Every year, 2 million animals board airplanes in the U.S. But before you pull out your pet carrier (airline-approved, naturally) make sure you do these five things to save some stress and money, too. And check out our list of the fees you'll have to pay to take along your furry friend.
1. Plan ahead
Most airlines allow only a few animals to board, which means one dog show could wreck your travel plans. You might also need a current veterinarian's health certificate, plus an acclimation certificate if the temperature will drop below 45º F. (Note: Airlines can't accept pet in cargo or baggage if the outside temperature goes above 85º F or below 20º F.) Attach your name, address, phone number, and a recent pet photo to the carrier. Then do the sniff test: Does Fluffy need a bath? Airlines can reject stinky pets!
2. Know the rules
Print out the requirements for pet travel from the airline's Web site and take them along. Airport workers aren't always familiar with all the details, so printed rules can come in handy if you run into trouble.
3. Compare costs and services
Airlines frequently change their pet-travel fees and rules. Air Tran, Jet Blue, and Southwest allow small pets to travel in the cabin but won't accept pets as checked baggage. Frontier will check your pet as baggage but won't allow it in the cabin. On Jet Blue and Continental, your pet earns air miles for travel. Most airlines allow only domestic cats and dogs, though a few (Air Tran, Delta, Continental, Spirit Airlines, United, and US Airways) will welcome your bird. Service animals, such as guide dogs, are allowed on any U.S. flight.
4. Beware of the risks
In 2009, 23 pets died during commercial air transit. Others were injured or lost when they escaped from their crates. If your pet is flying as baggage or cargo, ask the flight attendant to monitor the temperature in the pet-storage area. For pet health reasons, some airlines don't allow bulldogs and short-nosed breeds, such as pugs or Persian cats, to travel as cargo during warmer months. Airlines will not fly a pet younger than eight weeks or ones with special medical needs. Also, most vets no longer recommend sedation, which can affect your pet's heart or breathing.
5. Consider alternatives
At Pet Airways, a new pets-only airline, pets fly in the climate-controlled main cabins under the supervision of an attendant. Prices range from $99 to $549 one way, depending on pet size and flight length; the average cost is $250. Pet Airways (PetAirways.com, 888-pet-airways) now flies to nine cities, including New York, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Los Angeles, and says it plans to expand to 25 to 30 cities. And if you really can't bear to fly without Fido on your lap, go to www.dogtravelcompany.com for info on chartering flights with dogs.
For more info, go to BringYourPet.com, HealthyPet.com, PetFlight.com, PetTravelCenter.com, PuppyTravel.com, and TripsWithPets.com.