Birds on a Plane
I needed to go visit family out of state and I couldn't leave Jester at home with my boyfriend after "the boo-boo incident." He's great with taking care of the flock when I'm out, but she gets quite pinchy when it comes to medicating and re-collaring...
I planned to go a month earlier, but cancelled it due to Jester's needed care, but my trip was time-sensitive, so I had to just go for it.
All in all, the trip went pretty well and now I can share my experience with you so you can be better prepared in the event that you need to take your bird(s) on a plane.
Every airline has a different protocol. Some may not allow pets to fly with you in the cabin (or at all), so check with them to be extra sure of their requirements before traveling.
For the safety of your bird, yourself, and others, you're going to need to be able to fit their carrier all the way under the seat for take-off and landing. For maneuverability, you're going to want an isle seat. Some airlines have more room under the seat than others, so if you need a slightly larger carrier, you might want to fly Delta vs. the sardine can that is Spirit.
Due to my lovebirds' tendency to shred/chew, I placed a caged carrier within the bag carrier.
I gave them food per usual. Instead of water which would make for a soggy, stinky mess, I gave them water-rich fruit. Grapes, oranges, or watermelon have a good amount of water-content with the least amount of mess. Be sure to get your birds a bowl of fresh water when you're safely at your destination.
Oh! Don't forget to bring toys, food, and bowls for the trip.
Even if your bird is clipped, I would advise you not to allow your bird to leave their carrier during your adventure. If you find that you need to, see if Security can let you use their small screening room and lock the door.
If your bird is on the large size or overtly vocal, you're going to need to check them in as a Checked Bag. They will end up riding in cargo with the rest of the flight's luggage. This may or may not cause stress to your bird (and probably to you, too). This is a tough call. Stress can cause harm to birds, especially if they're older or medically compromised.
You may need to consider a pet sitter or boarding them at a bird clinic instead.
It's cheaper to add them to your ticket before you arrive at the airport. For me, they cost more than my flight. It was $110 each way, totaling $220. (Ouch, my wallet). Some airlines are more expensive than others. This is based on Spirit's prices.
Some people will say their pets are emotional support animals (ESA) to get them on a flight for free. This abuses a system that is meant to help people in genuine need. Please be better than that. Pay for your pet if they're not an actual ESA. Granted, it would be great if people didn't have to pay to bring their companion animals with them... within reason. The peacock emotional support animal is fluffing ridiculous.
At the Airport
I normally get a digital boarding pass, but the one I was given via the app told me to check-in at the counter. The counter agent at the Austin Airport was super nice, inspected the carrier, and gave me a paper boarding pass. He said Lolita & Jester made his day. <3
Before scanning your bags, get the attention of one of the agents and tell them you have birds. They will guide you as to what you need to do next.
Your pets do not go through any scanners.
In Austin, I gave a TSA agent Lolita & Jester's carrier. My personal items went through the luggage scanner and I went through the people scanner per usual. I got my bags and two agents took me and the nuggets into a small screening room.
I took the cage carrier out of the bag carrier. One agent took the bag carrier out to have it scanned. The caged carrier, with the birds still inside, was swabbed on the outside. All was well.
The two agents said Lolita & Jester made their day. <3 I went to go sit down at the gate.
FL airport was a little more screwy. The workers seemed more confused than curious. TSA took my birds prior to scanning, but didn't know what to do beyond look at them and scan the bag carrier. No tiny screening room required this time. This is just the vibe of South FL in general, so I wasn't really surprised. Just be warned, protocol will vary, but the important aspects of it stays the same. If you have a caged carrier, make sure TSA doesn't stick their fingers near any openings.
Waiting to Board
Jester and Lolita are generally good with people, so I wasn't too worried about their reactions to people. The carrier did have roll-down curtains if I felt they needed some chill time. If your carrier doesn't have curtains, a towel or sheet should be fine.
When I was waiting to board, a little girl showed up next to me, Lolita gave her a "KISS!". The girl laughed, ran away, came back. Lolita gave her another 'KISS!' This went on for a little bit. Her mom came over and she and the folks next to me started talking about birds.
I had them on my lap during the most of the flight. They were well-behaved. They peeped more on the way back home than when I was headed to FL. No one really seemed to mind, it wasn't excessive. People were more curious than anything. "Is that a bird?" "Yeah." Then we'd talk about birds.
I was staying with my Dad, so I had an extra bird cage on hand at my final destination. Not everyone is going to have the luxury of an extra cage where they're staying, so for extended stays, you may want to get a budget cage delivered/purchased locally so they're not confined to the carrier the whole time.
Now you have a peek into what to expect when traveling with birds. I love having my birds with me, but the extra stress and cost makes me want to avoid it in the future, but emergency situations happen, so do what you gotta do.
Where did you get that clear carrier with the curtains on it? I need to get one!
I have always wondered what would happen if I ever needed to fly with my bird! Thank you for letting us know!
I had a similar experience flying through YVR. Security took myself and my new cockatiel to a private screening room to check the bag, everything else went through scanners as normal. The airline I was flying with didn’t charge extra as the bag fit under the seat and they considered it a carry-on.
I’m glad your flight went well and your two sweethearts had a good time. I’m sure birds are not a regular occurrence at most airports and staff can get confused about what to do. Definitely good advice to check ahead with the airline to see if they have special requirements. I agree that you shouldn’t check a bird to fly cargo unless the airline specializes in animal transport. Too many things could go wrong.
Thank you for sharing, I was curious how it went and the logistics!