Traveling with pets is always a hassle, no matter how cute they might be. It’s pretty common to bring smaller pets on a plane in what others may call dog purses but you call carrying containers.
But what if you need to transport an animal that’s slightly smaller, scalier and, well, wetter? In other words, can you bring a fish on a plane?
The simple answer is yes, in some cases. But there are a slew of logistics that complicate transporting an aquatic pet 40,000 feet in the air. Christie of NippyFish.net has a guide to end all guides regarding fishy carry-ons and, needless to say, it’s not as easy as putting the swimmy lil' dude in a mason jar.
And maybe this goes without saying, but the only fish that would survive a plane flight would be a betta or another fish equipped with a labyrinth organ that can breathe air.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, each airline has a different policy toward airborne fish. Some, such as Southwest, don’t even allow terrestrial pets, let alone a fish or frog. Others, such as U.S. Airways, definitely lets you bring your fish on board. And other airlines — like American, JetBlue and United — have lenient pet policies but don’t explicitly mention fish. Of course, some of the stringent guidelines about vaccination and kennel sizes would not even apply to a pet fish.
After you’ve booked a flight with an accommodating airline, there’s a couple of things you can do to ensure your fish has the least stressful airline experience (which is, after all, a kind of miracle in itself). In an email on Petfishtalk, Ellen G. details her own foolproof strategy:
“Most airlines allow tropical fish to come with you on the plane and will not charge you for carrying them. However, TSA is much less welcoming to fish. The new liquid volume limits are a challenge, but luckily bettas can survive for short periods of time in small volumes of water.
I buy a small 4-ounce Tupperware container for each of my fish. I fill it almost full with their tank water right before I leave for the airport, and put my fish in at the last minute. I then put both of these small containers in a 1-quart plastic Ziploc bag, as per TSA regulations. I also carry a small bottle of water conditioner in the Ziploc, and two clean, empty peanut butter jars in my backpack.
When you get to the airport, go through security immediately. DO NOT let the agents put your fish through the X-ray machine! I usually carry a printout of TSA’s guarantee from their website, saying they will never put your pet through the X-ray machine. I also carry a copy of the airline’s guarantee that pets are allowed on board, just in case.
Tell the agents that you are carrying tropical fish and that they are welcome to hand-check them if needed. They can also go through the metal detector if required. Some agents can be difficult — don’t back down! You obviously aren’t carrying cyanide or gasoline – otherwise, how could your fish be alive?
After I get through security, I head straight for the bathroom. I fill up the empty peanut-butter jars with tap water, leaving a couple inches of air at the top, then treat it with water conditioner. Do the math before you leave for your trip so you know how much conditioner to use. I put my bettas in the jars, and they are ready for the plane!”
Another disclaimer? All this is true in the United States, but the rules vary from state to state. And if you’re flying internationally? Better pick up the phone and place a call, because things get even trickier negotiating between airlines and countries. Or cut your losses and find your fish a new, safe home that you can walk to.