Once upon a time, a crazy parrot lady (me) thought it’d be a good idea to take her parrots a-traveling with her on an airplane. One would fly with her in the cabin, and one would fly via United’s Former Pet Safe Program (recently no longer accepts parrots), or as I’ll refer to it, in “steerage”.
Because it was just me, myself, and I (traveling alone), I was only allowed to bring one bird into the cabin with me; if I’d had a friend, we could have brought both and stuck them both under the seats in front of us, provided other animals weren’t already taking up the limited amount of animal space on the flight. Since I couldn’t fit them both under my seat in one cage, I had to pick which one would fly with me, and which bird would fly “steerage.”
My Ekkie, Louie, is a little more sensitive than Vi the Amazon–I once boarded him and had him groomed in the same few days, and once we took him home, he vomited from stress all night long.
Thus, Louie was the lucky bird I took with me in the cabin of the actual airplane.
Before You Go: Carriers/Preparation
The carrier pictured above is the Kaytee Come Along Carrier, Medium, Assorted Colors. Note that it’s a little smaller than the size United allows, but Louie the Eclectus (roughly 280 grams) fit just fine and relatively comfortably. In retrospect, I’d probably go for the large size, or another carrier of similar size.
Note that it absolutely MUST fit under the seat in front of you; they’re technically supposed to stay under your seat the entire flight.
For this reason, I recommend soft-sided carriers – they’re allowed to be a lot bigger (“18 inches long x 11 inches wide x 11 inches high” and are allowed to exceed these dimensions slightly since, “they are collapsible and able to conform to under-seat space without blocking the aisle”). Meanwhile, hard-sided carriers are allowed to be only “17.5 inches long x 12 inches wide x 7.5 inches high” (source). Note that other airlines might have different size requirements, so definitely ask when you call to book your birdy’s flight!
The Day Of: What To Bring in your Carry-On for the Cabin
-Extra paper towels. You don’t need the whole roll, but you’ll probably want to clean your bird (and his carrier) up before and after the flight. (You’re not allowed to take them out during the actual flight.)
-A Packet of Wet Wipes
-Baggie full of their favorite dry treats.
-Baggie full of Pellets/regular diet.
-Water-rich foods to feed intermittently, such as grapes, carrots, celery and apple slices. (I took mine in a plastic baggie through security).
-A few small food bowls (two or three is fine) if you want to change out food and water during the flight.
-DON’T bring a bottle of water for your birdy; you’ll have to throw it away when you go through security.
Check In – Arrive Early.
- Everyone is going to want to see what kind of “dog” you have. Pets on planes are kind of rare–it takes even longer when they realize you have an unexpected birdy companion! People will stop you and ask you about your bird constantly, so add an extra half hour to an hour to accommodate for this.
- Plan on going to the ticket counter, not a kiosk. Your pet will need their own boarding pass, which only the people behind the counter can print for you.
- You may have to go through a separate gate for security. At DIA, they frequently have drug and pet-sniffing dogs on duty; the scent of your parrot can throw the dogs off, so make sure you chat with whoever is directing traffic at the security line before you actually get in line. Alert them to the fact you have a birdy friend with you to make sure this is the right security checkpoint to go through.
- You have two options for going through security:
A. Take your bird out and walk him or her through a metal detector, or
B. Ask for a private screening.
If your parrot is super well-behaved, you have the option to take him or her out in the middle of the security line and just walk through a metal detector. They swabbed my hands for illegal substances, so you’ll have to pass your bird from one hand to another, but that’s all they did for me. No one took Louie from my hands (I held him the whole time) or touched him, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t for you.
If your parrot isn’t the best behaved or is easily stressed out, ask for a private screening. You’ll be escorted to a room where you will be asked to take your parrot out of his or her carrier.
I recommend the private screening, especially if your bird is super nervous; Louie is not as long as he is with me, so I walked him through the metal detector. If you do this, it may be a good idea to harness train your bird before flying if you opt for just the metal detector, as the last thing you want is your bird loose and flying around in the airport.
-Go buy a bottle of water to keep your friend hydrated through the flight.
Tips and Tricks for In-Cabin Travel
Arrive EARLY (Allow 3.5 hours instead of the standard 2 hours before-hand): If you want to take your feathered friend with you in the airplane cabin, I’d call ahead as early as possible, as only four pets are allowed in the cabin on any one flight. It’s not super common, but it’s important to consider. Additionally, some airplanes don’t have the appropriate legroom, so you’ll want to check what kind of plane you’ll be on ahead of time–the easiest way is to just call your airline when you book your parrot’s ticket.
Contortionist: You will need to be a rather flexible person to do this, or get an aisle seat; it’s not a comfortable ride since your feathered friend will take up a ton of leg room.
Small bird owners, you can carry two small birds in the same carrier with you; if I’d taken two cockatiels, for example, I’d have them share a carrier on my flight.
Cockatoo owners, I have bad news: your cockatoo isn’t allowed in the cabin. I’m sure this doesn’t exactly surprise you, since the soft fabric you need to fit under the seat won’t stand a chance.
A Happy Ending
Overall, Louie had no problems during the entire flight. I had him at my feet for take-off, fed him treats and gave me some water-rich foods he loves during the flight to make sure he was eating and hydrated. He didn’t make a sound; at one point, I was a little concerned so I opened his door a crack to check on him, and he tried to crawl right out (the guy next to me was not amused).
There you have it! Airplane travel in a nutshell.
A note: These tips all apply to flying United with a parrot. If you fly Delta, for example, you’ll need to call to get the right size recommendation for their flights. Delta also allows you to ship your parrot – read more about that on this page.