As travel heats up, more animals are getting their wings

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The airlines are going to the dogs, and pooch-packing passengers like me are to blame.

Whether for business or pleasure, I rarely fly without my 5-pound, longhair Chihuahua, Lucy, in the cabin with me. Until recently it was seldom an inconvenience. But these days so many travelers are bringing Fifi on board that pet owners need to book as early as possible and be flexible.

Three times this year — in April on a Delta flight from LAX to JFK and twice in June on Delta flights from Rome to the U.S. — I was unable to book the flights I wanted because there was already a dog or cat in BusinessElite class.

Airlines, aware that passengers have allergies to animals, restrict the number of pets in each cabin. Two to five pets are allowed in the main cabin and one or two in first and business class, depending on the airline.

All airlines have size and weight limits for pets traveling in cabins (they must fit in an under-seat carrier), and certain breeds of dogs are banned. There are federal restrictions on age: Dogs and cats must be at least 8 weeks old to fly. Pets travel in a plane's main cabin, as checked baggage or in the cargo hold, or you can use a service that will ship animals separately.

I had three options: fly in the main cabin, where Delta allows two animals; ship my dog on a separate plane; or change my schedule. I chose a different schedule, but finding space from Rome to the States took nearly two weeks of daily calls to confirm a flight leaving a week later than I had planned.

Most airlines charge $50 to $80 one way to bring a pet in the cabin on domestic flights and $100 to $200 to book them as cargo. International costs vary by destination.

"As more and more pets are going on vacation, people need to be a little more flexible with their vacation and schedule more in advance than they normally would because they have to anticipate that there are other pets trying to get on the flight."

Airlines have recognized the increase in pet passengers and are throwing them a bone.

Midwest this year began giving free tickets to pets who fly frequently and allowing owners to pay for pet fares with mileage awards.

"We saw a customer need that was not yet met in our industry," says Midwest's marketing coordinator, Susan Kerwin-Hagen. "From my own experience, I knew that many people want to take their pets with them on trips, but are reluctant to 'ship' their loving companions. This program offers them a safe, comfortable travel environment for their pets."

Midwest's Premier Pet Program offers pets one free round-trip for every three paid round-trips (or six one-way trips). Owners who are frequent-flier members can redeem 15,000 Midwest Miles for free round-trip transportation for their pet on the airline.

Midwest pet passengers travel in a pressurized, temperature-controlled cargo hold beneath the cockpit. Kennel space is limited, so reservations well in advance are recommended. (Service animals are allowed in the cabin but are not eligible for the program.) For more information, go to http://www.midwestmiles.com or call (800) 452-2022.

Since launching the program, Midwest has seen a 25% increase in the number of pets in its cargo hold, and a few animal owners already have cashed in their pets' Midwest rewards.

United also started a program this year. Pet Class ran from January to May and offered Mileage Plus members the chance to earn 1,200 bonus miles when their pets flew with them in the cabin or as checked baggage. "It does look very promising that we will continue something like this in the near future," Urbanski says.

Continental began a trial PetPass program in 2003 that proved so popular that it was continued. The program allows OnePass members to earn a OnePass mile for every dollar spent transporting a pet using Continental's PetSafe service. (In-cabin pets and service animals do not qualify.)

For more information, go to http://www.continental.com/travel/policies/animals/rates.asp or contact Continental's PetSafe Desk at (800) 575-3335.

Most airlines charge $50 to $80 one way to bring a pet in the cabin on domestic flights and $100 to $200 to book them as cargo. International costs vary by destination.

Airline restrictionsNot every carrier is pet-friendly. Southwest and European budget carriers Ryanair and EasyJet do not allow pets in the cabin or as cargo. American Airlines does not allow carry-on pets on transatlantic, transpacific or Central and South American flights, but they may be able to travel as baggage, depending on the destination country.

JetBlue accepts three small cats and dogs in the passenger cabin except on flights to and from Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas.

Most airlines require proof of a rabies vaccination and, depending on destination, a health certificate. Hawaii has quarantine rules to navigate; for information, go to http://www.hawaiiag.org/hdoa/ai_aqs_info.htm or call (808) 483-7171.

When traveling internationally, contact the embassy or consulate of the destination country to determine what you'll need to bring a pet into the country. Dogs and cats entering European Union countries must have an implanted microchip or tattoo. Like Hawaii, Britain also quarantines dogs, cats and ferrets. For more information, call 011-44-870-241-1710 or http://www.defra.gov.uk/animalh/quarantine/index.htm .

Also, most airlines have weather-related restrictions on animals. Delta and Aeromexico have summer restrictions and do not allow pets checked as baggage from May 15 to Sept. 15. America West never allows pets in the cargo hold because of extreme temperatures in its Phoenix and Las Vegas hubs.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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