This Is How We Care For Your Flying Pets

Posted by at 09:30

A bull aboard a plane? Can you imagine? Neither can I. Yet, when KLM in 1924 became the first airline in the world to transport a live animal, the beast in question was a bull named Nico. Animal transportation has been a KLM speciality ever since. Let me tell you more.

Each year, KLM transports ten of thousands of animals. Some might be tigers or zebras traveling between zoos, but most of the animals on board aircraft are pets traveling with their owners.

Traveling with pets

We often get questions on social media about traveling with cats and dogs. If you are traveling via Amsterdam with a transfer of 2 hours or more, your cat or dog will automatically be accommodated in the Air France KLM Martinair Cargo Animal Hotel. This is one of the largest and most modern animal hotels in the world and has been designed to ensure animals have a comfortable, hygienic and relaxed stay between flights. While their owners enjoy a cup of coffee in the airport, the animals are fed and watered and occasionally walked by one of the hotel staff.

animal transportation

I decided to go and see for myself. I am meeting Raymond Tilburg, the cheerful KLM Cargo Product Manager, responsible for the transportation of live animals on Air France, KLM and Martinair.

He hands me safety shoes and a jacket – not particularly fashionable, but required attire at KLM Cargo departments, where heavy objects are being moved about all the time.

Flying horses

When we enter the hotel, three blue KLM containers block the entrance. A horse sticks its head out inquisitively as we walk by, while its stablemate takes a bite from the big bale of hay hanging from the ceiling. “These horses have just come in for a short stay, before flying on to their next destination”, Raymond explains. “Giving them hay and water keeps them relaxed and makes sure they are fully fed before they continue their journey.”

animal transportation

The cat and dog suites

The hotel, which is situated in a large, light warehouse, has many different spaces for all kinds of animals. When we enter the “dog suite” – a large room with kennels and equipment, like collars and leads – we are greeted by Mila, a little brown Yorkshire Terrier, who excitedly sticks her nose through the kennel door.

On top of her kennel is a bag of food. “Some passengers think their dog hasn’t had anything to eat when they see the bag is untouched when they arrive,” Raymond says. “This is a misconception, as the pets are actually very well fed and hydrated before travel. The food is left on top just in case, to make sure there is always something for them to eat, in case the flight has to make an unplanned stop-over for example.”

How to prepare your dog for its journey

As well as food, I see travel documents on each of the kennels. These contain information about the dog’s destination, health and other particulars (Mila, for example, can get a bit nervous around larger dogs). “Travelling with a pet requires a lot of preparation”, Raymond says. “It can take up to four months to get all the documents, vaccinations and health checks in place, depending on the destination.”

A very important item is the kennel, which has to meet strict criteria. Luckily, there are always extra kennels on site to replace kennels which are not fit for travel. Besides practical items, you can also take an extra blanket or toy for your dog to keep it warm and happy.

animal transportation

Walk in the park

The hotel does everything it can to perk the pets up before they travel. Dogs will be taken out for a short walk to stretch their legs and get some fresh air, before being put back in their kennels to relax.

I ask if dogs get sedated before their flight. “Absolutely not”, Raymond replies. “We always make sure the animals are fully rested while they’re here, so that they stay awake during the flight. For a pet, waking up in a strange place, can be very stressful for him. And you don’t want to take any health risks.”

I can’t resist taking Mila out for a little walk and, while I do, I ask Raymond if specific conditions have been created in the cargo compartment of the aircraft to make it suitable for animals. “Dogs and cats are transported in a separate area. The cockpit crew makes sure the temperature in the animal compartment is always 18 degrees Celsius and has lots of fresh air.”

animal transportation

The animal attendants

There’s a lot of activity in the hotel. While one employee checks a large wooden crate of rattlesnakes (which we can hear very loudly – not something I’m particularly comfortable with), another is walking a dog or taking care of recently arrived hamsters.

One of the animal attendants is Leonard Visser, who just got back from accompanying a horse to China. “This isn’t just any old job”, Leonard says animatedly. “We fly around the world accompanying animals like horses and zoo animals on their flights. We make sure they are fed and have had enough rest – flights can be quite stressful for animals. We stay with them during landing and take-off and generally treat them as if they were our very own.”

animal transportation

As we walk back to the hotel entrance, Raymond’s phone rings: loud insect chirping, monkey hoots and the buzz of a rainforest suddenly fill the air. “You just have to love animals”, he says, as his jungle ringtone rings on.

I check Mila’s kennel one last time and go home, more than reassured that she is in good hands.

– Aisha –

If you enjoyed this, you might also like our blog on the early days of animal transportation.

22 Responses to This Is How We Care For Your Flying Pets

  1. Roger

    This is great news. We are going back and forth to the US at least twice a year and have our last overseas flight back home in the foreseeable future. At that point we will travel with our Yorky. Good to know that you have the dog hotel at Amsterdam. We have flown KLM most of our travels and now know which Airline will take us back home. Thanks for sharing this article.

    • Aisha

      Hi Roger! Good to hear you like to travel with us! We’re looking forward seeing you and your Yorky on board in the future. If there is anything you want to know about the hotel or if you have any other questions, you can always contact us via Facebook and Twitter!

  2. Roxana

    We travel frequently to Lima by Klm. Now that we are retired, we plan to continue travelling but for longer stays, is it possible to take along our pet, shit-zu dog, 5 kgs in cabin together with us? We use to book Comfort Seats considering the long flight.

  3. Brian Jacob

    Our dog Holly (a Australian catttledog mixed) has been travelling with KLM on more than 10 flights (including 2 10hrs flights).. We feel guilty for her each time but she seems to be alright! She has been most of the time travelling with other dogs in the cargo hold which makes us feel better (dog party in the plane!). @ KLM, could you post an article about the cargo hold itself? I believe a lot of people would.like to see what kind of environment our lively ones are travelling into. For the rest great job, KLM is the best when it comes to travelling with pets!! Cheers to the all crew that make sure they arrive safe and sound!

    • Aisha

      Wow, Holly sounds like an experienced traveller, Brian! I can assure you that she and theother animals on board are very well taken care of, so no need to feel guilty at all ;)

      Thanks for your suggestion, we were actually thinking of writing about cargo in the future, so keep checking our blog and social media channels. And thanks a lot for your kind words, we do our best to make sure everyone has a smooth trip. See you soon (with Holly), hopefully!

  4. Doris

    I am planning for a relocation and thus would see if i can take my cat with me from Hong Kong to Amsterdam, in cabin together. Would you contact me further for this?

    • Aisha

      Hello Doris, we’d like to assist you with this. Could you please send us a Facebook message or tweet with your question? Thank you!

  5. Sue Gray

    I am a WestJet retiree and have dealt with guests travelling with their pets. This story and the handling of the animals is fantastic! Wish more airlines took this initiative.
    Way to go KLM!! Very impressive! !

    • Aisha

      I’m a bit jealous you got to see so much cute animals during your career, Sue ;) The key to handling animals daily is to love having them around, which we do. Thank you very much for your sweet words!

  6. Ria de Vos

    I always fly KLM when i travel with my dogs. I lived in Qatar for 5 years and now i live in Houston USA for the last 2 years. At least twice a year i travel to Holland with both my dogs and always with KLM because they are the best i have never ever had problems whatsoever. i always recomment KLM if flying with animals.

    • Aisha

      Thanks for your kind words, Ria! Good to have you and your two little world travellers on board with us.

  7. Tammy Bravo

    I’m glad to know about this, my daughter will be traveling with our pet soon and it’s almost for sure we will book with you, thanks for the info!!

    • Aisha

      Awesome, Tammy ;) Will you let us know if they had a good trip?

  8. Victoria

    Hi KLM! This makes me so happy to read! Between ages 7-14 i flew several times a year with your unaccompanied minor programme and it made it so much easier to go between my parents, so naturally it figures you guys have to be awesome with pets as well! Definetly know who I’m using when taking my puppy with me in future travels!!

  9. elva

    Hi,
    I will be traveling to Amsterdam from LAX. Do you know what the procedures are or how the dogs are taken care of before departure in Los Angeles? this will be the first time my dog is flying and she is a nervous dog. So I am really concerned about her. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

  10. Maribu

    Hi,
    I live in Amsterdam with my dog(10yo, a Labrador). I am going back to Japan with KLM on KLM flight next year. I know that my dog has to stay in the Cargo but I am wondering if there is some special service to take care my dog during the flight? I read this article about the Horse which is taken care by an animal-attendant, I would like to know if there is any way to have this animal attendant services to take care my dog on the flight?
    Please give me some advice. Thank you.

    • KLM

      Hello Maribu, how exciting you are going to fly with your dog. When your dog will be transported in the hold, no animal attendant is available. Please note that we do our utmost to make the flight or your dog as comfortable as possible. If you have any further questions, please let us know.

  11. Larysa

    We are flying from Kiev to Taipei with a transfer in Amsterdam on November 23rd of 2016 with our 2 dogs and 1 cat.. Dogs are: Tibetan mastiff and Russian toy dog… Can we see them during transferring in Amsterdam? Should they go to the hotel during transfer? Worry about our pets since it’s their first travel experience.. How you would suggest us to do? Can we book any assistant to be with our Pets during their transfer? Thank you:)

  12. Marie Dellatola

    HOW MUCH WILL IT COST TO FLY A SMALL JACK RUSSEL DOG FROM CAPE TOWN TO SEATTLE? BECAUSE OF THE LONG FLIGHT AND MY AGE I STAY OVER IN AMSTERDAM FOR ONE NIGHT. I am flying to Seattle on the 1st of Sept is it too late to get my dog on the same flight.?

  13. carl

    We are flying into AMS on September 13th and arriving at 12:45 pm and then departing the following day at 3:25 pm on another KLM flight to Ghana. Can our dog still stay there? I called the KLM reservation number to reserve room on the flight and to try to reserve the overnight at the hotel but was told that the time is restricted to 24 hours at the hotel. The reality is that our dog probably would not be in the hotel more than 24 hrs between unloading the arrival plane and loading the departure plane the following day. We are staying at a hotel overnight in central and cannot take the dog with us. If we can’t what do you suggest? We have heard great things about your pet hotel and are hoping that he can stay there. Thank you.

  14. Stephanie

    I’ve had a terrible experience transporting my pet and the only response I received from KLM was a link to this blog?

    I travelled with my dog in the hold from Kigali, Rwanda to Washington Dulles using KLM for both flights on May 18th. As my layover was 6 hours long, my dog spent that time at the Pet Hotel. I understand that such a long journey is stressful on a pet (and the owner as well), but I was concerned by several thing I noticed upon arrival at Washington Dulles:
    1. The Pet Hotel “Last fed/given water” sticker was not filled with any information
    2. My dog was extremely dehydrated
    3. The kibble which I’d attached to the crate using a ziplock bag, had not been touched or fed to my dog
    Will you please explain how the dog is cared during the pet hotel stay? Do you give him food of your own? Water? If the sticker is not filled, does that mean my dog was given nothing? When I’ve asked KLM staff in the airport and through the 800 number, I’m given a rather robotic response of “KLM takes great care of pets in transit…” but specific information is limited. My original plan was to travel back with my dog in July, but I’m now feeling less confident.

  15. Tamara

    Hi! We are relocating to America and taking our Terrier Penny with us on KLM (BTW, when it comes to travelling with pets, there is no question about which airlines to pick! Kudos to KLM team and many thanks).

    We have a 7 hour layover in Amsterdam – would it be possible to visit our dog Penny at the hotel during this period?

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