How To Modify A Pet Carrier For Airline Travel

Umbrella cockatoo Linus

Before we begin, let me tell you a story…

Once upon a time, Linus, my very headstrong umbrella cockatoo, used to live with the Womachs. He was part of Dave’s show which occasionally required air travel – nothing new for a bird, except when it involves an airplane. On one occasion, Linus was lost by the airline for nearly two days, during which time he was exposed to something that made him ill. He never quite forgave Dave or Jamie for this and he became aggressive with them because, to his way of thinking, they are hateful people who purposely arranged for his suffering.

In the Womach’s search to find a new home for Linus, they found me – I just happened to have a home that was searching for a Linus. So he boarded another flight, arrived in a strange city and was once again not picked up at the airport by Dave. Instead, he got me and he let me know for months just how unsatisfactory this new arrangement was. I have the scars and hearing loss to prove it.

Of course, he eventually grew comfortable with his new surroundings and his new caretaker. I like to think he’s grown to love me, if a bird is capable of that. However, when we moved to Orlando two years ago to house-sit for them, he was reunited with the Womachs. It wasn’t a touching reunion. A cockatoo never forgets – there was payback to be delivered and he made it his mission to make everyone as tense as possible.

Dave and Linus

Fast forward. The Womachs are coming home again after a long, hard two years on the road with Ringling. I will be staying on at the house for a bit while we work on some projects, but it would simply be too stressful for all involved to have Linus stay here as well. He knows how to make life difficult when he’s of the mind to, but in doing so ultimately makes it most difficult on himself.

So, he is going on vacation in New Mexico for the duration. He will be staying with a friend who is well suited to dealing with a cockatoo of Linus’…um…demeanor. She is aware that he may lose it when I don’t meet his plane personally. I am aware that I may not be forgiven for this for a long time…

Modifying a kennel for parrot air travel:

Different airlines, as well as different airports, have strict rules when it comes to the containment of animals for flight. Here in Orlando the two main requirements are regarding the size and the construction of your kennel:

  • Size requirements are that the kennel should be larger than your pet so that no part of its body touches the sides or top when he is standing in the center.
  • With regards to construction, and this is important for we bird owners, the kennel cannot have a plastic door or latches. The doors must be made of metal, and if the latches holding the two halves of the kennel together are plastic, metal bolts must be installed to secure the halves together.

Believe me, these are good rules.You don’t want your bird chewing his way out of the front door in mid-flight, nor do you want, at any time, for the carrier to come apart.

Carrier halves bolted together

I installed a wood dowel perch that I wound with vet wrap to give it traction and comfort. I used a perch diameter just smaller than one I would use in his cage to allow for a good grip during bumpy parts of his journey. I placed it low in the cage so that it is just a mere step to the ground should he lose balance at any time.

Perch in lower half

Since scientists are too busy, apparently, to develop the “force field”, I further modified my carrier by bolting 1/2″ wire mesh outside of the vents on the sides and back of the carrier. A large parrot can chew his way out of a plastic kennel in no time, these vents provide starter holes. I attached the mesh to the outside because it is galvanized and contains zinc.

Wire mesh before it is bolted on

Inside view of attached mesh

I attached dishes to the door that are small but deep. I chose deep dishes because they hold enough food and water when filled only half-way to avoid spillage.

Dishes and more zip ties!

You may have noticed that I have a fondness for zip ties – even when their use is redundant. I do think fastening the door to the side of the cage puts them to good use, though. I don’t want anyone to opening up the cage without me present and should Linus chew on the part of the carrier where the doors are attached, the door is still safely secured to the sides and top (unless he chews on the zip ties too). I tend to think his mind will be elsewhere during his flight (like on who will be made to pay for this latest atrocity). I miss him already.

Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987. 


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