Taking the Pets Along

Tracy Stewart, June 27, 2007
Fares from Washington DC:

    Can't stand the thought of leaving your pet behind while the rest of the family jets off for a week of R&R? Hey, you're not alone. Many folks, us included, may find it difficult to relax, knowing your pet is holed up in some lonesome and cramped kennel. Bringing Socks and Mr. Jingles along for the fun is easier than you think. Just consider the following:

    Notify the Airline

    Notify the airline as early as possible, that you plan on bringing your pet with you, whether you plan on bringing your pet into the main cabin or check it into the cargo hold, because there are space limitations.

    No Pets Allowed
    Some airlines, like Southwest, don’t allow pets at all. And Frontier Airlines will allow pets in the cargo hold, but not in the main cabin. So be sure and check the airline's policy before you run out and make that purchase.

    Checking Your Dog as Cargo
    To check-in your dog in the cargo area the kennel has to meet the following requirements: kennels with wheels, wire kennels, collapsible kennels are not allowed; kennels must have a leak proof bottom with absorbent material; there must be a one-inch spacer bar around the kennel; the door must be lockable and secure; your dog must have enough room in the kennel to stand, lie down and turn around; at least three sides of ventilation; correct labeling (live animal and directional up arrows); and must include water/feed dishes (two dishes or divided dish).

    Age Restrictions (for your pet)
    Your dog has to be at least eight weeks old and have the required health documentation from your veterinarian. Some states may require a health certificate for your pet.

    Breed Restrictions
    Some airlines will not ship certain breeds, under given conditions. For example, American Airlines warns that snub-nosed dogs (like Pugs and Shih Tzus) will not be acceptedwhen the current or forecasted temperature is above 75 degrees Fahrenheit at any location on the itinerary. This is because they are very sensitive to high temperatures.

    Pet Travel during Summer or Nightime
    Most airlines have an embargo on dogs in the cargo area during the summer, with varying dates depending on airline. For example, Delta’s embargo is between May 15 and September 15, and United’s is between June 1 and September 30. In addition, some airlines don’t allow dogs on nighttime flights.

    Maximum Kennel Size
    To bring your dog into the main cabin, the kennel must be able to fit in the area under the seat in front of you. The maximum dimensions for the kennel is 17 inches x 12 inches x 8 inches, but keep in mind that it varies, depending on the plane you’ll be on, as some aircraft have smaller areas under the seat in front of you.

    Pet fees vary, depending on the airline. Delta Air Lines and Jet Blue charge $50 one-way to bring a pet into the main cabin, whereas, United Airlines charges $80 one-way. To check-in your pet into the cargo hold, it’s $75 one-way for Delta, $100 or $200 one-way for United, and $100 one-way for Frontier.

    Other Pets

    Some airlines only allow cats and dogs (like American Airlines), while others will allow reptiles (like Delta, as long as it’s shipped as air cargo).

    Use Your Head
    As a former baggage handler at a major airport, I've unloaded some unhappy animals from long international hauls. Flights that exceed 8 or 9 hours can be awfully traumatic for your pet (especially cats!), so use your best judgment. You know the temperament of your pet better than anyone, and if Mr. Jingles gets jittery in a car, think twice before flying him cargo to New Zealand. If you're vacationing for just a few days but your flight is lengthy, it could be less stressful on Mr. Jingles to be left in the care of a friend or trusted neighbor.

    *And Steve, who travels quite a bit with his German Shepard, wrote in and shared some of his own excellent tips with us:

    1. Do NOT tranquilize your animal. The biggest danger for pets traveling by air, especially in the cargo hold, is dehydration. Tranquilizers dehydrate animals even further, making it especially dangerous to medicate them for air travel. Many airlines will not even take a dog who they suspect has been tranquilized. Yes, the experience of air travel can be traumatic, but your animal will get over it. Better not to take the more grave risk to his/her health.

    2. Buy the kind of water dish that attaches to the inside of the kennel door
    and fill it with ice cubes at the airport. They'll melt slowly so your
    animal can drink throughout the flight.

    3. Get your animal accustomed to the kennel. If your dog/cat has never been in a kennel before, buy the appropriate one at least a month before you travel. First set out just the internal pad for your pet to use as a bed for about a week. Then put the pad in the bottom half of the kennel (if it's a large kennel) for about a week. Next, put the top of the kennel on for
    another week, and finally, put the door on. By the time you travel, the pet
    should regard the kennel as a safe and comfortable place of his/her own.

    4. Tape a note on the top of the kennel with your pet's name, your name,
    instructions and phone numbers, including your cell phone that you keep on until the last possible minute before the doors close.

    5. Remove your animal's collar before locking him/her in the kennel. It can get snagged on the kennel latch or partially slip off, causing discomfort, or even choking.

    6. Search online for personal stories and tips from passengers about the
    specific airline you'll be using. Domestically, Continental has the best
    reputation for transporting pets, and also tends to be the most expensive.
    Note that even the best airlines have a statistically significant death rate
    for animals. Make sure your pet is up to the task, and don't be afraid to be
    insistent about his/her care.

    7. Check the embargo dates for both outbound AND return flights. I got stuck once because the embargo went into effect while I was away, and I was forced to take a different airline to get back home with the dog.

    8. Try as best as you can to be on the same flights as your pet.

    9. If your animal is traveling via cargo, once you board, ask a member of
    the flight crew to check with the ground crew that your animal is safely
    onboard before the aircraft departs the gate. That way, if there is a
    problem, you can get off too.

    10. It's best to take nonstop flights if they're less than about 6 hours.
    However, if you must change planes, ask to see your pet during the
    transition. (Continental is very good about this.)

    11. After you de-plane, stand at the window and watch the baggage handlers remove the kennel. If it's sitting too long in the sun or noise, talk to a supervisor and get them to move it into a cool and quiet area.

    12. When traveling internationally, make sure you have all the appropriate paperwork with the proper dates. Sometimes you'll run into an issue where the health certificate needs to be no older than 10 days, but it also needs to be authenticated by the consulate of the destination country, which takes 7 days to get done, so the window of time is very small.