For many of us, the Thanksgiving holiday is an annual act of endurance. After all, the pilgrimage to the family table is fraught with no small measure of stress –– and that’s infinitely more likely when the table in question is far away, like mine. And for those of us who have pets, the prospect of a Thanksgiving sojourn is especially daunting.

Some of us embark on this annual adventure with our full pack in tow. Others, acknowledging their non-superhuman status, take only one or two pets along. But the bulk of us (myself included) leave the whole brood behind. The prospect of crowded airports and holiday mayhem for just a few days away doesn’t bode well for my sanity.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that I haven’t developed strategies for dealing with the angst, especially since I’ve almost always had cause to travel with pets in the friendly skies.

So for those of you getting ready to take the holiday plunge, here are five tips for flying with pets:

Check Your Airline’s Pet Policies

The vagaries of airline rules and restrictions offer the possibility of the single most potentially devastating blow to your travel plans. You’d be surprised at how much you need to know if you’re planning to take your pet aboard a plane. For example, Bulldog breeds and Pit Bull types aren't allowed in cargo on some airlines. Others have weight restrictions.

Scope Out Airport Potty Spots

The location of animal relief areas is a great thing to read up on in advance, such as American Airlines’ partial online list.

Avoid Heavy Travel Days

I know it’s probably too late for most Thanksgiving travelers, but the Wednesday before and the Sunday after turkey day are the absolute worst days of the year to travel — for humans and for their pets — due to high travel volume. In December, it's the weekend preceding Christmas Day, which falls on a Tuesday this year. So if you can, try and book less busy days. 

Consider Your Pet's Condition

As I've mentioned above, some breeds just aren't equipped to fly in cargo. Rather than risk your pet's health — heat exhaustion is one concern when going the cargo route — be sure to check with your veterinarian before you make any plans to fly with your critter.

Don't Rely on Sedation

My general rule is that unless it’s an infrequent experience that can't be avoided, such as moving to a new home, pets who require sedation because of the inherent stress of travel probably shouldn't be flying.

Sedation is stressful on an animal’s body — tranquilizers compromise a pet's ability to adapt to a changing environment — so talk to your vet about whether it's best to skip the stress of travel and make arrangements for your buddy to stay at home.

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