It’s not the easiest way to travel, nor the cheapest, but if you want to fly with your four-legged friend, we get it. A small number of people who regularly fly with Fido or Fluffy even earn travel rewards through pet friendly programs like Virgin Atlantic’s Flying Paws.
But for most of us, who haven’t done a lot of globe trotting with a critter, it can seem intimidating to arrange travel for a pet. There are special regulations, preflight requirements, extra costs and some safety information you will want to understand before you board a plane with your pet.
What it costs
The price of bringing your pet on a plane varies depending on the size of your pet (and carrier), whether the pet will be in the cabin or in cargo, and which airline you are using.
If you have a small pet, most airlines will allow you to bring it on board with you so long as its kennel fits under the seat in front of you. But you’ll pay a service fee, and your pet’s carrier or kennel counts as a carry-on. Here are a few service fee examples:
- American Airlines: $125 per carrier, each way
- United Airlines: $125 per carrier, each way
- Southwest Airlines: $95 per carrier, each way
If your pet carrier isn’t small enough to fit under your seat, you’ll have to check your pet as cargo. Don’t fret, Fido will ride in a temperature-controlled cargo section of the plane. Those rates vary widely.
- American Airlines: $200 per carrier, each way.
- United Airlines: Through a service called PetSafe, depending on the weight of the animal and kennel combined, and the length of the flight, rates start at $189 per carrier, each way. (Rates approach $2,000 for very large pets on the longest international flights.)
- Delta Airlines: $200 per kennel, each way.
If your pet is flying alone — in other words being shipped as cargo — you’ll pay based on the weight of your pet and the distance of the flight. You can get an exact quote by contacting the airline directly.
If you are flying internationally, you must first check to see what your destination country requires in terms of health procedures and documentation of your pet — and whether the animal is even allowed. Airlines should be able to tell you this, but a more authoritative source is the embassy of that country in the United States. (Check here for a full listing of foreign embassies.)
Whether flying domestically or internationally, many airlines also have restrictions on what types of pets can travel with you and under what circumstances. Many airlines have breed restrictions for both in-cabin pets and those checked as cargo. Commonly barred dog breeds include pit bulls, mastiffs and pugs, and restricted cat breeds often include Burmese, Persian, Himalayan and Exotic Shorthairs.
These restrictions are based on health concerns and follow recommendations of animal protection organizations.
“Air travel is particularly dangerous for animals with “pushed in” faces (the medical term is brachycephalic), such as bulldogs, pugs and Persian cats,” according to the U.S. Humane Society website. “Their short nasal passages leave them especially vulnerable to oxygen deprivation and heat stroke.”
For a complete rundown of safety considerations for pets on flights, refer to this page of the U.S. Humane Society website.
Perhaps your travel companion is neither canine nor feline? Other pets that are normally allowed on U.S. domestic flights include household birds, guinea pigs, rabbits, hamsters and marmots, either in-cabin or as checked baggage. More exotic friends, such as reptiles and monkeys, generally have to be shipped as cargo.
Many airlines bar travel with kittens or puppies that are younger than 8 weeks.
It’s important that you check the rules that govern flying with pets for your specific airline. Some do not allow pets to travel with a minor (and no adult). Depending on the flight, you might not be able to sit with your pet in certain parts of the plane. Some don’t allow any pets in business class.