How We Chose the Airline and Flight for Moving Our Pets to Spain

In Moving to Spain by JamieLeave a Comment


When you have to take your pets on an international flight, ideally you will want a non-stop flight with your pets in the main cabin with you. If you can arrange that, thank your lucky stars and book the flight.

When we moved to Spain with four large-ish cats and a long, tall dog, we weren’t going be tucking any of them under the seats in front of us. They’d be flying in the hold – an idea we hated but couldn’t work around.

Flying non-stop to Valencia wasn’t an option either. There were no non-stop transatlantic flights. And the small aircraft serving Valencia could not accommodate Lizzie’s large kennel anyway. So our choice was to fly into either Barcelona or Madrid and use ground transportation from there.

We selected a mid-September American Airlines flight (AA40) from Chicago O’Hare to Barcelona. We thought Flight AA40 would work for us on the basis of:

  • Likely weather conditions at departure and arrival
  • Total travel time
  • Airline Policy for Pet Care
  • Total Cost, including people

Weather Conditions

American Airlines uses to track the predicted air temperature at the departure and arrival site. It must be between 45 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. We delayed our transatlantic travel until mid-September because of the long hot summer of 2017. And we monitored long-term weather forecasts for both Chicago and Barcelona.

To be doubly sure, we selected a flight departure from Chicago scheduled for about 10:20 pm with arrival in Barcelona at about 1 pm -- before the worst heat of the day.

Just in case we couldn’t fly with our pets, my sister was kind enough to bring us to the airport -- five hours before our flight -- and wait until we were notified our pets were loaded which was about an hour before our departure. What a pal.

If you can swing it, I recommend buying a refundable ticket. That way you’ll be able to rebook your travel if the weather doesn’t cooperate. Travel insurance doesn’t cover this.

Flight Duration

By booking a substantially more expensive non-stop flight we figured our pets would be safer with only loading and unloading and no transfer between planes. At 8.5 hours our Chicago-Barcelona flight was the shortest duration we could find.

Airline Pet Care Policy & Total Cost

If we had been flying with our pets in the main cabin, I suspect we’d be delighted with our travel arrangements with American Airlines. But we weren’t.

I suspect we chose the wrong airline; we couldn’t get a straight story from American Airlines, despite six or seven phone calls and just as many emails.

As our travel day unfolded, our experiences went from disappointing to downright worrisome.

We learned that the American Airlines information desk had misled us on the capacity of our flight. We would have been better off sending our pets as checked baggage at less than $250 each instead of the nearly $850 each we paid to send them as cargo. We were disappointed in the total lack of preparedness of the cargo warehouse staff in Chicago and their cavalier attitude in handling live animals.

In the end, I will not subject my pets to another airline journey in the hold of the aircraft. I guess we'd all better get used to living on this side of the Atlantic then.

Fortunately, despite the uinnecessary cost we incurred and the troublesome treatment we received, we all made it to Valencia, safe and sound. And that's what really matters.


2021 Update

We returned to the United States with our two surviving cats in May of 2021. Teej is 20 years old and Ricco has 18 years.  This time we flew with Lufthansa and the cats  flew in the cabin.  An entirely different experience.
Jamie Wyant is a retired American.  After living in Valencia, Spain, he set out on a long, slow journey with his wife, Susan.  He writes about the joys and tribulations of living and traveling gently.  Jamie also manages the technical aspects of

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