(PET TRAVEL) – Traveling with your dog can be a hassle, but that doesn’t mean you want to leave your beloved pooch at home. Here are some tips on getting from here to there smoothly, with your pet and wallet intact. — Global Animal
New York Times, Michelle Higgins
SUMMER vacation is no longer just for two-legged travelers. Room service menus for Fido, massages for over-stressed terriers and tabbies, cushy beds for canines: many hotels have been ratcheting up the pet amenities. Best Western has even hired Cesar Millan of National Geographic Channel’s “Dog Whisperer” to be the chain’s pet travel expert.
The problem is getting your pet to the destination. In recent years, transporting pets on commercial flights has grown more complicated — and more expensive. All major carriers have significantly raised the fees they charge for bringing pets onboard, matching, or in some cases, surpassing, the $100 surcharge each way they typically charge for children flying alone. Fees vary depending on whether the pet flies under your seat, or as checked baggage or cargo, which involve extra handling. American, Delta, United and Continental charge $125 each way for pets in the cabin. United charges the most for pets traveling as checked baggage: $250 each way or $500 round trip.
Pet safety has also become a more pressing issue. Incidents of animals being lost, injured or dying have recently risen. Thirty-nine animals died while flying aboard commercial jets in the United States last year, compared with 22 in 2009, according to the Department of Transportation. Thirteen were injured and five were lost. Delta was responsible for a significant portion of the increase, with 16 deaths and 6 injuries in 2010, compared with 3 deaths and no injuries the previous year.
While those numbers are a small percentage of the hundreds of thousands of animals flown by the airlines each year, they expose the dangers that pets may face while traveling. Not that airlines don’t anticipate risks. Carriers typically will not accept pets as checked baggage or cargo when the temperature is forecast to exceed 85 degrees or fall below 20 degrees at any location on the animal’s itinerary. Also, many airlines will not accept snub-nosed pets, like bulldogs or Persian cats, as cargo since they are prone to breathing problems. Delta, for instance, which reported several bulldog fatalities last year, has changed its policy and now bans the breed from its planes.
Mixed breeds can also be turned away as Bruce Max Feldmann learned when he and his 70-pound mutt, Chicha, an American Staffordshire terrier cross, showed up at the American Airlines ticket counter for a flight from San Francisco to León, Guanajuato,Mexico, earlier this year.
When he called the airline to confirm the reservation, he was told that the only requirements for his dog were that the carrier and animal meet a 100-pound weight limit and that the pet’s vaccinations be current. But the check-in agent said that not only was his dog on the list of restricted breeds, but that the pet carrier was also too big for the plane.
“I was shocked and angry,” said Mr. Feldmann, a retired veterinarian from Berkeley, Calif., who was rebooked the next day on a United flight to Los Angeles, where he transferred to an Alaska Airlines flight to Guadalajara, a three-hour drive from León. The ordeal ended up costing him an extra $978 ($528 for a last-minute, first-class ticket onAlaska, and $450 for a car from Guadalajara to Guanajuato). American points out that it lists restricted breeds and carrier dimensions on its Web site under Traveling with Pets.
Despite such inconveniences, airlines say they are going out of their way to be pet friendly. Delta has climate-controlled holding areas for pets shipped as cargo that are connecting at its hubs in Atlanta, Cincinnati, Dallas and Salt Lake City. JetBlue has a frequent-flier program for pets called JetPaws that allows customers to earn extra miles when flying with a pet. And last year Frontier Airlines, in response to demand, began accepting small pets in the passenger cabin for the first time for a fee of $75 each way. Previously it had transported pets only as baggage.
If you are considering putting your pet on a plane, here are a few tips to smooth the process.
MAKE SURE YOU HAVE THE RIGHT CARRIER Requirements vary by airlines and size of plane, so make sure you know what those requirements are before you arrive at the airport. Delta says maximum carry-on kennel dimensions are determined by your flight, so you must contact reservations to determine the appropriate size. The maximum size for cabin pet carriers on American is 19 inches long by 13 inches wide by 9 inches high. Animals must be able to stand up, turn around and lie down in a natural position in the kennel. Sherpa Pet Group, known for its pet carriers (from $40 to $156) offers a program that guarantees that its carriers are compliant with airline rules and will refund the cost of your airline flight and your pet’s travel fee to those who sign up at Flygob.com.
BOOK EARLY Airlines limit the number of pets in the cabin, so don’t wait until the last minute to book.
PREPARE YOUR PET FOR TRAVEL Cesar Millan suggests taking the time to acclimate your pet to the carrier by placing it on the floor of the car so the pet can feel the vibration as it will on a plane. Mr. Millan also recommends using lavender oil as an “association scent” to help the pet relax on the plane. At feeding times and before walks, place a drop of the oil on your hands and let your dog pick up the scent. Once onboard, “the positive association will allow him to calm down and remain relaxed,” Mr. Millan explained. Finally, Mr. Millan said, take your dog for an extra-long walk or run to help drain his energy before the flight. “The more tired he is,” Mr. Millan said, “the more likely he will be to sleep and relax during the flight.”
CHECK OUT PET AIRWAYS Based in Delray Beach, Fla., Pet Airways began offering pet-only flights in 2009 and currently serves nine destinations across the United States, including Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and Fort Lauderdale. The airline recently announced plans to fly to Orlando, Fla.; St. Louis; Houston; Austin, Tex.; and Dallas this summer. Pets fly in a climate-controlled passenger cabin, outfitted with individual crates instead of seats, where a flight attendant checks on the animals every 15 minutes. Fares begin at $99 each way from New York to Baltimore, $199 from New York to Chicago and $249 from New York to Fort Lauderdale. After landing, pets are given a potty break, and can be picked up by their owners at the airline’s Pet Lounge at the airport.
GIVE YOUR PET ITS OWN VACATION There are a growing number of kennels (including some near airports) with upscale pet amenities from bone-shaped wading pools to pet cams so that owners can log onto the Web and catch a glimpse of their cat or dog at play.
Best Friends Pet Care Inc., a chain of 42 boarding centers in 19 states across the country, offers tiered accommodations from standard rooms (about $30 a night for dogs and $19 for cats) to V.I.P. suites ($60 to $70) complete with flat-screen TVs, webcams and a roster of add-ons like chewy treats for dogs ($2), cookies and milk for cats ($4) or cuddling ($8 for 10 minutes).
Similarly, PetSmart, the pet-store chain, offers PetsHotels, equipped with Poochy Cots, TVs tuned to animal shows and special ventilation systems so the dogs and cats don’t smell one another. The average boarding rate is about $30 a night for dogs and $17 a night for cats.
Ready to hit the road? Anytime you travel, please consider booking flights, hotels and car rentals through the GLOBAL ANIMAL FOUNDATION TRAVEL PAGE. A portion of all bookings goes to the nonprofit Global Animal Foundation and emergency rescue for animals in crisis worldwide.