Our pets are capable of a trove of amazing feats, from protecting our homes to spearheading heroic rescue missions. One task they’re not quite adept at, however? Boarding a plane (and flying somewhere) by themselves.
And while many of us travel alongside our furry companions, of the two million pets that board commercial flights in the U.S. each year, some are accompanied by folks referred to as “flight nannies.” And if you need to transport a pet sans your physical presence for whatever reason, be it because you adopted a puppy from another state or are moving, they can be a particularly helpful resource.
“A reliable flight nanny can be a lifesaver for people looking to transport their pets,” explains Bethany Tate, a pet trainer and managing editor for Whole Pet Health. “I personally hired a flight nanny to assist with the transportation process for my pet dog that I got from another state. The reason I opted for this service was that I wanted my pet to be in safe hands.”
Here, flight nannies and folks who’ve hired flight nannies themselves break down what a flight nanny does, why you might want to hire one and how to find the best help.
Why might you hire a flight nanny?
Technically, you can transport a pet unattended on an aircraft via cargo (so, beneath the plane as opposed to being in the cabin). But as the U.S. Humane Society notes, while the majority of animals transported through cargo do just fine, it can be an enormously stressful event for an animal — and potentially even dangerous for certain breeds of pets or animals that are older or have disabilities.
So while a flight nanny might be a more costly option to transport an animal without the owner, it’s far more humane, says Simmi Jones, a professional flight nanny and owner of the pet blog Cat Food Point.
Here are a few key reasons why a person might need to hire a flight nanny:
- Moving a pet to the family’s new home (or their new home). “The most common case in which the services of a pet flight nanny come useful is when an owner needs to relocate their furry friend and wants to receive them in their new home in a different state or country,” says Dr. Sabrina Kong, a veterinarian, a dog trainer and veterinary consultant at WeLoveDoodles.
- Transporting a pet to an event. This might include dog or cat shows or a similar gathering, says Kong.
- Getting a pet care in a different state or abroad. A flight nanny would be critical if the pet needs medications administered or is in a particularly fragile state (and would have a condition worsen should the animal be stored in cargo).
- Sending pets to visit friends. In the case where ownership of a pet is shared among two people or families, a pet nanny can help facilitate transport.
What does a flight nanny do?
As Tate explains, the primary role of a flight nanny is to ensure the safe airline transport of a pet from one location to another. “They also need to have experience dealing with the needs of animals for the duration of the flight. For an animal lover, this can seem less like a job and more like a fun activity,” she adds.
Here’s a general breakdown of the types of responsibilities a flight nanny might carry out on their job:
Step 1: Transportation
This includes picking the pet up from the home, taking them to the airport and then bringing them to their final destination. “A flight nanny’s role is to pick up and deliver your pet from airport to airport,” explains Kong. “But most importantly, they’re there so your pet can travel in the cabin (in an airline-approved travel carrier, of course) and avoid flying in the rear of the plane where accidents occur quite frequently.”
Jones, who specializes in transporting cats from breeders to their new homes, notes that she starts her workday by immediately taking a picture of herself, the pet and the breeder to send to the new pet owners — so all parties have full transparency.
“I then supervise the pet while traveling and make sure it’s comfortable,” she says. “Lastly, I deliver the pet to the owner’s doorstep. The best part is that it’s such a fulfilling experience.”
Step 2: Tending to an animal’s needs throughout the journey
Like humans, pets will need to have basic needs met during travel — of which a credible flight nanny will be an expert at addressing. “Flight nannies should be there to tend to all of your fur babies’ needs during the flight,” Kong says. This might include feeding, using the bathroom or administering medications.
Step 3: Keeping in constant communication with the owner
Naturally, the notion of a beloved fur baby (or soon-to-be fur baby) traveling with a stranger might create some unease for pet parents. Jones says that a big part of her job is soothing those fears with constant reassurance of safety and comfort.
“Being a flight nanny is an extremely fun job — I just have to be alert because there is constant interaction between the pet owner and me via messaging,” explains Jones. “I act as the middleman between the breeder and the pet owners.”
How to find (and hire) the perfect flight nanny
There are a variety of ways to find a flight nanny — and will often depend on your location, the location your pet is flying to and the type of animal you own (or will own). There is no hard-set right way to find a flight nanny, our experts agree.
Use these four tips to find, and hire, the perfect flight nanny.
1. Use a credible flight nanny service
Dr. Amanda Takiguchi, veterinarian and founder of TrendingBreeds.com, often relies on agencies when she needs to transport her pets on airplanes — but cautions that pet owners shouldn’t rely on a flight nanny agency just because it exists.
Kong notes that doing extensive research on any agency is crucial. “The best way to hire a flight nanny for your pet is by doing an extensive search online and looking for the pet transport company with the best reviews and testimonials,” she notes.
Takiguchi recommends Pet Packers from personal experience. “I was very impressed with this company,” she recalls. “They had reasonable prices. Skyler, our flight nanny, was very professional, outgoing and kind. She kept us informed throughout the whole trip with pictures and texts. My puppies were delivered safe and sound to their new families.”
Here’s how a flight nanny service like Pet Packers works: Pet owners (or breeders) contact the agency with all the necessary information regarding their pet and its travel. The agency then identifies a flight nanny to assist with the transport.
It’s important to note that, when working with a flight nanny agency, you don’t get to choose your flight nanny — which might be (understandably) unnerving for many pet owners.
Here are a few additional agencies that Jones says pet owners can consider:
2. Scour social media
Looking to social media is one of Jones’ favorite tactics in finding a flight nanny. This might include posting on (or searching through) message boards for community- or breed-specific Facebook groups (ex: puppy “play groups” for French bulldogs in Los Angeles).
3. Get referrals from the pet community
As many of the folks we interviewed agreed, using a flight nanny who’s been employed by a close friend or family member is ideal. That said, Tate also recommends turning to experts for their insight. “A career as niche as a flight nanny can make the hiring process difficult,” she says. “It would be useful to look for contacts within local animal rescue organizations.” Another idea? Talk directly to your vet.
4. Run a background check prior to hiring
Jones cautions that, particularly with the transport of expensive pet breeds, there is always a chance for criminals — further heightening the importance of doing thorough research before employing a flight nanny. She warns, “Make sure you run a background check so that a scammer doesn’t receive your pet.”
Hiring a flight nanny: The bottomline
“Only pet owners can understand the stress they face when they leave their pets in somebody else’s hands,” says Jones. “Hiring a flight nanny for their pet can at least give them the comfort that their pet is under expert supervision. They’ll be in the safest hands because flight nannies are trained to take care of pets.”