Starting March 1st, flying pets are likely to be a little bit safer in the friendly skies.
I can’t foresee any situation in which I’d check one of my cats as cargo on a flight. Flying in the cabin would be terrifying enough — flying in cargo would seem likely to trigger a nervous breakdown in sensitive felines. And that doesn’t take into consideration the dangers inherent in flyging cargo: fatal temperature extremes, the possibility of escaping, and potentially fatal breathing problems for smashed-face breeds.
When Jack the Cat died, American Airlines faced harsh criticism both for its animal-handling procedures and its refusal to let searchers into restricted areas to search for Jack. The unfortunate incident raised awareness of the dangers of flying pets in cargo and prompted airlines to re-evaluate their pet policies. Last year, 25 pets in cargo died, nine were injured and two were lost.
United Airlines and US Air recently announced that they will no longer check pets as baggage. Pets will still be allowed to travel in the cabin, provided they meet the size and weight restrictions. On United, pets who can’t fit under an airline seat must travel as cargo via PetSafe. The cost of flying an animal with Continental’s PetSafe program starts at $149 each way.
Some animal owners are livid over the new restrictions. Although most cat owners will still be able to bring their pets on board with them, the new policies make it impossible for owners of larger pets to travel with their animals.
The cost is prohibitive for overseas military personnel. For example, flying a pet from Japan to the U.S. via cargo on United can now cost over $3800, far beyond the budget of most of those in the military. FlyersRights.org claims that the airlines are forcing people to abandon their pets because they cannot afford to transport them.
You see, military personnel have little choice but to fly United, which has a government contract for reduced Military rates. United has responded by promising to re-evaluate the cost of shipping animals from Japan, although it’s questionable whether that’s the best solution for the pet.
Sample Pet Shipping Costs on Major Airlines
Northwest/Delta: $150 each way in the cabin; as high as $550 each way on Delta as cargo.
American Airlines (the ones who lost Jack): $100 each way in cabin (max weight 20 lbs. including carrier); $150 each way in cargo.
JetBlue: $100 each way in cabin (max weight 20 lbs.); $150 each way in cargo.
Alaska Airlines and Southwest: $75 each way in cabin.
Are Pet-Only Airlines the Answer?
Yes, for dog owners. It’s safe and not prohibitively expensive. Not so much for cats who are fearful of dogs. Imagine being terrified of dogs and spending five or six hours in a carrier surrounded by barking dogs. It’s a better option for cats who live with dogs and are unfazed by barking.
Also, it is not a seamless experience. If you are flying at the same time as your pet — say, from LA to NYC, you have to arrive extra early to get your pet on the flight, catch your own flight, then hope there are no delays. It generally works better to have someone flying with you who takes an earlier flight and can meet the pet at the other end on arrival.
Price and policies are often in flux, so if you plan to travel with your cat, plan as far ahead as pawsible.