Pet Air Travel: The best airlines for your pets - Trupanion Blog
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How to Choose the Best Airline for Your Pet

best-airlines-pets Our pets are more part of our families than ever. According to a 2015 survey conducted by the Harris Poll, 95% of U.S. pet owners consider their pet to be “one of us”. Increasingly we are treating our pets like our children and so understandably finding the best and safest way for them to fly is a top priority.

In which case, when you plan your next family trip what option should you choose for your pet?

Flying with your pet in-cabin

Traveling with your pet in-cabin is obviously the most reassuring option. Providing you organize a suitable pet carrier and abide by your airline’s in-flight regulations, you can travel with your pet stowed neatly in the space in front of you. In 2015 a high number of animal-related incidents reported by Department of Transportation (D.O.T.) were the result of our furry friends attempting to escape from their carriers in the cargo hold – with you next to them this can be avoided.

Most major U.S. airlines will allow a small pet, usually restricted to a domestic cat or dog, to travel with you in the cabin, with the exception of flights arriving into Hawaii, due to its status as the only rabies-free state. It’s worth mentioning here, however, that service dogs enjoy special privileges so it’s a good idea to check with your airline first.

Flying in-cabin is usually the cheapest way to travel. A lot of airlines will fly your pet in-cabin for around $100, including Alaska Airlines, Jet Blue and Virgin America. Further savings can be found for small cats and dogs travelling on domestic flights; Air Canada will fly your furry companion from $50, Delta’s prices start at just $75 and South West Airlines charge around $95. Most airlines will limit the number of in-cabin animals per flight and usually operate on a first-come-first-served basis – so if you do intend to fly with your pet it’s worth getting in touch with your airline early.

American Airlines have taken the in-cabin pet experience one step further. Last year they announced First Class cabins for small cats and dogs. Nicknamed “Cuddle Class”, these can be found onboard the airline’s fleet of A321T planes for passengers travelling from Los Angeles and San Francisco to New York City. According to Travel and Leisure, pets can enjoy a special compartment next to their owner’s seat which costs the same as the airline’s standard $125 in-cabin pet fee. As with the airline’s economy class, spaces are limited and customers are advised to book in advance.

Speaking of Fur-st Class™ Care, that’s the name of Alaska Airlines’ promise to pet owners to provide excellent pet travel. Once again, Alaska will allow small pets to travel with you in the cabin and they promise to safely transport your four-legged friend, providing “furst-rate” care.

Flying your pet below cabin

dog-in-crate-travelWhilst flying below cabin or in cargo may seem like the scarier option, if you are travelling with a large or restricted animal, or flying internationally with some airlines, it’s your only option. Below cabin and cargo options are often more expensive as larger airlines price according to the size and weight of your pet, however Alaska Airlines are among the most competitive, offering one way trips starting at $100. Their service also includes updating you once your pet is onboard – so you have the reassurance that they’ll be waiting for you at the other end.

If you need to travel separately from your pet, Alaska’s PetStreak™ Animal Express also promises Fur-st Class™ Care, with the added benefit of a discounted pet health certificate. Most carriers will require an up-to-date certificate for below cabin or cargo travel which can cost in the range of $30-$100.  Alaska Airlines have partnered with Banfield Pet Hospital to give their customers a special $10 discount.

A few airlines have also come up with a solution to reassure owners about their pets travelling in the hold. As well as a 24-hour help desk, a key feature of United Airline’s PetSafe® service is pet tracking, allowing you to check up on your furry friend as they make their journey. Similarly, Delta Cargo’s Variation Live® program utilizes their GPS On-Demand service, which isn’t limited to live cargo, to measure the temperature, observe the light levels and pinpoint the exact location of your pet in real time – if you have to travel separately at least you’ll be there in spirit.

Perks for owners

These dedicated services are all designed to give pet owners peace-of-mind that their pet’s experience is as smooth as possible – but what about packages that enhance your experience? As faithful owners, what’s out there for us?

As well as a tracking service, United’s PetSafe® program offers 500 Mileage Plus award miles for each PetSafe booking, which also just happens to be the world’s Best Frequent Flyer Program according to Global Traveler magazine.

The airline that helps simplify your job the most however has to be JetBlue. Their exclusive pet travel program, JetPaws, gives owners everything they need, from the beginning to the end of their journey. They offer an array of pet travel products, including a preapproved JetBlue carrier, an introduction into Petiquette™ – a guide to air travel for pets, and 300 TrueBlue points for each flight. Pets can travel in the cabin with JetPaws for around $100 on domestic and international flights. The program also comes recommended by flights.com and Tripit – making JetPaws one of the most popular options out there.

Overall, selecting the best experience for your pet will be your primary concern and it’s important to seek advice from your veterinary professional before booking a flight. All airlines expect you to adhere to minimum age and health requirements before you fly. It is also worth checking for any breed restrictions once you’ve chosen your airline. There is an outright ban on the air travel of brachycephalic (short nosed and flat faced) breeds of dogs and cats as they are more prone to respiratory problems that could be aggravated by air travel. Airlines also hold the right to restrict pet travel at certain times of the year when the temperature at any point on the itinerary is likely to drop below or above a certain point.

Each of the aforementioned airlines have dedicated customer service teams who will be happy to help you make the best decision. It comes down to doing what’s best for you pet and, while it may be tempting to opt for a low cost solution, picking a service that gives you confidence will make both of your journeys much easier and more enjoyable.

Happy flying!


The airlines analyzed in the making of this report are limited to Air Canada, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta, JetBlue, Hawaiian Airlines, South West, United Airlines and Virgin America. Fees relate to one way travel and can be subject to added weight restrictions. International travel can also be subject to additional quarantine charges.  All reported services were correct at the time of publishing – 4/12/2016.

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