Precious Cargo or Excess Baggage?

Your Pet’s Passport to Safe Air Travel

Copyright © 2013

When it comes to pet air travel, size matters – if you’re a lucky little dog or cat weighing in at twenty pounds or under (including the carrier), you’re pretty much assured a spot in the lap of pressurized luxury, just inches from your beloved owner. But if you’re a pet with some heft, your on-board experience and safety could literally hinge on a wing and a collective prayer. While the smaller breeds order their in-flight meal, the larger breeds walk down the plank, heading to the gallows…er, excuse me, the cargo area, ignorant to the unbeknownst perils that could lie ahead.

You may be saying to yourself, “the cargo area is supposed to be climate-controlled and pressurized”, but then what can we attribute the thirty-nine pet deaths reported in 2010? Of the ten major airlines investigated, sixteen deaths transpired while flying Delta airlines, American Airlines and Continental followed with six fatalities each, and Alaska Airlines and United Airlines each admitted two. (Study published by

Truth be told, short-nosed dogs (bulldogs, pugs, boxers, etc.) made up 70% of these tragedies, with high doses of heat, humidity and stress noted as deadly contributors to these easily-flustered breeds. For the remaining percentage, several of the deaths were due to dogs escaping their kennels and being hit by cars before even leaving the ground.

Sure, accidents happen, but add twelve injuries and five pet losses to the mix, bringing the 2010 grand total to fifty-six incidents, and one may wonder what can be done so the ‘friendly skies’ can once again deserve such a moniker?

Carriers RULE
Your dog should be able to stand up, turn around and lie down in a natural position inside the carrier – no exceptions. “Don’t wait until you’re heading to the airport to figure this out – I borrowed two crates, only to be turned away from the Denver hub because they weren’t large enough,” says Alicia, who recently moved from Colorado to Oregon.

By the time she dropped four bills on new crates and returned to the boarding area, their flight fee increased significantly (surprise!) because of the weight increase. “All said and done, we spent $1,500.00 to fly our two dogs the short distance to Portland,” she says.

A compliant carrier should: be made of wood, metal or sturdy plastic, have ventilation on at least two sides, include interior food and water dispensers that can be filled from the outside, have a secure locking system, display bold stickers proclaiming ‘live cargo’, and have prominent tags confirming the owner’s and vet’s info. Below is a table with basic information about airline pet policies. Definitely check your airline for their specific list of carrier requirements before arrival.

Book ‘Em, Johnny!
Most major airlines ask that you reserve at least 30 days in advance, especially if your dog is hoping to ride in the cabin since only limited numbers are accepted per flight, and then re-confirm the arrangements 24-48 hours before departure. If temperatures are higher or lower than recommended in connecting cities, there’s no guarantee that they’ll let your pet fly, so be prepared to either postpone travel by air or have a Plan B.

It’s important to check each airline’s website for requirements and pricing: whether in the cabin or cargo, prices vary wildly. See our table below, which gives basic information about traveling with pets. Some need your pet’s medical history confirming that they are up-to-date on their shots and are in good health, while others require additional forms confirming that he/she has consumed water and food within four hours of take-off, that he/she is acclimated to the travel kennel, and that you’re assuming any liability concerning your pet.

Pure Bred Genius
An airline devoted to flying our furry family members? Purrfect! Human passengers are off-limits, but your pet will fly in the comfort of the cabin with an attendant checking on them every 15 minutes – and another first-class perk is new squeaky toys for all! Carriers are supplied, so that’s one less expense and concern for the owners. Though this option can be pricier than some of the others – one happy customer said it cost $450.00 for her Schnauzer to fly one-way from Florida to Colorado – but for the peace of mind, it was worth every penny.

Pet Airways was founded by Alysa Binder; the story goes that because her Jack Russell Terrier was never the same after flying in the cargo area, she concocted what others thought was a crazy plan, but here they are in nine major cities – the answer to animal lovers’ prayers – and the first word in pet air transport.

It would behoove all the airlines to enhance an animal’s in-flight experience, if only to gain the loyalty of their pet-loving-patrons!


Airline Animals Accepted Pet Carrier Guidelines (Max Size & Weight, if specified) Charge Each Way
Air Canada Dogs, Cats Cabin: 21.5”L x 15.5”W x 10.5”H (soft-sided), 22 lbs 
Cargo:  115”L x 115”W x 115”H, 75 lbs
Cabin: $50 or $100 
Cargo: $105 and up
AirTran Airways Dogs, Cats, Birds Cabin: 17”L x 12”W x 8.5”H 
Cargo: pets not accepted
Alaska Airlines Dogs, Cats, Birds, Rabbits Cabin: 17”L x 12″W x 9.5”H (soft-sided), 20 lbs 
Cargo: See Alaska Airlines pet policy for kennel sizes, 150 lbs
Cabin: $100Cargo: $100
American Airlines Dogs, Cats Cabin: 19”L x 13”W x 9”H, 20 lbs 
Cargo: 40”L x 27”W x 30”H, 100 lbs
Cabin: $125 
Cargo: $175
Continental Airlines Dogs, Cats, Birds, Rabbits Cabin: 18″ L x 11″ W x 11″ H (soft-sided) 
Cargo: Pets can travel under Continental’s QUICKPAK program.  See Continental pet policy for details.
Cabin: $125 
Cargo: See QUICKPAK rates
Delta Airlines Dogs, Cats, Birds, Rabbits (cargo only), Hamsters (cargo only), Guinea Pigs (cargo only) Cabin: See Delta Airlines pet policy for kennel sizesCargo: See Delta Airlines pet policy for kennel sizes Cabin: $125 
Cargo: $200
Frontier Airlines Dogs, Cats, Birds, Rabbits, Hamsters, Guinea Pigs Cabin: See Frontier Airlines pet policy for aircraft type and size allowed 
Cargo: See Frontier Airlines pet policy for kennel sizes
Cabin: $75 
Cargo: $150
Hawaiian Airlines Dogs, Cats Cabin: pets not accepted 
Cargo: See Hawaiian Airlines pet policy for kennel sizes and weights
$150-$1108 depending on size and weight (To/From Hawaii)
Horizon Air Dogs, Cats, Birds, Rabbits Cabin: 17”L x 12″W x 9.5”H (soft-sided), 20 lbs 
Cargo: See Horizon Air pet policy for kennel sizes, 150 lbs
Cabin: $100 
Cargo: $100
JetBlue Airways Dogs, Cats Cabin: 17″L x 12.5″W x 8.5″H, 20 lbs 
Cargo: pets not accepted
Southwest Airlines Dogs, Cats Cabin: 19″L x 14″W x 8.25″H 
Cargo: pets not accepted
Spirit Airlines Dogs, Cats, Birds Cabin: 18”L x 14”W x 9”H 
Cargo: pets not accepted
United Airlines Dogs, Cats, Birds, Rabbits, Hamsters (cargo only), Guinea Pigs (cargo only) Cabin: 18”L x 11”W x 11”H (soft-sided) 
Cargo: See United pet policy for kennel sizes, 150 lbs
Cabin: $125 
Cargo: $250
US Airways Dogs, Cats, Birds Cabin: 17”L x 16”W x 10”H (soft-sided) 
Cargo: pets not accepted
Virgin America Dogs, Cats Cabin: 18”L x 15”W x 8”H, 20 lbs 
Cargo: pets not accepted

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