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Contact: Allison Elliott

September 17, 2002
(800) 933-2923, (781) 934-7202

Smoothing out the Bumps

Demystifying Pet Air Travel

As the summer heat retreats, many airlines are beginning to gear up for an increase in pet air travel. We contacted the major carriers and they all expected to be extremely busy over the next several weeks. This upturn in business is mostly due to the lifting of the pet travel embargo, in effect from May 15 to September 15, which prohibits pets from traveling as checked baggage because of excessive heat. In tracking pet air travel trends, we’ve noticed that the airlines have also tried to smooth out last year’s bumpy ride by providing additional services, simplifying their rates and clarifying the rules and regulations put in place after September 11, 2001.

Shortly after September 11, the Federal Aviation Administration placed a restriction on the shipment of pets as cargo. It required that pets could only be checked as cargo by “known shippers” (individuals or companies that have a shipping history and cargo account with the airline). During this time, many people turned to licensed pet transportation companies to handle the shipment of their pets. Rather than paying the $45-240 fee that airlines typically charge for transporting pets, people needed to hire a pet transportation company (“known shipper”) and pay $250-2,600. The embargo was lifted in October of 2001 and since then individuals (“unknown shippers”) have been able to transport their pet as cargo.

Pet Travel Scheme
North American Pets Wing their Way to Great Britain
Smoothing Out The Bumps
Demystifying Pet Air Travel
Pet-Friendly Accommodations
More Doors are Open, But it Could be a Tight Squeeze
Jet Set Pets are Grounded
Airlines Enforce Tough Summer Pet Travel Restrictions

Before you book that flight, it is important to understand the rules under which airlines operate. Pets can travel in two approved areas of the plane, either in the cabin or in the pressurized and temperature-controlled cargo hold. The pet’s size and weight determine the associated costs and area in which they will be placed. The general rule of thumb is that pets under 10 pounds can travel in the cabin (the carrier must fit under the seat), while larger pets travel in the cargo hold. If you are flying with your pet (accompanied), most airlines can accommodate them in the cabin or as excess baggage. Expect to pay $50-100 each way. Not all airlines allow you to check a pet as baggage, though. Southwest does not transport pets at all and United requires that pets be transported through their cargo program.

Unaccompanied pets generally travel through the airline's cargo program. Cargo is the most expensive choice for pet air travel, with rates averaging between $140-450. Some airlines, such as Delta’s Pet First, have developed pet-specific cargo programs, while others ship your pet via their priority parcel programs. For example, American has three different types of parcel programs available for pets. Every one of these cargo programs is designed with an eye toward your pet’s safe and quick delivery. As always, you will be required to provide the necessary health certificates and documentation for your pet to travel.

Increased security measures after September 11 mean that air travelers need to allow extra time for check-in — generally 90 minutes. We wondered if pet owners were experiencing additional waits. We contacted the major carriers, and while some had eliminated pet curbside check-in, they all stated that people traveling with pets should not experience additional wait time. They did mention that people should expect a physical search of the pet carrier. Some airlines also put restrictions on the items contained within the carrier. Continental, Delta and Northwest state that the crate can hold nothing more than the required food, water and absorbent material. Toys and other supplies are prohibited. Other airlines do allow toys in the carrier.

Pets on the Go is the definitive resource on pet accommodation and travel information. Our air transportation resources, available to members, have been updated to include the most recent rates and information for pets traveling in the cabin, as checked baggage and as cargo. For more information about membership or to learn more about pet air transportation, please visit Pets on the