Flying with Pets

Note: All information is current as of Feb. 2012.

The most important thing you need to know about transporting a pet on a plane is that you have to pay for the privilege. Unless your pet is a service animal, the airline will charge a fee that can vary wildly from Hawaiian’s $35 for inter-island in-cabin pets to United’s whopping checked-pet fee of $250 each-way. You could actually have a cheaper flight than your pet!

The rules of pet travel vary quite a bit, too, which is why we’ve included a list of major airlines with links to their specific pet policies at the end of this article.

10 Things You Need to Know about Pet Travel

Couple more things: if your dog or cat is flying with you in the cabin, the animal must stay in the carrier; crazy as it sounds, some of your fellow passengers do not wish to meet Sparky.

Finally, Spirit Airlines’ website sums up what I’ll call the golden rule of pet transport:

  • “Animals must be harmless, inoffensive, odorless.”

Truly, words to fly by.

1. Pets Need Reservations, Too

You cannot just show up for your flight with your pet in your purse; reservations are required and most airlines require you to phone them in. Plus, usually you must travel with your pet, too, even if he’s parked in cargo. There is such a thing as an unaccompanied minor, but they must be human.

2. Not All Pets can Fly in the Cabin

If your pet is too big, he won’t be allowed to travel in the cabin. Although some airlines don’t list height or weight restrictions, they all say the pets carrier must be able to fit under the seat in front of you, and it must be large enough so the animal can stand up and turn around in it. In other words, Bobo the Lab will travel in cargo. Or will he?

3. Not All Pets can Fly in Cargo

Some airlines refuse to carry animals as cargo or checked-baggage in any case, including AirTran, Frontier, JetBlue, Southwest, Spirit and Virgin America. If you have a big animal, you’ll have to fly one of the legacy carriers. Or try Pet Airways (for animals only).

4. Not All Pets can Fly at All

Some airlines only accept cats and dogs; Frontier for example specifically excludes spiders and reptiles, and Delta’s website which notes that “primates, including lemurs, monkeys, orangutans, gorillas, and chimpanzees will not be permitted (excluding service animals)” which begs the question, where does one find a service orangutan?

5. Certain Breeds of Dogs Won’t be Accepted

This is becoming increasingly common: airlines refusing to transport short-snouted dogs in cargo compartments. The breeds vary by carrier, but no-travel lists often includes Pit Bulls, Boston Terriers, Chow Chows, Pugs, Bulldogs, Boxers and more. Some airlines such as Alaska will transport them but only if you sign a document absolving them of responsibility in case something goes wrong. And you may not escape this restriction even if your dog is a mutt: some airlines exclude “mixes” with the above breeds.

6. Weather Matters

Another increasingly common restriction is weather, or to be more precise, temperature. For example, American Airlines will not accept pets as cargo when “the current or forecasted temperature is above 85 degrees Fahrenheit (29.4 C) below 45 degrees Fahrenheit (7.2 C) at any location on the itinerary.” Know before you go, or your animal will be turned away.

7. Paperwork from the Vet Matters

Many airlines require papers from the veterinarian showing your dog is up to date on shots and in good health; if you don’t have this documentation, you may be out of luck.

8. The Pet Carrier You Use Matters

Most airlines have specific size requirements for carriers depending on the breed, and they may insist it be constructed out of certain materials as well. Plus, some airlines ask you to include written information on the physical carrier including pet’s name and flight itinerary.

9. Where You Travel Matters

International and even some domestic travel plans may hold pitfalls for pets. For example, Hawaii has extremely tough regulations regarding pet entry, and if your pet does not meet all requirements including specific vaccinations, the animal could be in for a 120 day quarantine period or turned away altogether.

For European Union countries, pets may be required to have tattoos or microchip. See the U.S. State Department website for more on taking a pet overseas.

10. Sometimes Bad Stuff Happens

Animals can escape their carriers and animals can die on airplanes; these things can happen despite the best efforts of all involved. If your animal is too big for the cabin and not as young as he used to be, maybe he’s better off staying home.

Airlines Pet Policies and Pet Travel Fees

Click on the airline name to see the carrier’s pet policies. Note: these fees can and do change without notice.

  • AirTran: in-cabin only, $69 each-way
  • Alaska: in-cabin, $100 each-way; in cargo, $100 each-way
  • American: in-cabin, $125 each-way; in cargo, $175 each-way
  • Delta: in-cabin, $125 each-way; in cargo, $200 each-way
  • Frontier: in-cabin, $75 each-way; in cargo, $150 each-way
  • Hawaiian: in-cabin, $35-$175 each-way; in cargo, $60-$225 each-way
  • JetBlue: in-cabin only, $100 each-way
  • Southwest: in-cabin only, $75 each-way
  • Spirit: in-cabin only, $100 each-way
  • United/Continental: in-cabin, $125 each-way; in cargo, $250 each-way. Note: prices can be much higher on international flights
  • US Airways: in-cabin, $100; no pets in cargo except on select northeast shuttle routes      
  • Virgin America: in-cabin only, $100 each-way

Question for our readers: Which airline takes the best care of your pet?

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Published: January 8, 2009