Traveling with pets requires its own set of logistics. Each airline is different, and each has its own pet policy. What works well for one trip might work better with a different airline for another. The individual airline determines whether it will allow pets inside the passenger cabin of the plane, or whether it is necessary to check the animal as freight.
If in-cabin pet travel is allowed, it should be noted that pet containers are often considered to be carry-on baggage that, like regular carry-on baggage, must be sized to fit beneath the seat in front of the pet owner. In some cases, an extra fee is required.
In most cases, a health certificate is also required for any pet prior to be shipped as cargo. Some destination states may require a health certificate also. Veterinarians or the U.S. Department of Agriculture should be able to provide all the necessary details.
The United States Humane Society does not advocate pets traveling in cargo: “We strongly discourage having your pet travel by air in the cargo hold of a plane,” its policy states. “It can be dangerous and stressful.”
To find out additional information, one should call the airline in advance of the trip. Only a certain number of pets are allowed inside a given plane cabin at one time, so it is important not to wait until the last-minute to make pet reservations.
What are the Top Airlines for Pet Travel? It all depends on the specific requirements of the traveler, the airline policies and which airlines makes the best match for a particular situation. Here is a rundown of some of the highest rated airlines for traveling with pets, their pet policies and safety concerns, followed by notes that may be particular interest:
Pets are permitted to travel on U.S. domestic Delta Airlines flights. Because of high numbers of pet deaths prior to 2015, Delta stopped accepting pets as checked baggage, but does allow in-cabin transport. Exceptions are made for individuals who carry permits for service dogs, or for military animals.
The airline also accepts shipment of pet birds and warm-blooded mammals or exhibition/show animals in the cargo hold as freight. Prices for Delta Cargo shipping range from $193 to $1,481, depending on the animal’s size and other factors.
Dogs, cats and domestic birds are able to travel with their owners (or a designated handler) in a Delta Airlines cabin for a one-way fee, which is collected at check in, to/from the following destinations:
- Virgin Islands: $125 USD/CAD
- U.S./Canada: $125 USD/CAD
- Outside the U.S.: $200 USD/CAD/EUR
- Puerto Rico: $125 USD/CAD
- Brazil: $75 USD
Household birds are not permitted on international flights.
Of particular interest:
Delta’s new pet policies were put into place in the wake of a large number of pet deaths between May of 2005 and September of 2015, and have shown great improvement since. The airline has taken measures to assure safer, more successful travel for pets since March of 2016, and is now receiving high customer reviews.
Delta has banned snub-nosed dogs and cats on their flights, as these animals are more prone to respiratory distress than other animals, while flying, as this type of animal made up a large percentage of the number of pets who perished on Delta flights.
According to BringFido.com, a travel review website, American Airlines is now the only United States-based airline to allow cats and dogs only to travel in the checked baggage compartments of its airplanes. This is allowed only on flights that stay within the 48 contiguous United States, St. Thomas, Alaska, Puerto Rico, and St. Croix. Dogs and cats are also allowed in-cabin to or from the United States and Central America, Canada, the Caribbean, Mexico and certain South American destinations, depending on the country.
American Airlines will not accept pets on flights more than 12 hours in duration, or on flights that travel to the United Kingdom.
As do most of the airlines that allow pet travel, American requires a health certificate prior to flying. Checked pets will only be able to connect through a hub city. Certain dog breed restrictions apply. Checked pets are not accepted when the forecast or current temperature is higher than 85 degrees Fahrenheit or lower than 45 degrees Fahrenheit at any location on the itinerary.
The fees for checked pets are $200 per kennel or $150 to and from Brazil. Carry on pets are $125 per kennel. Service pets, including military animals, do not incur charges for travel aboard American Airlines.
Of particular interest:
American Airlines has very high customer reviews for pet handling, and is considered by many to be the best airline for traveling with one’s pet. The airline is noted for its helpful staff and friendly assistance. However, an American Airlines baggage handler made news in 2011, when he stacked a United Airlines animal crate on top of another. The crate fell, the cat who was confined inside, escaped and ran free in a New York airport for 61 days. Every airline has isolated incidents that happen from time to time. American Airlines is noted overall for its excellent pet-handling practices.
Alaska Airlines has high customer satisfaction ratings for its pet accommodations. The airline takes pride in advertising “great care” for its passengers’ traveling animals, both with and without their handlers. The airline has a special Pet Connect program that also flies pets separately, if desired.
Like most other airlines, Alaska no longer accepts brachycephalic, or short-nosed pets, such as pugs and boxers, and certain cat breeds. The fee for pets both traveling in the airplane’s cabin, as well as those in the cargo bin, is $100.
Passengers must be a minimum of 18 years or older to fly with a pet in the cabin. Passengers with pets cannot occupy an emergency exit row seat, bulkhead, or any seat with an airbag safety belt. Passengers may travel with as many as two carry-on pet kennels in the airplane’s main cabin, so long as the same passenger purchases a ticket for the adjacent seat.
Pets allowed in the passenger cabin include dogs and cats over the age of 8 weeks, rabbits, domesticated birds, and tropical fish.
Of particular interest:
Consumers recommended Alaska Airlines for taking good care of their pets during travel, and for keeping their dogs in the travel kennels for as short a length of time as possible. The airline is noted for its courteous, friendly staff that is available to answer pet owner’s questions and to assist in getting their pets settled into their crates for departure.
As the nation’s ninth-largest carrier by passenger traffic, Alaska Airlines has one of the industry’s most pet-friendly policies of any airline. Unfortunately, prior to 2013, it had a high number of incidents of pet deaths on route. This could be attributed to its allowing brachycephalic animals prior to that date. Today, the airline has high customer ratings and is noted for its caring attitude and competency in flying domestic animals.
Southwest Airlines allows passengers to fly with small, vaccinated, domestic dogs and cats, in-cabin under the seats in front of them. The airline requires that pets be carried in an appropriate carrier. Southwest does not allow pets to travel in-cabin on international flights, or on any itinerary that includes an international flight.
A maximum of 6 pets, all over the age of 8 weeks, are allowed on a given flight, and are checked in on a first-come, first-serve basis. The fee charged per pet, per carrier is $95 each way. The company has an optional, specially designed pet carrier available for $58, or passengers may use their own, provided they meet measurement criteria. No flying without owner or handler is allowed.
Of particular interest:
A large number of customers rated Southwest Airlines as the best airline for overall pet travel, due to its seamless processing and courteous overall services. However, it should be noted that in case of an emergency, Southwest has a policy against administering pets any type of special assistance, including oxygen, so pet owners might want to take this into consideration.
And the winner is…
Each airline offers a unique travel experience for pet owners/handlers and their animals. It is best to compare all airline policies individually to come up with the best match for a given situation and animal.
by Stacy Alexander