Australia Flying with Dogs

Flying with a Dog in Australia: The Ultimate Guide

Flying dogs Australia

When planning to travel between different parts of Australia, whether for a holiday or some other reason, you’ll probably consider flying. After all, Australia is a big country, and it takes days to drive from one side of the country to the other.

But if you’re travelling with a dog, is it possible for them to also fly? What’s involved when travelling with a dog and on what flights are they allowed? After flying multiple times in Australia with my dog, I share the steps you need to follow and lots of tips to make everything go smoothly.

NOTE: Due to the COVID-19 situation in Australia, with travel restrictions between states and many flights cancelled, some of the current processes differ. In particular, Virgin Australia is currently requiring all pets to be booked through a pet transport company. Qantas has temporarily suspended accompanied pet bookings, although it currently permits unaccompanied pet bookings online or through pet transport companies. (Correct as at 12/08/2020, subject to change.)

Are Dogs Allowed to Fly in the Cabin in Australia?

The first thing I need to break is that unfortunately dogs are not allowed to travel in the cabin on flights within Australia (as well as to and from Australia), unless they are a recognised service dog (with all the paperwork rules of the airlines satisfied). If your dog is just your pet, unfortunately that’s a no, no matter how small they are.

Pet dogs can only fly in the hold of airplanes in Australia, generally as cargo. This means that you need to make a booking with the freight division of the airline, drop them off at the cargo terminal, they’re loaded along with cargo into the hold (but with extra care) and then you pick them up at the cargo terminal.

There is a third way that dogs can fly, as “checked baggage”. This means that they fly in the hold but you drop them off and pick them up inside the terminal, like oversized items. This is generally not possible in Australia, except with Regional Express (REX) on selected routes.

What Airlines and Flights Allow Pets to Fly in Australia?

When flying your dog domestically in Australia, there are three main options: Qantas (including Qantaslink), Virgin Australia and Regional Express (REX). With Qantas and Virgin, both airlines have freight divisions that accept bookings for pets. With REX, which mainly operates flights from capitals and major cities to regional airports, whether pets are booked directly or indirectly as freight depends on the route.

Qantas allows pets on its flights in Australia
As does Virgin Australia

Note that Jetstar, the discount airline run by Qantas, don’t allow pets to fly on its flights. This is the same as many other discount airlines overseas, like Ryanair and Easyjet. This also extends to Qantas codeshare flights operated by Jetstar.

There’s also a number of small regional airlines that operate in Australia, often just from one airport. Most of these airlines don’t mention whether they transport pets, or just transport pets through Qantas freight.

Note that not all Qantas and Virgin flights can accept pets on board. With Virgin in particular, they have a couple of A320s they seem to mainly fly within Western Australia, that don’t have the temperature control necessary for flying pets.

Some smaller airports may also not have the facilities; with Virgin, the list of airports pets can be flown to and from are listed here. Another consideration is that freight terminal hours may not cover all flights, this needs to be checked first as part of the booking process.

One other issue that you may encounter if you are flying a larger dog is that some of the smaller planes cannot accommodate the larger size crates. This is unlikely to be an issue if you are flying between the state capitals. But if you are looking to fly in or out of a regional area, it’s best to investigate this before deciding to fly your pet. On this page, Virgin list the various crates sizes that are or not permitted on their different aircraft.

Flying across Australia with Qantas

Flying Pets with Regional Express (REX)

As I mentioned above, REX accepts pet on its flights but the way they fly depends on the route. This is because REX does not have a freight division, so just flies pets as “checked baggage”. This means that you drop them off at check-in in their crate and they fly as excess baggage, similar to flying a golf bag.

However, not all airports that REX flies in and out of permit animals other than assistance dogs in the airport. Pets are not allowed inside Adelaide, Brisbane, Cairns, Newcastle, Perth and Townsville Airports. This means pets cannot fly as excess baggage on REX flights in Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia. (Currently no REX flights operate out of Newcastle Airport.)

If you are flying with REX in South Australia or Western Australia and want to bring your pet along, you need to book and lodge your pet with Qantas Freight. The steps to follow are similar to if you were flying your pet with Qantas. If you are flying with REX in Queensland, you need to book and lodge your pet with Dogtainers, a pet transport company.

For other routes, i.e. those flying in and out of Sydney and Melbourne Airports, pets can fly as excess baggage. However, like for all excess baggage, there is a weight limit. For dogs over 30kg, including their crate, they must fly as freight. For further details, see their FAQ.

Are All Dog Breeds Allowed to Fly?

The majority of dog breeds are permitted to fly in Australia, with some conditions.

There are a short list of dangerous dog breeds, that are prohibited from being imported into Australia, and are also not allowed to fly at all in Australia (if they are already in the country):

  • Fila Brasilerio
  • Japanese Tosa
  • Dogo Argentino
  • American Pit Bull and other Pit Bull Breeds
  • Perro de Presa Canario

Other strong dog breeds are permitted to travel as long as they travel in a special non-plastic crates, such as the CR-82 crate or an airline approved guard dog cage. Qantas singles out American Staffordshire Terriers as requiring these crates, while Virgin just mentions powerful and strong pets in general.

The second main category with special caveats for flying are snub-nosed or brachycephalic breeds, as these breeds are more likely to experience breathing difficulties and heat stress. Virgin has a list of snub-nosed dogs and cats on this page.

Some overseas airlines forbid these breeds from flying in the hold, but both Virgin Australia and Qantas have generally permitted them to fly, with extra conditions and the signing of an additional indemnity form.

However, following some recent incidents, further restrictions have been introduced. These have included being banned except for on a handful of routes and the need to book through a pet transport company. Check in advance for the latest rules, as they have changed multiple times recently and could change again.

At the least, if your snub-nosed dog is allowed to fly, it is recommended you check with your vet about the suitability of your dog travelling by air, plus use a crate one size larger than is standard – Qantas states a crate twice the usual minimum size. Virgin recommends that snub-nosed dogs over the age of 5 years do not fly, while Qantas recommends snub-nosed dogs don’t fly above 20C.

Cargo being loaded onto a flight. Carefully consider before flying a snub-nosed dog.

Finally, if your dog weighs more than 65kg, including their crate, they may have additional restrictions. In particular, they cannot be booked as a standard pet accompanying guests with Virgin and with Qantas cannot be booked online. With Rex, their maximum for pets to fly as excess baggage is 30kg.

Note also that puppies under the age of 8 weeks should not fly (due to the risk of dehydration), plus only dogs in good health should fly. A vet health certificate may be required for pets over a certain age, young pets (8-12 weeks) or unwell pets.

Booking Your Pet to Fly in Australia

If you’re flying together with your pet, it’s best to book their flight before making your own flights. There are two main reasons for this: the number of pets that can be accommodated on most flights are limited (sometimes only one or two on smaller planes), plus as detailed above there are some occasions where pets are not permitted at all (such as specific planes, airports and hours of the day).

Cancellation and change conditions are also usually quite generous for pet bookings, compared to many human bookings. (For instance, with Qantas, pet tickets can be refunded up to 14 days before travel). If you have already booked your own tickets, note that there is no variation in the cost of flying pets, even if you are booking last minute.

I’ve found Qantas the easiest airline to book for my dog. This is because they have a website where you can make the booking, or just create a quote, as long as your pet plus their crate is under 65kg. Click here to head to the booking portal. After booking our dog’s flight with Qantas, we then booked our own tickets online.

With Virgin Australia, you instead need to call the call centre (13 67 89) to make a booking for pet. We booked both our own tickets and our pet’s flight together on the same call, without the usual charge for booking through a call centre.

If flying with REX and your pet is flying as excess baggage, there seems to be no requirement to book in advance. In particular, the fee calculated for your pet cannot be paid in advance, as it is calculated at check-in. I would ring and double check in advance that your pet is allowed on your particular flight. Also, if they are flying as excess baggage, there is the chance that if there is no capacity, they will be bumped from the flight.

Note that before you book your pet in advance, you will already need to know the size of the crate and the combined weight, as this is used to determine if your pet will fit on the flight plus their ticket cost.

Cost of Flying Your Pet in Australia

Just as the cost of your own ticket varies depending on how much baggage your choose to purchase, the cost of flying a pet in Australia varies depending on the size or weight of your pet, or more accurately, the size of their crate or the combined weight of your pet and their crate. So how much does it cost to fly a dog interstate (or within a state)?

With Qantas, the ticket price is based on the crate size. The cheapest fares are for pets in a S crate less than 48 x 38 x 33 cm. The most expensive fares are for pet in an XXL crate up to 129 x 62 x 82 cm.

When we flew along with our dog from Adelaide to Sydney in late 2019, his crate fit in the M category, the second smallest size. His ticket was $137.50, compared to about $140 each for our tickets.

With Virgin Australia, the ticket price is based on the combined weight of your pet and their crate. The smallest weight category is 1 to 10kg, followed by 11 to 20kg, etc.

We weren’t quite sure about which weight category to choose for our dog, as last time we flew with him he was just over 10kg, putting him in between the two smallest weight categories, but we knew he had lost a little weight. We didn’t have his crate on hand when making the booking to check the total weight.

At the recommendation of the call centre staff (who unfortunately didn’t know what the policy was if the total weight was between 10kg and 11kg, whether it was rounded off or up), we selected the 11 to 20kg for his flight. His ticket price when we flew from Sydney to Melbourne in late 2019 was $115, compared to our tickets which were $117 each.

At the Virgin Cargo depot in Sydney

(In retrospect, we should have chosen the lighter weight category, and saved $20. When dropping him off at the freight terminal, he weighed a little under 10kg. We were told at the time of booking we could get a refund if he weighed less, but there isn’t a proper process for this, and it took a long time to receive the refund, after calling and filling out a form online. On the other hand, if he weighed more, I’m sure we would have simply been charged extra when dropping him off.)

With REX, if your pet is flying as excess baggage, the price of flying your pet is based on the combined weight of your pet and their crate. The fee is the same as the regular excess baggage charge, $7.70 per kilo. So, if you are flying a 5kg pet in a 5kg crate, the charge will be $77.00. Rates for pets flying as cargo may differ.

Note also that these sample prices were for when our pet was flying on the same flight as ourselves (an accompanied pet price). The cost for flying a pet when you are not on the flight, such as when our pet was leaving quarantine in Melbourne and flying to meet us in Sydney, is slightly higher.

Buying a Flight Crate For Your Dog

The biggest step to prepare your pet for their flight is choosing a crate. As I mentioned above, you already need to find out the size crate your pet will fly in, plus often its weight, before booking your pet on their flight.

There are international guidelines on what size crate your animal should fly in. To determine the ideal size, check out this handy guide on the Qantas website. Also check out the guidelines listed on the Virgin page for extra requirements, such that two-part plastic containers must have the top and bottom secured by screws or nuts and bolts, rather than plastic clips.

Flying with a dog in Australia
My dog Schnitzel in his flight crate

However, I also feel it is best to test out the size of a crate in person, before making the final decision. The guidelines stipulate that there needs to be enough room for your dog to stand, sit and turn around in the crate. For this reason, it’s best to visit a large pet store with crates out on display, along with your dog. Qantas also have crates for purchase from selected domestic terminals (see the above link), that they recommend picking up a few days in advance.

The other alternative to purchasing a crate, especially if you’re just flying a single time with your dog, is to hire a crate. This is possible through some of the pet transport companies that operate in Australia (but only for domestic, not international, flights), usually if you are also booking your pet through the company. See more on flying with a pet transport company below. It is also possible to order pet crates for purchase from these companies.

As soon as you get a crate for your dog, familiarise them with the crate. Ideally, they will have been crate trained while a puppy, even if they are now flying in a different crate. Our dog Schnitzel was readily comfortable in his flight crate for this reason. Encourage them to spend time in their crate, including sleeping. One of the best training methods is to put their bowl at mealtimes in their crate.

Schnitzel loves his crate! That makes it a lot easier to fly with him

Other Steps to Prepare Your Dog For Their Flight

The biggest step to prepare your pet for their flight is to familiarise them with their crate, as mentioned above. This helps them to be comfortable in it, without stressing, while waiting for and on their flight.

Other steps that you should complete on the day of your pets flight include:

  • Take them for a walk, to help tire them out and increase the likelihood that they sleep on the flight
  • Only feed them a small meal or snack in the lead-up to their flight, ideally well before the flight.
  • Plus toilet them, as close to their flight at possible. I usually do this when dropping off my dog at the freight terminal – most have some nearby grass or gardens.
  • Put a water dish in their crate, that can be filled from outside – this is a requirement of air travel. Purchase this at the time you purchase their crate. Fill this up only when dropping off your pet, to minimise spillage. Or consider filling it with ice cubes, that will gradually melt during the flight.
  • Put something absorbent in their crate, such as a puppy pee-pad. I usually tape this to the bottom of the crate.
  • There are varying recommendations on whether to put anything else in your dog’s crate, but I usually like to add my dog’s favourite blanket, at the back of the crate away from the water dish.
  • On the top of your pet’s crate, attach a sheet of paper with key details: your pet’s name, your own name and contact phone number, the Airway bill number.
  • Don’t leave your pet’s collar, harness or leash attached when they are in the crate, as there is a risk these could be snagged and cause an injury (or worse) to your pet, while they are unattended in the plane’s hold. (Note that your pet will remain in its crate from drop-off to pick-up, they will not be removed by airline staff.)

Note that while many people consider sedating their pets, this is not recommended, unless your vet has specifically recommended it and has supplied a vet certificate (check with the airline first). The reason for this is that pets are more likely to experience breathing difficulties or other issues when they have been sedated, and actually are at greater risk.

Dropping Off Your Pet Before Their Flight

If you’re flying with your pet in Australia, forget about fronting up to the airport at the last minute, even if you’ve checked in online and are only travelling with carry-on luggage (other than your pet).

Typically, you need to drop your pet off between 120 minutes and 90 minutes before your flight is scheduled to depart, although this may vary with some airports and early morning flights – always review the details of your booking.

Flying Virgin with a dog in Australia
Dropping off Schnitzel at the Virgin Cargo depot in Sydney

Also keep in mind that the freight terminal where you need to drop off your pet may be up to 1km away from the actual domestic terminal where you check in, with the distance varying between airports and between Qantas and Virgin.

Review the paperwork that you will need to have when dropping off your pet. When we dropped off our pet to fly with Virgin, we were required to already be checked-in online (and present our boarding pass), plus present the Airway bill number and the completed and printed AVI acceptance checklist (as provided with the booking confirmation).

Flying Qantas with a dog in Australia
Ready for departure at the Qantas Freight terminal in Adelaide

When dropping off my dog to fly with Qantas, it was stated it was okay to have the shipper’s statement on your phone, rather than printed, but in fact I was able to complete the paperwork on a tablet instead. This may vary between terminals. In any case, have a copy of your pet’s booking confirmation, photo ID (for yourself!) and your own flight details (e-ticket or boarding pass), if you’re flying on the same flight.

At the freight terminal, they will generally check over your paperwork, get you to sign any extra forms and weigh your pet in their container. Cable ties and stickers will generally be attached to your pet’s crate.

If your pet is flying with excess baggage with REX, the process is simpler, as you don’t need to go to a separate freight terminal. Instead you head to the regular check-in counter. However, REX does recommend that you arrive earlier than usual.

Picking Up Your Pet After Their Flight

After your flight arrives and you exit from the terminal, you then need to pick up your pet from the freight terminal. Again, this may vary depending on your airline and the airport, with this not applying if your pet is flying as excess baggage with REX.

At Sydney Airport, the Qantas freight building is only a few hundred metres from where you exit the Qantas domestic terminal, even closer than the free pick-up area. However, at Melbourne Airport when picking up my dog after flying with Virgin I had to proceed to the Menzies Aviation building, about 1km away and that required me to put on a high-vis vest to enter.

The Qantas domestic freight terminal in Sydney, which also has customer car spaces.

Expect it to take at least 30-40 minutes before your pet is ready for pick up. Virgin state that it can take up to 30 minutes for your pet to arrive at the freight terminal and be ready for pick-up. On the other hand, Qantas advise that it generally takes 45 to 90 minutes on their website, and I think I read up to 60 minutes in a different document. When we arrived in Sydney, as the Qantas domestic freight terminal was so close, we beat our dog’s arrival, and we had to wait until about 40 minutes after our flight’s arrival.

Note that you don’t want to leave it too late after the flight’s arrival to pick up your pet. Virgin state that they will only hold your pet for 90 minutes after your flight’s arrival, after which they will contact a local pet care company (at your own expense), to minimise the period your pet spends in their crate. If you are worried about running late, have the phone number of the freight terminal where you are picking up your pet handy.

Need a rental car at your destination? Find out the pet policies of the main rental car companies in Australia

What About Using a Pet Transport Company?

You may also want to consider using a pet transport company to fly your pet within Australia. There are a number of reasons why you may want to consider this, including if you are unable to pick up or drop off your pet yourself before or after their flight, or if you’d prefer someone experienced in pet transport to handle the arrangements. A pet transport company may also be able to rent you a crate.

When my dog had to fly from Melbourne to Sydney following his stay in quarantine after flying back into Australia, I booked his transport and flight through Jetpets. They were able to pick him up from the quarantine facility, drive him to the airport, put him onto the flight, then afterwards we picked him up from the Jetpets office in Sydney.

The cost for this was $230, compared to the flight alone costing $115 when we later flew between Sydney and Melbourne with him (and this is the discounted rate for when your are flying on the same flight as your pets).

Pet transport companies that operate within Australia include Dogtainers and OzPets, as well as Jetpets.

Find out more about whether you should use a pet transport company

My Thoughts on Flying My Pet with Qantas and Virgin

I personally didn’t find there was much difference between flying my pet with Qantas or Virgin Australia within Australia. In both cases the procedures and steps are similar, although with slight differences. The prices are also fairly similar. The biggest difference between the two is that you can book your pet’s transport with Qantas online, while you need to call the Virgin call centre to book your pet.

Both experiences went quite smoothly. The biggest possible issue was that there was a heat wave in Adelaide the November day we flew back from Adelaide to Sydney. I called up the Qantas freight call centre a day or two before our flight, to see if I should move my dog onto an earlier flight, and ended up waiting over 30 minutes on hold. (After the wait, I knew why there was an option to press 1 if your pet was flying that day!)

The staff member I spoke to was reassuring (perhaps a little too reassuring!), and we ended up going ahead with the original flight, partially as I know my dog and that it’s fine with hot weather. (He likes to sunbake himself even on hot, sunny days.)

At least with that flight I knew for certain my dog was on it! When flying from Sydney to Melbourne, due to the frequency of the early morning flights between the two cities, I was a little paranoid he may have ended up on the flight before or after. (I should have asked a flight crew member when boarding.) But when boarding the Qantas flight, the crew member saw my dog’s photo on my phone (where I had the boarding pass), and let me know he was safely onboard, and joked he had been asking for canapes!

Waiting to board our Qantas flight in Adelaide

I recommend choosing the airline that you prefer, or that has flights at the best time of the day. During the summer months, plus year round in the tropical parts of Australia, it is best to fly early in the morning or in the evening, to avoid hot weather. If you’re flying with your dog in summer, read my full list of tips.

Unfortunately, I haven’t yet flown with REX, with or without my dog.

Further Information

For more information on flying your pet with Qantas within Australia:
https://www.qantas.com/au/en/travel-info/baggage/travelling-with-pets.html
https://freight.qantas.com/pets/pets-domestic-travel.html

For more information on flying your pet with Virgin Australia within Australia:
https://www.virginaustralia.com/au/en/plan/specific-needs-assistance/pets/

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Flying with a Dog in Australia

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