Flying with pets: The best tips from frequent fliers

Travelers with small pets such as cats and dogs are on the hook for fees — ranging from $95 to $125 each way depending on the airline — and have to place animals in a carrier small enough to fit under a seat. Larger animals can fly as checked baggage in the plane’s cargo hold or as an air cargo shipment, but fewer airlines are offering these services because of the pandemic.

Jennifer Kopczynski, a “flight nanny” who transports pets to their new homes and does about three flights a month, said travelers will need to call their airline after booking a ticket to confirm space for their pet, as airlines may limit the number allowed on a given flight. (Some airlines do not permit pets on board at all.)

“You just have to always be on top of what the current rules are,” she said.

Susan Smith, owner of PetTravel.com, advised trying to find a flight with the fewest possible stops. “The more layovers you have, the more stress for your pet,” said Smith, who has been through the process herself. She remembers flying with her mini wheaten terrier, Emily. “She was a good traveler,” Smith said.

That is especially important if you can’t take your pet in the cabin with you, noted Tracey Thompson, owner of PetFriendlyTravel.com. “You do not want your pet getting lost in transit,” she said. “If you have to change planes — really bad idea.”

Consider your pet’s temperament, too. While Thompson’s site serves people traveling with pets, she has never flown with hers. All her dogs have been too big to fly in the cabin, she said, and she wouldn’t put them in cargo because they were “too high-strung or had abandonment issues.”

If your pet is flying in the cargo hold, Smith urged travelers to fly during the spring or fall, when temperatures are less extreme. She also said to book a midweek flight to avoid popular travel days and increase the chance that there will be room; baggage handlers will also have more time to care for your pet.

For travelers bringing their pets into the cabin, she said, book a window seat, as the pets will be farther from commotion in the aisle. Those seats also may have more space underneath.

Thompson said most airlines only allow dogs and cats in the cabin, though some allow birds. She said that “99 percent of them” will take any kind of animal in checked baggage. Some airlines will permit animals such as rabbits and guinea pigs in the cabin, Smith added.

Placing pets in the cargo hold has been the subject of scrutiny over its safety. Short-nosed dog breeds, such as Boston terriers and pugs, may be more sensitive to changes in air quality and temperature in that part of the aircraft, and they are more likely to die on planes than breeds with longer snouts, per the American Veterinary Medical Association. Short-faced cat breeds also may be more prone to respiratory problems.

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