United Airlines temporarily suspended its pet travel program in March following a series of troubling incidents that included the death of a dog stowed in an overhead bin. That incident called attention not only to United’s missteps, but to a growing travel trend—taking the family pet along on journeys. Despite United’s problems, traveling with a pet can be safe, and it can be a money saver, too, when the cost of the pet’s travel is less than the cost of a kennel. But it’s worth considering only if you plan carefully and make smart travel choices. Here’s what you need to know to successfully and safely travel with your pet…
Pets on Planes
Whether your pet can travel with you in the cabin of an airplane or must be checked into the cargo compartment depends on the airline’s rules and the animal’s size. Typically, the pet must fit comfortably into a pet carrier that can fit under the seat in front of you for it to travel in the cabin. Most airlines impose weight limits, too (usually 20 pounds).
For details about a specific airline’s pet policies, call the airline or search for “pets” on its website.
Expect added fees whether your pet travels in the cabin or as cargo. These vary by airline but usually are $75 to $125 per direction traveled by the pet for cabin travel…or $100 to $200 per direction in the cargo hold.
Traveling in the cabin tends to be safer for pets than traveling in the cargo hold despite United’s overhead bin fiasco. In the cabin there’s no risk that the airline will misroute your pet…and the cabin and terminal are almost always climate controlled while the cargo area often is not until the plane is in the air, and pets headed for cargo might wait in the heat or cold of the tarmac before loading.
But even the cargo hold is not tremendously dangerous—on most airlines. In 2017, US-based airlines transported animals more than half a million times, and the total number of deaths, lost animals and reported injuries came to just 40. But dig a little deeper into the animal air travel data and you’ll discover that pets faced more than twice the usual danger on one airline—United. (Delta has a poor record, too, but it has largely discontinued its pet transport program.)
Better: When possible, fly on Alaska Airlines or American Airlines if your pet will be traveling as cargo. These airlines have done a significantly better-than-average job keeping animal passengers safe.
Six pet air travel details worth knowing about…
- Airlines that generally do not accept pets as cargo include Delta…Frontier…JetBlue…Southwest…and Spirit. Pets small enough to travel in the cabin usually can travel on these airlines, however. Also: Pets might not be permitted in the cargo areas of other airlines, either, if the flight is longer than 12 hours or is to or from a location that is expected to have very hot or very cold temperatures.
- Airlines generally require a “health certificate” signed by a veterinarian. This form confirms that the pet’s vaccines are up to date and that it is healthy. The vet might have to sign this certificate no more than 10 days before departure date.
- If your pet travels in the cabin, it’s likely to count as your carry-on item. You will need an FAA-approved pet carrier that does not exceed the airline’s (or flight’s) size limits. Recommended: The Snoozer Roll Around Travel Dog Carrier Backpack 4-in-1 ($119.95 to $129.95 depending on size, SnoozerPetProducts.com) has wheels so you can tow your pet through the airport, and it can convert into a backpack, dog bed and car seat.
- Pets need reservations. Airlines restrict the number of pets they accept per flight both in the cabin and in cargo. If you arrive at the airport with a pet that does not have a reservation and the flight’s animal quota is full, you might have to take your pet back home—and potentially miss your flight.
- Airlines do not necessarily transport pets of every species, breed or age. Many accept only dogs and cats…and most will not accept snub-nosed dogs or cats in the cargo hold because of increased risk of potentially fatal respiratory problems. Animals younger than 8 to 12 weeks might not be accepted, either.
- Do not give your pet anti-nausea or anti-anxiety medication before a flight unless your vet recommends doing so. Some pets have adverse reactions to these medicines.
Pets in Trains and Rental Cars
Dogs and cats weighing up to 20 pounds now can travel on most Amtrak routes. The fee is $25, a bargain compared with the airlines. The pet must remain in a pet carrier no larger than 19”x14”x10.5 while onboard. (For details online, go to Amtrak.com/onboard/carry-on-pets.html.)
Most car rental companies allow pets to ride in their cars with no official added pet fee. But these companies are notorious for tacking on steep cleaning fees when they find pet hair on car seats after cars are returned—potentially $100 or more. Helpful: Pack an old sheet and put this over the back seat of the rental car if your pet will be traveling outside its carrier. Carefully inspect the car for hair and other pet-related issues before returning it.
Pets in Hotels
Four hotel chains that are particularly pet friendly…
- La Quinta Inns & Suites allows guests to bring up to two dogs and/or cats with no additional fees or deposits at most of its 870-plus locations. (See LQ.com/en/landing/pet-policy for details.)
- Red Roof Inns allows guests to bring one pet weighing up to 80 pounds at most of its 500-plus locations. Not only are there no additional pet fees or deposits—guests can also get 10% off if they bring a pet and book directly through Red Roof Inn’s website. Pets cannot be left unattended in rooms, however. (See RedRoof.com/why-red-roof-inn/pet-friendly.)
- Aloft Hotels, part of the Starwood chain, not only allows dogs up to 40 pounds in size at most of its 100-plus locations with no fees or deposits, it also offers amenities like dog beds and bowls at no charge. (Contact the specific Aloft property where you wish to stay to confirm that the location is dog friendly…and/or to request permission to bring a dog larger than 40 pounds or a different species of pet.)
- Kimpton Hotels allows guests to bring any pet with no additional charges or deposits at most of its 60-plus locations. There are no official limits regarding pet species, quantity or size…except that the pet must fit through the hotel’s doors. Pet beds, bowls and mats are available at no cost, and pets are welcome at Kimpton’s nightly wine receptions.
Helpful: Rover.com can help you locate a doggie daycare facility in the area you are visiting if your pet won’t be joining you for all your vacation activities.