Pet Travel: All Aboard!

July 29, 2011 | By | Comments (4)

Would you let your family pet travel by plane? If size restrictions ruled out coach, would you settle for cargo? I for one, would not (and I have our initial car ride of 24 hours to prove it), though I know of several families who made the tough decision to go this route in order to stay reunited with their pets when traveling overseas for long periods of time. Happily, their pets arrived safely and soundly.

I spoke with Kim Saunders, VP of Shelter Outreach at Petfinder.com, which just released its annual survey on the top airlines for pet travel. Saunders says, “We believe pets are family and that they should be treated with the same respect and safety concerns as family members. We wouldn’t put our family members in cargo — at least most of us wouldn’t! Our position is that if your pet can’t travel in cabin, that you provide an alternate way to transport them or provide great care at home until you can return to them.”

For this reason, Petfinder.com’s review lays out the best in-cabin options for animals.

This year, their review was expanded to include Canadian airlines as well as Unisted Sates-based airlines.

They selected six categories on which to base their review, including:  most pet-friendly overall, best amenities for pets (and pet parents), best for transporting pet variety, best for budget-conscious consumers, best for flying multiple pets in cabin, and best for big furry friends.  All pet-friendly airlines which made the grade were required to have no pet deaths in the past reported year according to official government reports.*

dog prepares to fly on an airplane

A dog prepares to fly on an airplane. Photo courtesy of Petfinder.com

These are the top 2011 airlines according to Petfinder.com:

  • “Most Pet-Friendly Overall:  Pet Airways.  Dedicated to providing a superior travel experience for animal passengers, the first-ever pet-only airline tops the list for this category due to their outstanding policies and first-class treatment of pets.  Because Pet Airways only flies out of several major airports, Petfinder.com reminds pet parents to drive or fly their furry friends in cabin on commercial aircrafts until Pet Airways comes to a nearby city.”
  • Editor’s Note: From the minute it launched, Pet Airways and the options they make possible were exciting to me. To clarify, this airline only caters to animal passengers, who fly in cabin (they are called “pawsengers” and flight attendants check them in and watch them throughout the flight, giving them regular potty breaks.) The airline currently offers only domestic flights.
  • Best Amenities for Pets (and Pet Parents):  JetBlue.  For the second year in a row, JetBlue’s superior JetPaws program landed the airline in top place for the pet-friendly amenities category.  The customer-focused airline provides travelers with a pet carrier baggage tag, a travel “petiquette” guide, 300 TrueBlue points each way, and a comprehensive e-booklet with pet-friendly hotels, restaurants, parks and animal hospitals in some of JetBlue’s major cities.” (Check out the JetPaws™ Travel Guide)
  • Editor’s Note: Mateo Lleras, Manager, Corporate Communications at JetBlue, confirms that the airline accepts small cats and dogs in the cabin on domestic and international flights. The combined weight of the pet and carrier cannot exceed 20 pounds. The carrier itself cannot exceed these dimensions: 17″L x 12.5″W x 8.5″ H. Your pet needs to be able to easily stand up and move around the carrier. An aside: your pet and carrier counts as your one carry-on personal item — so keep this in mind when packing!
  • “Best for Transporting Pet Variety:  Frontier Airlines.Frontierallows the most diverse variety of pets in cabin, including domesticated dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters and small household birds.”
  • Editor’s Note: Petfinder.com couldn’t find any airline that would allow snakes on a plane, so I guess “pet variety” can only go so far. According to Petfinder.com’s Saunders, pet owners initially stow their pets under the seats and then can allow their pets to sit on their laps during flights. But passengers aren’t allowed to open their pet carriers at any point in time, which is where my brother’s patented product comes in. (My brother developed and patented a portal system, expected to enter the market in 2012, that allows human access to the pet carrier interior with no chance of animal escape.)
  • “Best for Budget-Conscious Consumers:  WestJet.  Included in Petfinder.com’s review for the first time, WestJet tops this category allowing small dogs, cats, rabbits and birds to travel for $50 each way in-cabin.  Coming in a close second, AirTran Airways allows domesticated dogs, cats and birds to fly in cabin for $69 each way.”
  • Editor’s Note: According to Petfinder.com’s Saunders, in-cabin prices for animals can otherwise be as high as $125 one way. Cargo can cost a lot more and it’s done by the weight of the pet in the carrier. Prices increase even more when flying internationally.
  • “Best for Flying Multiple Pets in Cabin:  Frontier Airlines.  Another exceptional airline in this year’s review is Frontier Airlines which allows up to 10 pet containers on each flight.  While only one pet container is allowed per person, if you have nine other human friends traveling with you, the entire group can travel with up to 10 small four-legged friends.  Remember to book your reservation in advance so the whole family can fly together!”
  • “Best for Big Furry Friends:  Pet Airways.  The only airline with a sole clientele of ‘pawsengers,’ Pet Airways can accommodate some of the biggest pups in town, as well as smaller animals such as cats, rats and guinea pigs.  With the maximum height allowance being 34 inches from the floor to the top of ‘pawsengers’’ shoulders, pet parents of Mastiffs, Newfoundlands, Great Danes, Great Pyrenees, and all those mixed breeds in between should rest assured that their colossal canine can fly comfortably.”

What about you? Have you taken your pets on planes? How was the travel experience for you and your pet?

For more information on traveling with pets or providing for them while you’re away, visit www.petfinder.com/pettravel.

For more details about Petfinder.com’s review process, see their reported methodology below:

In order to determine the most pet-friendly airline for each category, Petfinder.com referred to each airline’s pet policies on their official websites. In order to account for any animal deaths, injuries and losses for U.S. airlines, Petfinder.com referenced the U.S. Department of Transportation’s monthly Air Traffic Consumer Reports for May 2010 through May 2011.  Each report tracks incidents involving the loss, injury or death of animals during air transportation from two months prior.”

*”According to a WestJet representative, there have been no reported pet deaths on WestJet over the past 12 months, though this fact could not be independently verified by a Canadian government source.”

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