Pets on a plane: Making the skies friendly for traveling animals
Taking pets on commercial flights has grown more complicated and expensive in recent years.
The New York Times
— Some carriers, including American Airlines, will allow only cats and dogs aboard, but others will carry a variety of pets including birds, hamsters and rabbits.
— If you want to transport a pet other than a cat or dog, check directly with the airline for its rules before booking. Alaska Airlines allows the most variety and will transport birds, guinea pigs, potbellied pigs and more.
— Be aware that airlines may not transfer pets between flights with other airlines.
— Dallas Morning News
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Summer vacation is no longer just for two-legged travelers. Room-service menus for Fido, massages for over-stressed terriers and tabbies, cushy beds for canines: Many hotels have been ratcheting up the pet amenities. Best Western has even hired Cesar Millan, of National Geographic Channel's "Dog Whisperer," to be the chain's pet-travel expert.
The problem is getting your pet to the destination. In recent years, transporting pets on commercial flights has grown more complicated — and more expensive. All major carriers have significantly raised the fees they charge for bringing pets onboard, matching, or in some cases surpassing, the $100 surcharge each way they typically charge for children flying alone.
Fees vary depending on whether the pet flies under your seat (in a carrier) or as checked baggage or cargo, which involve extra handling. American, Delta, United and Continental charge $125 each way for pets in the cabin. Alaska Airlines charges $100 each way for pets in the cabin or baggage compartment. United charges the most for pets traveling as checked baggage: $250 each way, or $500 round trip.
Meanwhile, pet safety has become a more pressing issue. Incidents of animals being lost, injured or dying have recently risen. Thirty-nine animals died while flying aboard commercial jets in the United States last year, compared with 22 in 2009, according to the Department of Transportation. Thirteen were injured and five were lost. Delta was responsible for a significant portion of the increase, with 16 deaths and six injuries in 2010, compared with three deaths and no injuries the previous year.
While those numbers are a small percentage of the hundreds of thousands of animals flown by the airlines each year, they expose the dangers that pets may face while traveling. Not that airlines don't anticipate risks. Carriers typically will not accept pets as checked baggage or cargo when the temperature is forecast to exceed 85 degrees or fall below 20 degrees at any location on the animal's itinerary. Also, many airlines will not accept snub-nosed pets, like bulldogs or Persian cats, as cargo because they are prone to breathing problems. Delta, for instance, which reported several bulldog fatalities last year, has changed its policy and now bans the breed from its planes.
If you are considering putting your pet on a plane, here are a few tips to smooth the process.
The right carrier
Requirements vary by airline and the size of the plane, so make sure you know the requirements before you arrive at the airport. Airlines have full details on their websites. On American Airlines, for example, the maximum size for cabin pet carriers is 19 inches long by 13 inches wide by 9 inches high. As on other airlines, cabin pet carriers must fit under the seat.
Airlines limit the number of pets in the cabin, so don't wait until the last minute to book, particularly for busy travel periods.
Prepare your pet
Millan, the pet expert, suggests taking the time to acclimate your pet to the carrier by placing it on the floor of the car so the pet can feel the vibration as it will on a plane. Millan also recommends using lavender oil as an "association scent" to help the pet relax on the plane. At feeding times and before walks, place a drop of the oil on your hands and let your dog pick up the scent. Once onboard, "the positive association will allow him to calm down and remain relaxed," Millan explained.
Finally, Millan said, take a dog for an extra-long walk or run to help drain its energy before the flight. "The more tired he is," Millan said, "the more likely he will be to sleep and relax during the flight."
Pet Airways began offering pet-only flights in 2009 and currently serves nine destinations across the United States, including Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The airline recently announced plans to fly to Orlando, Fla.; St. Louis; Houston; Austin, Texas; and Dallas this summer (but no plans for Seattle yet).
Pets fly in a climate-controlled passenger cabin, outfitted with individual crates instead of seats, where a flight attendant checks on the animals every 15 minutes. Pet fares range from $99 to $249, one way.
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