Contributed by Guest Author Kim Salerno of TripsWithPets.com
We all want our furry, four-legged family members to be safe, comfortable, and happy when they fly. We also want to save some moolah when we travel. It would be nice if there was a single airline that offered everything a sojourning pet parent could want, but there isn’t. Instead, there are several good and workable options, and the one you choose will depend on your unique needs.
Some airlines have higher ticket fares, but lower pet fees or great customer service. Some won’t let your pet to fly below cabin. Some may have breed or weight restrictions, which can mean your particular pet isn’t welcome. There’s a lot to think about, but we’ve got you covered with some great tips for choosing an airline.
In-Cabin and Checked-Pet Options
Several airlines, including biggies like American and Delta, will let you check Rover or Fluffy to fly below-cabin. Checked pets travel with you on your same flight, in a below-cabin area that’s temperature-controlled and pressurized.
Most major airlines allow travelers to bring their (friendly and well-mannered) small pets into the cabin as carry-ons. Pets must hitch their ride in an airline-approved carrier that will fit comfortably underneath the seat ahead of them.
When it comes to pet air travel, pet fees come with the territory. Every airline that allows pets does, unfortunately, have one. Fees usually range from $125 and under for in-cabin flights, and around $200 for below-cabin journeys.
A note of caution about checking pets below-cabin: You know your pet best, and only you know whether below-cabin travel is the right option. The majority of checked pets make it through safe and sound, with minimal problems. However, it is a stressful way for your pet to travel, and we don’t advise it unless it’s truly a necessity.
Best Choice for Service
Delta gets our vote for best service. It ranks really well in on-time arrivals, has the fewest cancelled flights, and boasts one of the highest overall customer satisfaction ratings. Delta’s airline pet fees run on the pricey end for both in-cabin and checked pets. However, making a hectic trip more comfortable and pleasant may be worth the added cost.
Best Choice for Pet Fees
When it comes to low pet fees, you can’t beat Southwest Airlines. They’ve got the lowest fee in the industry. But, airline fares vary widely. It is entirely possible that a different airline may have a fare that’s low enough to make up for a higher pet fee. Plus, Southwest is a bit restrictive about pets – it only allows the little guys, and only as in-cabin carry-ons.
What about Safety?
Safety is the most important thing when it comes to our pets. Unfortunately, pinning down real statistics on the safety of any one airline is a very difficult thing to do.
The good news is that the U.S. Department of Transportation, or DOT, has required all U.S. airlines that operate scheduled passenger flights to file monthly reports on all pet deaths, injuries and losses that occurred during transport, and that these safety reports are readily available to the public. The bad news? The data is incomplete, a little convoluted, and really difficult to interpret.
Airlines differ widely when it comes to how many animals they transport each month. So, you can’t just go by an airline’s reported number of incidents — percentages matter just as much.
The reporting system is also plagued by errors. The DOT relies on airlines to police themselves — it doesn’t fact check or investigate the numbers they provide. So, there’s no oversight and no real way to know if you’re dealing with accurate statistics. Then there are the airlines that are newbies to pet travel and don’t even have a record yet.
Unfortunately, there’s no completely reliable way to say whether one airline is safer than another. If you are very concerned, flying with your pet in-cabin where he’s in sight and under your control may make you feel much better.
Best Overall Airline
Our pick for the best airline overall is JetBlue, for several reasons. First, JetBlue boasts a lot of satisfied customers – they scored the highest among airlines in overall customer satisfaction. We have traveled on JetBlue with pets, and the service was great, and the staff was friendly. Second, they have a decent in-cabin pet fee.
Our third – and biggest — reason for choosing JetBlue is that they go the extra mile for pets. After all, this is the only domestic airline that offers pets their very own frequent flier program, PetPaws!
The fact that JetBlue has a special pet program says a ton about their company values. This is a company that really gets it — pets aren’t just animals – they’re family members who have needs that the travel industry should be addressing.
When it comes down to it, you have to make an airline choice that addresses your comfort and priorities. If you’re pinching pennies, affordability might be a deal-breaker for you. If comfort and peace of mind are worth some extra cash, you may want to make service, amenities, or brand loyalty your top concern.
In the end, the more comfortable you feel with your choice, the more relaxed you will be. The best way to have a good flight experience with your best furry bud is to stay calm. Travel can be stressful and exhausting. Our pets reflect our energy back to us. If we are relaxed and in control, they are more likely to feel confident and reassured — and that makes for a happy and safe trip for everyone.
Kim Salerno is the President and Founder of TripsWithPets.com, a pet travel guide that provides online reservations at more than 30,000 pet friendly accommodations across the U.S and Canada. Kim spends her free time traveling with her four-legged kids, Tucker, Charlie, Brownie, and Diamond.