Flying With Fido? Warnings on Pet Air Travel

I have a friend who's just crazy about his beagle Bobo. Talk about "best friends" -- he literally won't go anywhere without that pup. Except on a plane.

"I could never do that to my dog," he said. "I'd be scared to death for him."

He's right to be at least a little worried: According to Dept. of Transportation statistics, in the first six months of this year, 17 pets died while being transported as cargo.

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OK, it's not a vast number when you consider that these statistics are gleaned from 20 domestic airlines flying tens of thousands of miles each day, but if it's your pet that's the statistic … well, I can see why my friend is so cautious with Bobo.

Then there's the financial angle. Do you know what it costs to fly a pet? Let's break it down into cabin and cargo.

Cabin pets are the pampered pooches: they sit where you sit. Well, sort of -- they have to fit (along with their carrying case) under the seat in front of you. So, cabin pets typically must weigh 15 pounds or less. Prices range from $25 one way on Go! Airlines to $150 one way on Delta. And you have to make a reservation; airlines only allow a certain number of pets in a cabin. Oh, and trying to hide little Fifi in your purse is not an option.

Transporting a pet as cargo (or as the airlines prefer to put it, as "checked baggage") can take a ferocious bite out of your budget. At the moment, the biggest dog in the biggest carrier will cost you $359 one way on Northwest for a total of $718 roundtrip.Think about it -- that could be much more than your own ticket.

Note that some airlines are "pet free": Southwest, for instance, won't carry animals at all (with the exception of assistance animals). And the "pet transport" rules of other airlines often have exceptions. Carriers like Delta, for example, won't carry pets as cargo during the hot summer months. And other airlines, like United, will carry pets as cargo in the summer, but not short-nosed dogs like pugs or boxers or Boston Terriers.

Something else to remember: The cost of traveling with pets, whether cabin or cargo, can change at any time (just like all the airline fees), so be sure to check with your airline before you fly. And check on items like pet carriers; many airlines require specific sizes based on the weight of the pet, and all animals must be able to stand and turn around in the carrier.

OK, you and Fifi are ready to board; did you remember to plaster your name and phone number all over Fifi's carrier? Did you microchip your animal? Was she checked out by a vet in recent days?

Couple of tips: Ask your vet, but many professionals say "No" to "doggie-downers." Sedatives can do far more harm than good to a traveling animal. And, just in case, make a list of emergency vets for every stop on your route -- chances are you'll never use it, but it will give you a little peace of mind.

And that's about all you can do for a friend traveling as cargo, except maybe send him good thoughts from the cabin.

Now, if your pet is in the cabin with you, remember not to pull Fifi out of her carrier so she can make friends with your seatmates. First of all, your seatmates likely have zero interest in meeting Fifi. Believe me, I know this from the last time I wrote about pets -- I received a lot of comments directed at dog lovers, comments along the lines of "Try to get a life, with a human!"

Naturally, that reminded me of the comments I got when I wrote about traveling with kids, or, as one commenter said, those "snotty loud little brats" that we will eventually have to "electrocute ... upon his eventual imprisoning." Yes, the fur does fly when the subject is kids and/or pets on a plane, but ... I digress.

Where was I? Oh, yes, it's against airline regulations to take an animal out from under the seat during a flight. Animals must stay in their carriers, period.

A word about pet etiquette: If your dog is a constant barker, don't take him on trips. If your dog is, ah, fragrant -- make sure you bathe the animal before you board.

And, finally, do as my friend does -- ask yourself this question: Does Fifi really want to fly? Or do YOU want Fifi to fly? If in doubt, let the dog stay home.

Or, put her in a kennel. Many are located near airports, plus an increasing number of large airports (including Dallas-Ft. Worth) are making plans for on-site kennels that will be open day and night.

Or, do like Bobo's owner does: Have your pet stay home -- with a babysitter.

You'll save some money, save yourself a lot of complicated arrangements, and (though I hate to say this), maybe you'll even save your animal's life.

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

Rick Seaney is one of the country's leading experts on airfare, giving interviews and analysis to news organizations, including ABC News, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Reuters, The Associated Press and Bloomberg. His Web site offers consumers free, new-generation software, combined with expert insider tips to find the best airline ticket deal.