Horror stories abound when it comes to flying with pets. Stowed away in cramped stuffy cargo holds for hours, hundreds of pets have died as a result of flying. There is hope for increasing the odds of a safe trip, however. Concerned owners can refer to Petfinder.com's latest list of the Top Pet-Friendly Airlines in the U.S. to make sure Fido and Fluffy make it to their final destination.
"Pets are becoming more of an integral part of our families so it's only natural that airlines are taking pet travel more seriously," said Betsy Banks Saul, the co-founder of Petfinder.com said in a press release. "This list will raise awareness on criteria that pet parents should take into consideration, such as the risks of traveling in cargo, so they can make well-informed decisions."
The overall winner was no surprise this year with the introduction of the pets only airline, PetAirways, in July 2009. PetAirways caters specifically to pets and carries no human passengers, just pawsengers, as the airline calls them.
Pets are treated to a level of service and attention on PetAirways that is unmatched by any of the other airlines. Each pet travels in its own individual carrier in the pressurized main cabin. Pet attendants check on the animals every 15 minutes, and the 'pawsengers' are given bathroom breaks as necessary.
PetAirways now serves nine cities across the U.S. with its pets-only flights. For those not flying one of these routes, Petfinder.com evaluated the service of the major airline carriers and awarded winners in multiple categories.
Low-cost carrier JetBlue won two awards in the annual survey, and the airline has been lauded for refusing to allow pets to travel in the cargo hold. JetBlue was recognized as the best for animal health and safety and as having the best pet-friendly amenities.
JetBlue's pet travel program, JetPaws, includes a bag tag for the pet carrier, a guide on "Travel Petiquette," 300 TrueBlue points for members of JetBlue's travel rewards program, and a welcome e-mail with travel tips. In the event that a pet becomes ill during the flight, JetBlue's flight attendants will ask to find out if there is a veterinarian on board. Small dogs and cats fly in the cabin for $100 each way.
AirTran won the category for best for budget-conscious consumers. They allow small dogs, cats and birds to fly inside the cabin for only $69 each way.
Famous for the wildlife photos on the tails of their planes, Frontier Airlines won the category for best for transporting pet variety. Frontier allows the widest range of animals to travel of any of the airlines. Domesticated dogs, cats, guinea pigs, rabbits, hamsters and small birds can fly on Frontier for $75 each way in the cabin.
While these airlines excelled in pet travel, others have been sharply criticized for not taking care of animals. The Department of Transportation reported that from 2005 to 2009, U.S. airlines killed, injured, or lost 224 dogs. Continental was the worst in that category, responsible for losing, injuring or killing 58 dogs. Delta was next with 43, Alaska Airlines followed with 36, American Airlines had 33 and United, 17.
Reporting for pet travel is less than perfect, however, and the government collects no numbers on how many pets travel each month. Airlines are required to report each time there is a problem.
Pets who fly in the main cabin -- such as cats -- must have their own reservations. (It's also a chance for the airline to collect its $100, one-way fee for bringing a pet into the cabin.) American only allows up to seven pets per flight (a maximum of five in coach) on most flights, but limits that number to two pets on regional jet flights run by American Eagle.
Carry-on pets are not allowed to or from Hawaii or on trips across the oceans.
Checked pets travel in kennels in a hold under the plane, just like checked luggage, though they are placed in a special pressurized and temperature-controlled area. But that doesn't necessarily mean it is comfortable. In winter, airlines may require documentation certifying that your pet is acclimated to temperatures lower than 45 degrees.
Regulations about carrier size and, of course, fees, vary by airline, but American for example, charges $150. Unlike carry-on pets, those that are checked don't require reservations on American, but the airline warns that sometimes capacity is reached and pets are accepted on a first-come, first-served basis. That warning is mostly for dog show participants, but you never know when such a show is in town.
Delta limits its flights to only four pets in the main cabin and charges $125. Checking a pet on Delta will cost you $200 each way.