Flying with a pet snake domestically and internationally isn’t as it is with another pet. Airlines are prepared for dogs and cats, but there aren’t many are reptile-friendly airlines.
You can’t take snakes in the cabin with you, but you can check them in as luggage. You’ll have to meet the regulations of the airliner you’re flying with, and make sure it’s legal to bring your snake with you to your destination. A safer option is to send the snake through the mail.
There are several issues with flying with a snake. A snake with stringent temperature requirements might get too cold in the cargo hold. There’s also a chance that their enclosure could be improperly handled by baggage handlers. Pet snakes can die during flights, although it’s unlikely to happen.
Can You Fly with a Snake?
You can’t fly with a snake as carry-on luggage. These regulations are in place because a snake that gets free is excellent at hiding. The snake could hide somewhere on the plane, or even somehow get into the wall of the plane, and would pose a risk to the electrics.
And while snake owners know that the majority of pet snakes are nothing to be afraid of, the rest of the public don’t. If somebody with a fear of snakes had to sit next to you, they might have a panic attack, even if it’s just a ball python or corn snake. So, in the interest of the safety of the people around you and the safety of the plane, snakes aren’t allowed in the cabin.
Until recently, an exception was made for support animals. Unfortunately, people started to take advantage of this loophole and bring animals onto flights.
People would bring their regular dogs on board, to avoid the $200 charge of checking them in. Others would bring in anything from monkeys to peacocks.
That’s why each airline has started to crack down on support animals, and now regulates which animals ‘count’ and which don’t. Unfortunately, snakes are one of the ones that don’t.
Despite not being allowed in the cabin, snakes are allowed to be checked in like other pets, provided that you meet specific regulations. These relate to the kind of enclosure your pet is in, and how secure it’s kept, as well as the animal’s welfare.
Airlines That Allow Snakes
Of the major airlines that serve U.S. airports, none allow snakes in-cabin anymore. They haven’t ever been allowed in the cabin as dogs or cats have, and recently, each airline stopped allowing ‘emotional support snakes’ on board too. However, each airline allows them to travel in a crate as checked-in baggage.
Let’s take a look at the airlines that permit snakes, and the regulations that each of them requires. Here’s a quick chart to get you started:
American Airlines Snake Policy
American Airlines’ general pet policy states that only dogs and cats are allowed to travel with you in-cabin. People were allowed to travel with non-venomous snakes in the cabin provided they were emotional support animals, but since July 1st, 2018, this has been prevented. Any animal that could pose a risk to others on the flight, or to the plane itself, has been restricted since then.
However, you can fly a snake as checked-in baggage. To travel with a snake, their enclosure has to meet AA’s specifications. It has to be made of wood, metal, plastic or something similar. It needs a secure metal door that’s shut with cable ties.
As per federal regulations, you’ll also have to provide written certification that your pet has been fed and offered water within four hours of the flight. AA allows pets to either travel as checked baggage, or on cargo flights.
Flying with a checked-in pet on American Airlines costs $200 per enclosure, or $150 to Brazil. You should always check for price changes as prices change frequently.
Delta Snake Policy
Delta allows small dogs, cats, and household birds to fly with you in the cabin. You will have to ship your pet as cargo if you want to fly Delta.
According to Delta’s website, you can only book 14 days in advance, and there’s no guarantee that your snake will be shipped on the same flight as you fly on.
You can’t fly with your snake as checked baggage, so you’ll have to take the snake to a Delta Cargo location three hours or more before departure. Picking up your pet, you’ll have to head to the Delta Cargo location nearest your destination.
Their ‘kennel checks’ are similar to American Airlines’ policies. Your snake travel carrier has to allow the snake room to move around, and have something absorbent lining the bottom. The door to the cage has to be tied with zip ties.
We wouldn’t recommend Delta to fly with your pet, because there are stories about pets that die mid-flight when traveling with Delta but it’s unclear why that’s the case.
Southwest Airlines Snake Policy
Only small, vaccinated domestic cats and dogs are allowed in the cabin of Southwest flights.
Unfortunately, no pets whatsoever are allowed as checked baggage or cargo. That means if you want to fly with a snake, there’s no way that Southwest can help you.
United Airlines Snake Policy
United Airlines allow more pets in-cabin than other airlines do. Small dogs and cats, as well as rabbits and household birds, are all allowed in the cabin with you.
United Airlines also don’t specify anywhere in their cargo policy what their attitude towards traveling with snakes is. Their PetSafe program, introduced after many pets died flying with United Airlines, only specifically mentions cats and dogs. Snakes aren’t allowed. It’s unclear whether you could ship a snake as regular cargo, however.
Even if you could, flying your snake with United Airlines could be a bad decision. Of all the airlines, United is the worst for pet deaths. In 2017, a total of 500,000 animals flew with their owners somewhere new. Of those, 24 died while in transit. 18 of those were due to United Airlines.
Other Airlines’ Snake Policies
There isn’t an airline that allows snakes in the cabin with you. The best you’ll find is that you can have them travel as cargo on the same flight as you fly. Other airlines’ policies include:
- Air Canada: accepts a wide range of live animals for cargo shipping, including snakes. They have similar container requirements to other airlines.
- Alaska Airlines: Alaska Airlines specifically state that they allow “non-poisonous” reptiles to fly as cargo or checked-in baggage.
- JetBlue Airways: JetBlue doesn’t allow animals to fly as cargo. Since they don’t allow snakes in the cabin, this means you can’t fly JetBlue and take your snake with you.
- Spirit Airlines: Like JetBlue, Spirit doesn’t allow snakes as cargo, so you can’t fly with them.
- WestJet: WestJet allows snakes as cargo, but not as checked baggage.
As you can see, the policy varies wildly between airlines. So, if your airline isn’t listed here, give them a call rather than assuming they will or won’t carry your snake.
Restrictions on Flying with a Snake
Do bear in mind that just because the airline states in their policy that you can travel with a snake, that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to.
Individual states and other countries restrict travel with, and import/export of wildlife. Hawaii, for example, allows you to bring snakes or reptiles to Hawaii, because if they were to get loose, they could cause damage to the local ecosystem.
You have to make sure that it’s legal to bring your snake with you to your destination. Many parts of the world will prevent you from bringing pets with you at all.
Others enforce quarantine after you arrive, and may even charge you for the privilege. These laws differ all around the world, so do your research before you travel to find out which laws apply to you.
How to Transport a Snake Long Distance
This section is all about tips on traveling with a snake. No matter which airline you fly, certain things hold true.
1) Beware Baggage Handlers
Baggage handlers are notorious for not taking proper care of baggage when it’s loaded or unloaded. It’s understandable why. They’re under time pressure, having to unload everything from a plane as quickly as possible so that it can head off on its next voyage.
Either way, this results in damaged possessions and insurance claims. When it’s a guitar or an antique that’s broken, that’s one thing. But to put your pet in danger is another. Bear this in mind when you have to fly. All you can do is put stickers on your snake’s traveling enclosure.
Besides that, if the enclosure isn’t adequately secured in the hold, then there’s a chance it could shake or move around. This could hurt your snake too, especially if their cage isn’t as robust as it should be.
2) Heating Pet Snakes During Transportation
It can get awfully cold in the cargo hold of a plane. A pet like a cat or a dog can about manage, because they produce their own body heat. But a snake can’t do that, and even on a short flight, the cold can hurt them.
A pet incident report made by American Airlines described a snake that died at some point before their owner picked them up. Since no damage was reported to the box they were kept in, it’s possible that they died as a result of getting too cold.
You only really have one option for keeping your snake warm during their flight. You have to use something like hand warmers, which you crack and break, and keep warm for hours. Better ones will stay warm for up to three days. The amount of heat that these give off is limited, so they won’t burn your snake. They also don’t pose a danger for the plane.
You can’t use a battery-operated heat mat, even if you can find one. You may also be able to find heat rocks that are battery operated, although these aren’t a good choice for snakes anyway. Airlines won’t allow you to check in anything that uses batteries that’s switched on.
3) Make Sure Their Enclosure Fits the Bill
When you’re flying with a snake, their enclosure is the most important thing about the whole process. First, the enclosure has to be suitable for your snake.
It needs to keep them warm during their long flight. It also has to be comfortable for them, so that they don’t stress out during the flight. But there are limits to what’s necessary of course, since it’s unlikely that a snake will get stressed just by being on a flight, like other pets can.
In terms of airline regulations, it depends on how your snake flies. If you’re sending them as cargo, i.e., on a cargo flight, then you can keep them in a regular box. If you’re checking them in as baggage on a commercial flight, then they’ll have to meet commercial kennel regulations.
These regulations typically require that:
- The enclosure is large enough for the pet to turn around in and sit in comfortably
- The enclosure is made of wood, plastic, metal or something similar
- The enclosure has a metal door, secured at both the top and bottom with bolts or screws, and that this door is kept closed with zip ties throughout the flight
- There’s no way to escape from the enclosure, i.e., a gap between the door and the walls of the enclosure that’s big enough for the animal to fit through
The only issue is that kennel regulations often require that the enclosure is lined with something absorbent other than aspen shavings or similar. If you regularly house your snake in aspen, they’ll have to make do with paper towels for a few hours.
Alternatives to Flying with a Snake
If you have to travel with your snake, there are alternatives. You should especially think of ways to travel where you can be with your snake at all times.
The most obvious way is to drive to your destination. You can keep the snake in their enclosure in the backseat, and not have to worry about anybody’s reaction, or about baggage handlers hurting your pet.
Alternatively, you could take the train. This depends on how big your snake is. If you have a baby ball python or corn snake, for example, you can keep them in a small enough enclosure to sit on your lap. You could even put them on the seat next to you, provided that there’s room on the train. But if you have a big reticulated python that you need to travel with, obviously you won’t be able to get them on any public transport.
You could also leave your snake at home. Snakes don’t need constant attention, and they can happily get by without eating for a week or two. Just make sure that you feed them right before you go, and depending on the species, they would probably be fine for the duration of your holiday. Check our care guides for more specific information.
Your best option would be to get somebody to pet-sit your snake. A friend or relative who knows how to feed and care for a snake is best. Don’t let anyone pet-sit your snake if they don’t know how to care for one.
Shipping a Snake Through the Mail
The best alternative, though, is to ship your snake through the mail. Breeders that ship their snakes across the country will always use the mail, since it’s safe, reliable and doesn’t harm the snake if done right. You can even ship snakes internationally.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to how it’s done:
- To ship your snake through the mail, start with a brand-new cardboard box. Line the inside of it with insulating foam, or a similar insulating material. The foam should be at least ¾” thick. Make sure that there are a couple of small holes in the box, or gaps that air can come in through. It’s vital that your snake can breathe.
- The snake should be kept inside a breathable fabric pouch, so that they’re comfortable and can still move around just enough. The pouch will stop them from getting loose inside the box, and potentially getting through one of the gaps.
- You should surround the pouch with a loose, insulating material to keep it in place. This is the primary protective layer around your snake. It ensures that any bump or jostle doesn’t directly hurt your snake. It’s all absorbed by the loose layer. It’s essential to pack the pouch in tight enough that it can’t slip or slide, but also not too tight that the snake can’t move or breathe. Shredded newspaper and foam balls are good materials to use.
- To keep your snake warm, you could include a heat pack. Don’t include one if the box is too small, though, and doesn’t give the snake room to get away from it. Think of the box like their enclosure. It should have a warmer area, near the heat pack, and a cooler side. If you are using a heat pack, don’t allow it to come into direct contact with the snake or the pouch they’re in.
Each shipping company has its own rules and regulations, but this is generally the best practice.
Shipping Snakes Through USPS
The USPS, UPS, and FedEx all allow for the shipping of live animals. But each has different regulations. The USPS requires that a reptile shipped through its service can’t be any longer than 20 inches in length, but this requirement doesn’t apply to snakes.
The package must also be secure so that the animal can’t escape, and ventilated so that they can breathe, and marked “Live Animals,” “Live Snake” or something similar.
These regulations are detailed under USPS Publication 52 – Hazardous, Restricted, and Perishable Mail (Exhibit 526.6 for details on the specific requirements for reptiles).
Shipping Snakes Through UPS
Unfortunately, UPS specify that they won’t accept snakes for transportation. This includes both venomous and non-venomous snakes.
Other prohibited animals include all birds, all mammals, any ‘obnoxious insects’ like flies and locusts, and anything poisonous or venomous. These regulations are in place to prevent damage to other mail, to the environment, or to mail workers.
Shipping Snakes Through FedEx
Like the USPS, you can ship snakes through FedEx. However, there are strict regulations in place. According to the FedEx website, all shipments have to be approved by the FedEx Live Animal Desk, and packages must be sent from one business to another. Household pets aren’t accepted.
There are good reasons to feel uncomfortable dealing with regulations like these. There’s always the potential that your package will somehow fall foul of FedEx, because you forgot to affix some label or other. The website ShipYourReptiles.com helps by providing you with containers, labels, and everything else you might need to ship a reptile. ShipYourReptiles.com uses FedEx.
As a rule, you should avoid shipping your snake at any point during the winter. The cold weather increases the risk that your pet could get injured, or worse. You should also opt for the quickest shipping available, whether overnight or next-day.
Your snake will be safer, it’s cheaper than flying, and your snake could be at your destination before you are. Just make sure to arrange with your hotel or hosts beforehand, and let them know you’ll have a package arriving for you. And prepare for the worst-case scenario by learning where you can pick up an undelivered parcel.
Here are some of the health risks for snakes. Learn about these before flying with a pet snake.