Nine-year-old B. is well-behaved for her age; she never whines, is always upbeat and loves meeting new people. She's a perfect traveler, except the fact that she's never flown. Too darned fat.
No, this isn't a column about obesity. On the contrary, B. weighs in at a sleek 35 lbs. but because she's a dog (B. is short for "Beauty.") She's too big for the cabin. Her owners won't allow her to fly in cargo either, so she stays at home. Which suits the Beagle-mix just fine and probably thrills her potential seatmates.
Traveling with pets isn't for everyone or every pet - but traveling with children has its pitfalls, too. Both require navigating various hazards and a minefield of fees. The question is, which are easier to travel with - and cheaper? Let's find out.
What are the age requirement for pets and children?
Airline websites don't say much about age requirements for human babies traveling with families although US Airways says it can refuse infants who are "less than one day old," though anyone who'd fly with an hours-old baby is probably just plain nuts.
As for dogs (or cats for that matter; I'm not biased) most airlines say they're good to go at eight weeks. And that's when traveling alone in cargo, too. It's different for kids. Most airlines don't allow little humans to fly on their own until the age 5 and only then if their parents/guardians arrange for an airline escort (mandatory until age 12, usually). But airline escorts aren't free and they aren't cheap.
American, Delta, United and US Airways all charge a $100 each-way 'unaccompanied minor' fee, so prepare to pay this $200 round-trip fee in addition to the cost of your child's ticket. Some of the cheaper unaccompanied minor fees are on the discount carriers like Southwest which charges a mere 50 bucks each-way, but prices have a way of rising; until recently, JetBlue's fee was just $85 but has since increased to $100.
Advantage goes to solo traveling pets.
What's the difference in airfare for pets and children?
One big difference is there are never any 'deals' for animals. The pet fee is a two tiered: one price for cabin, one price for cargo. Some general price guidelines for U.S. flights only:
Cabin travel: This is only available to pets small enough to fit under the seat in front of you - while in a kennel - and the animal must be able to stand up and turn around in the kennel (we're talking about creatures that are no more than 15-20 lbs.). Not all airlines allow cabin travel but those that do have a wide range of prices: Frontier charges $50 each way for in-cabin travel, US Airways dings you for $100, while American and Delta hit you up for $125.
Cargo travel: Big pets can mean big price tags: American's fee is $175 each-way but if you have a 100+ pound animal, United's PetSafe program charges over $800 round-trip so unless you're in first class, Sparky's ticket will cost a lot more than yours.
As for children traveling within the U.S., there are no 'kiddie discounts'; they are treated like adults when it comes to base ticket prices, with one exception: children under the age of 2 can sit on a parent or guardian's lap for free (but be prepared to prove your tyke's age). If you want to buy an under-two year old his or her own seat (which the FAA recommends as a safety measure), you will pay the same as the grown-up seats. However humans do have one edge over pets because people can take advantage of airfare sales and specials. There are no such deals for Fido.
Are pets and children ever banned from flying?
Absolutely. US Airways doesn't accept animals in cargo while Virgin America's cabin pets can't travel in first class. Delta bans pets in cabins and cargo but only on its 767s. Hawaiian allows pets in cabins but not on flights from the U.S. to Hawaii (with the exception of service animals). To top it off, several airlines restrict short-snouted breeds in cargo during extreme weather but United refuses to transport adult English bulldogs "older than six months and/or weighing more than 20 pounds at any time of year," according to its web site.
For children, it's a little easier: All U.S. airlines accept kids but should you happen to find yourself in first class on Malaysia Airlines, look for your child in coach. That's right, no little ones are allowed in that carrier's elite seats and reaction seems about evenly divided between anger and ecstasy.
Advantage? I'd call this a draw.
Animals and kids are known to be excitable and on rare occasions, pets run away and sometimes get lost. Fortunately, when toddlers go charging down the aisle, they are invariably recaptured.
As for the owners of Beauty-the-mutt, none of this matters since they'd never get her to an airport in the first place. "She can't stand car rides," they said.