When it comes to airlines, there really is no one-size-fits-all answer to which is best for traveling with pets. It really depends on your specific travel needs. Some airlines have higher pet fees, but better rates on flights or a higher level of customer service. Some don't allow you to check your pet below-cabin, and some have weight or breed restrictions for pets.
To help sort through the options, TripsWithPets.com offers its take on choosing the best possible airline for your trip.
In-Cabin and Checked-Pet Options
Several airlines, including American and Delta, do offer a pet-check option, in which your pet can travel below-cabin on the same flight as you. In this case, the below-cabin area where your pet will travel is a temperature-controlled and pressurized environment.
airlines do allow smaller pets to travel in the cabin with you. Your pet must
be well-behaved, and able to fit comfortably in an approved pet travel carrier
that can fit under the seat in front of you.
All airlines have pet fees, which can range from $95 to $125 for in-cabin flights, and $175 to $200 for flights where pets are checked.
A note of concern: Checking your pet to travel below-cabin is a personal preference, and only you can decide what's best. Most pets don't experience serious harm during air travel. However, traveling below-cabin is likely to be a stressful experience for most pets, and therefore is not advocated unless it is absolutely necessary.
Best Choice for Service
TripsWithPets.com's vote for best airline as far as service goes is Delta, as it ranks high in on-time arrivals, fewest cancelled flights, and overall customer satisfaction. These are key factors that not only make your flight experience more positive, but directly affect your pet's experience, too.
However, as far as pet fees are concerned, Delta comes in at the high end with a $125 fee each way for in-cabin pets and $200 for checked pets.
Best Choice for Pet Fees
At $95 each way, Southwest Airlines has the lowest pet fee. However, airline fares vary so widely that you may find a fare low enough to offset a higher pet fee. In addition, Southwest only allows small pets, and does not offer the option to check pets to fly below-cabin.
What about Safety?
Safety is of utmost importance when it comes to our pets. Unfortunately, determining the safety of a specific airline when it comes to travel is a very difficult thing to do.
The U.S. Department of Transportation has required all U.S. airlines that operate scheduled passenger flights to file monthly reports on all pets that died or were lost or injured during transport. These safety reports are available to customers; however, the data can be hard to interpret, for several reasons.
First, the number of animals transported by each airline varies widely, so percentages have to be considered as opposed to just the number of incidents reported. An airline that has a very high level of loss or injuries may look to be unsafe on the surface, but you can't really know unless you are able to factor in the number of pets it transports.
Second, the DOT relies on airline reporting to calculate its figures, and does not fact-check or investigate potential inaccuracies.
Finally, some airlines only recently began transporting pets, and have no reports on record.
For these reasons, there is no reliable way to determine whether one airline is safer than another. However, if you fly with your pet in-cabin, you may feel reassured as they are in your sight and under your control.
Best Overall Airline
TripsWithPets.com's pick for the overall best airline for traveling with pets is JetBlue. JetBlue is a standout for several reasons: It ranks highest in overall customer satisfaction; its in-cabin pet fee is only $100 each way; and it is the only domestic airline that offers a frequent flier program for pets, called "JetPaws."
JetPaws offers those who are already members of JetBlue's TrueBlue frequent flyer program an additional 300 TrueBlue points for each pet fee paid. It also features an online store where pet parents can purchase an assortment of travel-related products for themselves and their pets.
The fact JetBlue went to the trouble of developing a special pet program indicates it truly gets that pets are a part of the family, and need to be taken into account by the travel industry.
In the end, you should go with the airline you feel most comfortable with. If you are budget-minded, then you may just want to go by flight rates and pet fees. If you are not, you may be willing to spend more to use your favorite airline.
Whatever airline you choose, it's important to feel comfortable with your choice. Airline travel can be a bit crazy and hectic, so it's best to be as relaxed and at ease as possible. Our energy translates directly to our pets, so if we are calm, they are more likely to be calm, and that makes for a good flight all around.
When it comes down to it, finding the right pet-friendly airline for your trip is about the well being of your pet. With a little research and a little planning, you can ensure that you both have the best possible travel experience, no matter where you're headed.
TripsWithPets.com is a premier online pet-friendly travel guide providing online reservations at more than 30,000 pet-friendly hotels and accommodations across the U.S. and Canada. When planning a trip, pet parents go to TripsWithPets.com for detailed, up-to-date information on hotel pet policies and pet amenities. TripsWithPets.com also features airline and car rental pet policies, pet-friendly activities, a user-friendly search-by-route option, as well as pet travel gear.
Author Kim Salerno is the president and founder of TripsWithPets.com. She founded the pet travel site in 2003 and is an expert in the field of pet travel. Her mission is to ensure pets are welcome, happy and safe in their travels.