Most of us are familiar with boarding procedures at airports- for humans.  But what about horses?


It turns out that some horses, when not galloping or out to pasture, occasionally fly to Europe.  They are not vacationing, exactly, but are travelling for specialized veterinary service (breeding, for example) or for work (in competitions and races).  If you haven’t seen a horse at the airport check-in line, this is because horses have separate facilities for boarding and transport.  These separate facilities make sense for the following reasons:


  • Horses are bigger and would not fit through regular metal detectors and scanners
  • It would be difficult and more time consuming for a horse to remove his or her shoes (this assumes that the horse does not have TSA Pre®)
  • For scanning of electronic equipment such as laptops or cell phones (assuming horses used such equipment), the devices would be much larger than those used by people


Horse boarding facilities are some distance from the airport.  The horse is loaded in a specially designed transit box.  Typically, two horses occupy each container.  Once secured, the horse container is moved by flatbed truck to the airport.  The (large) plane has a pressurized compartment separate from business class or coach. 


Going to Airport

Going to the airport  (all photos credit:  Eric Pheifer)


Horses do not fly alone, but are attended to by human owners, airline representatives, and/or volunteer grooms.  The attendants are provided access to the containers in the cargo area in the back of the plane, to periodically check up on them during the long flights.  In these special cabins, the horse passengers are provided water and food to munch on, probably hay and not prepackaged nuts.  It is not clear if horses can fly first class since there is only one cabin, without reclining seats or cocktails (apart from the virgin carrot juice variety). 


Passenger During Flight

A passenger during flight


My colleague, Eric, has helped attend to horses with his veterinarian wife on several trips.  He comments:


“The greatest thing was the look we got from people when we returned to our seats covered in hay and horse saliva. Many people were in disbelief that horses were back there.”


Horse Section

In flight, walking back to the horse section


Upon landing, the horses transit boxes are unloaded off the plane.  At a separate facility, horses wait in quarantine until they are ready to be inspected by a veterinarian. Then they get loaded on regular horse trailers and driven wherever they need to go.


Another article describing the overall procedure is here.


After the equine vacation is complete, it is time to repeat the process for the trip home.  It is not clear if all of the human perks are applicable for horses.  For example, would a horse receive frequent flyer miles?  Could it be combined on the family plan?  Clearly there are many more details for these complicated trips to be explored.