone through their security check and have been taken away by an airport official for loading. First hurdle cleared. Take a deep breath and prepare for the stress of making sure they make it on board. We've only had the rabbits NOT get loaded on the plane with us once, but it was enough to make us very gun shy about them missing another flight.LOL!! So now we let a stewardess know immediately when we board that we are flying with pets and will they please confirm for us that they are loaded prior to take-off. It is a much more relaxed flight if we've been assured the animals are on-board. This is ESPECIALLY important if you are not flying on a non-stop flight. Make sure that your rabbits are confirmed on-board for each connection.
So as long as you double check all your flight reservations two and three times and plan to arrive early, the actual flight process really isn't all that difficult at all. Definitely do not let the thought of flying with rabbits keep you from all the fun you will have and friends you will meet at the National shows. I know I wouldn't think twice about all the hassles for the friendships I've made and experiences I've had at the National shows and Conventions! Happy traveling!