Advice on Flying the Pet-Friendly Skies

Two million animals travel on airplanes each year in the US, but a bit of forethought and prior planning goes a long way to ensure the trip is smooth sailing and not a horror story in the making.  It’s stressful and angering enough for an airline to lose your luggage, but to lose your dog?? Delta lost a dog on a flight from Mexico to Michigan this spring, striking fear into the hearts of pet owners everywhere.

To make sure your airline trip with your pet(s) is hassle-free, and most importantly, safe for all of you, follow the advice below, and your air travel will hopefully be free of turbulence (though we make no guarantees about the air-related kind)!

DO YOUR RESEARCH: Prices for pet air travel, as well as overall “friendliness” of pet travel policies can vary widely among airlines. Also keep in mind that airlines will only fly pets older than eight weeks and those that are in good health.

The top five most pet-friendly airlines, as rated by PetFinder in 2009, are as follows:

1.Continental tracks the pets from origin to destination with its “PetSafe” program for pets flying cargo. It’s pricier than other programs, but it’s climate-controlled, allows roomy carriers and has designated cargo staff.

2. JetBlue embraced pet-toting travelers when it launched JetPaws last summer. To display their welcome of pets aboard, JetBlue provides a pet carrier bag tag, two TrueBlue points each way, a welcome e-mail and a free pet-travel guide, but the in-cabin rates for pets have increased accordingly.

3. Airtran charges the least for your pet to fly under your seat: just $69 each way. It doesn’t allow pets in the cargo compartment, however.

4. American Airlines is zoo-trusted and ensures their staff is animal-trained. American has assisted popular zoos in transporting animals in cargo. While they only allow a limited number of pets in the cabin, they ask pet parents to make special notes for their animal companions flying in cargo and they promise to abide by all requests.

5. United Airlines allows animals of all kinds. They accept small cats, dogs and birds in the cabin; rabbits, hamsters and guinea pigs as checked baggage and other animals including parrots, cockatiels and ferrets in United Cargo. (Shipping by cargo is a designation for items, like some pets, that you can’t check as baggage, which means that your pet may or may not be on the aircraft with you.)

Finally, a new airline debuted this year that tops the list with a truly “pets first” philosophy. Pet Airways is the first “pet-only” airline that allows all pets to ride in the cabin. The only downside is that no humans are allowed! Pet Airways may be a good option to accommodate larger dogs that would not be allowed in the cabin on any other airline. The Pet Airways website also lists a helpful chart that compares prices (and availability) for pet travel among the major airlines (including fees for in-cabin vs. baggage compartment) as well.

MAKE A TRIP TO THE VET. Knowing that your pet has updated vaccines is necessary if you board your pet at your destination, and a health certificate with proof of updated vaccinations is required by some airlines. It’s best to carry the papers with you, in case of emergency.

BOOK AHEAD: Make your flight reservations well in advance and do your homework on what the airline’s policy is about pets on the flight. Airlines can refuse your reservation if there are already too many pets scheduled aboard a particular flight.

LUGGAGE TAGS ARE GOOD, BUT PET TAGS ARE CRUCIAL. Make sure that your pet has a sturdy collar with an ID tag including your home address and telephone number on a tag. It is also a good idea to include trip-specific information such as the contact information for your vacation accommodations and your itinerary attached to your cell phone number. Attach an ID tag to your pet carrier as well with your name, phone number, address and a recent photo of your pet.

OVER-DOCUMENT & OVER-PLAN. Don’t count on airport workers to know the rules for traveling with pets, some of which are airline-specific. To avoid any awkward altercations or worse, print out and carry the airline’s pet policy and requirements along with you to help smooth out the check-in process. And if your pet is traveling as cargo, ask the flight attendant to monitor the temperature in the pet-storage area to ensure your pet’s comfort and safety.

Finally, This video from FareCompare’s CEO, Rick Seaney, about flying with pets covers some good points such as being aware of airline breed restrictions, traveling with pets in the cabin vs. cargo, as well as seasonal restrictions for certain breeds and other good general pet travel tips:

Flying with Pets:

We at earthbath wish safe travels and first class adventures ahead for you and your pets this summer!