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Flying with Pets Tips

Fly Easy with Pets

Posted on 11/8/2013 12:46 EST

Whether you're buying a plane ticket for the upcoming holidays or moving to another part of the country, traveling with pets adds an extra layer of complexity and expense. Our recent report on airline fees notes that the cost of flying with a pet ranges from $75 to $175. Fees aside, which airlines enjoy a reputation for being pet-friendly? And what can you do to make the experience pleasant for all concerned?

Photo by flickr.com/luistdietz

Air travel with pets, usually dogs and cats, takes two forms: The pet travels onboard in a crate near the owner's feet or it flies cargo in the hold.

Pets Onboard.

Airlines have little direct interaction with pets in the cabin because owners are responsible throughout the flight and the animal must remain crated at all times. Still, some airlines are considered more hospitable than others.

We queried a small cohort of people who have flown with pets and heard positive comments about JetBlue Airways and Southwest Airlines. One man has taken his American Eskimo poodle on several Southwest flights without incident except for the time the pup crawled out of its carrier and onto his lap. Another source used to fly Southwest with her dog but has relied on JetBlue since moving to Colorado, in part because its JetPaws program rewards owners with extra loyalty points when flying with pets. An informant who has flown on the legacy carriers describes his flights with United as super easy for himself and his miniature dachshund but reports encountering rude flight attendants on a competing airline. Attendants' attitudes towards pets seems to depend more on the individuals than the carrier, though, and we heard contrary tales about flight personnel on the line singled out by the disgruntled passenger.

People who fly with pets generally recommend direct flights to avoid the hassles of a layover. Finding a suitable place for the pet to relieve itself during layovers can be a challenge. Some airports maintain pet relief areas inside the security gates (check the airport's website). In its absence, pet owners should figure the extra time it takes to get outside and then back through security when booking. Buying plastic tags and a non-metallic collar for the journey is a good idea, according to our sources, because pets also must go through the metal detector.

In the Cargo Hold.

When pets are transported below the plane they're often referred to as "cargo" or "checked baggage." Indeed, pets are stored in the same compartment as passengers' luggage. Only airplanes with pressurized and temperature-controlled cargo holds can transport animals, which is why only some airlines (e.g., United, Delta, American, and Alaska) offer this option. General rules apply when sending a pet into the hold, such as the type of portable kennel to use, restrictions related to outside air temperature, and the paperwork required. Airlines that accommodate flying pets must also have an on-call vet and kennel near airports.

How to Prepare.

We spoke with Lisa Schoppa, managing director of The Spot Experience, a luxury dog-care service, who spent more than 28 years at Continental (now United) where she helped create the award-winning PetSafe transportation program and assisted in the transport of more than 120,000 animals a year. She reports having heard good things about traveling with pets on Alaska Airlines and Frontier Airlines and notes that United staffs call centers specifically for pet-related queries and operates vans with specially trained drivers to ferry pets at United hubs. Here are her tips for flying with pets.

Photo by flickr.com/Verity Borthwick


Buy a sturdy front-closing crate and train your pet to enjoy being in it. Don't use the travel crate where the pet is sent as punishment. Instead, reward the animal for going into it by offering treats and stocking it with favorite toys. When traveling, use releasable zip ties to secure the door; regulations state the crate must be able to be opened without tools. (A scared pet that escapes from an open crate is one of the more common problems.) Put your pet at ease during the journey by placing a T-shirt worn to bed the day before at the bottom of the crate, which must be lined with absorbent material.

Food and Water.

If flying in the morning, don't feed your pet that day -- an empty stomach helps ease motion sickness -- but give the animal a large meal the day before. For an afternoon flight, a light breakfast may be okay. When an animal flies cargo, tape food and water to the outside top of the crate to be accessible to airport employees in the event of delays. Airports keep food and water on hand, but you want to make it easy for others to take care of your pet.


Don't do it. Just as alcohol has a stronger effect on humans during airplane rides, so sedatives have a stronger effect on pets while in the air. (And in some cases over-sedation has been the cause of fatalities.)


A visit to the vet is mandatory before air travel because you must present a health certificate at the airport. The certificate is only valid for 10 days, though, which means you'll need to visit the vet again when returning from a longer trip. Ask the vet to examine the pet to be sure it can handle the stress of air travel. Underlying conditions can be triggered by the stress of the separation from home and the new sites, sounds, and smells associated with traveling.

by Louis DeNicola (Google+ Profile)

Filed in: Airfare, Airlines, Airports, Christmas, Holidays, Moving, Pets, Travel
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