Pets on planes

American Airlines first class pets

Courtesy American Airines

People fly first class, so why not pampered pets?

That’s the idea behind the specially designed travel compartments designed for small dogs and cats on select transcontinental American Airlines flights popular with business travelers and entertainment industry VIPs.

The pet cabins—two per plane—are at the front of the first-class section of the 17 Airbus 321 aircraft the carrier uses on flights between New York’s JFK International and both San Francisco and Los Angeles International Airports.

The planes’ full lie-flat seats in first class don’t allow for under-the-seat storage of a pet carrier during takeoff and landing, but the airline designed the cabin with special ventilated compartments for pets.

For $125 each way, passengers booking first-class tickets may reserve a pet compartment for their furry companion. While pets traveling first class on these flights won’t get an amenity kit, champagne or an oxygen mask in case of emergency, their tickets cost the same as those pets traveling under the seat in coach.

“Obviously, the airline understands the needs of their [first-class] passengers and has compromised by allowing a special space for their pets,” said Susan Smith of “I think it’s great.”

It’s not just first-class passengers who want to travel with their pets. Eighty million U.S. households now have pets, and a growing number of those animal lovers now take their pets along when they fly.

Domestic airlines I contacted wouldn’t divulge how many pets they ticket as carry-on passengers each year. However, each has a formal program and detailed policies for how to get a pet on a plane, at prices that can top $125 per pet, each way for a domestic trip.

For each animal allowed, the airlines list charges, size and weight restrictions for pets and pet carriers, and required travel certificates.

Frontier Airlines, for example, charges $75 per pet carrier each way and allows cats, dogs, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters and small household birds on board. Although each passenger may only bring aboard one pet carrier, there is no limit placed on the number of pet carriers allowed on each flight.

Southwest Airlines only allows dogs and cats as carry-on passengers, charges a $95 pet fare each way and allows up to six pet carriers on each flight and sells its own carry-on compliant pet carrier ($58) online and at the airport counters.

The charge for in-cabin pets on United Airlines—cats, small dogs, rabbits and birds—is $125 each way, with an additional $125 charge for each stopover of more than four hours on domestic flights.

While some passengers take their pets out of the carriers during a flight, Barbara DeBry of urges her clients to follow airline rules that require pets to remain in their carriers the entire flight. Otherwise, it could make for a rather unpleasant experience.

“There was a recent incident where a woman refused to put her dog in the carrier and ended up being removed from the flight in handcuffs,” said DeBry, “She may have ruined it for everyone else.”

For those whose pets are too big, too unruly or otherwise unsuitable to travel with you as in-cabin passengers, there are other options. Pets can travel as checked baggage or as cargo, with an escort or courier service. If your budget allows, you can also fly by private jet.

Cats on suitcase

Courtesy: Marco Feldhoff

“We work with charter services, which are quite expensive,” said Susan Smith of, “but we’re aiming toward shared charters to bring the cost down.”

An option in the future might be transporting an animal on its own via an airline that only carries pets.

Pet Airways flew about 9,000 pets on small Beechcraft 1900 twin turbo-prop planes between 2009 and 2011, but ceased operations during the recession,” said company founder and CEO Dan Wiesel We were not able to tap into enough capital to survive.”

Wiesel says he’s working on resurrecting the airline now. “The economy is good, and pet parents still want an alternative to flying their pets in cargo.”

(My story about Pets on Planes first appeared on CNBC)



One thought on “Pets on planes

  1. Michael says:

    Airlines are capricious about what carriers they will allow, this varies from flight to flight, and it has nothing to do with their written policies or the kind of plane you’re in. If the flight attendants decide it doesn’t fit under the seat, and they vary in their opinions about this, you can’t fly with it. I had taken my dog in his wheeled pet (medium) carrier on 15 trips in the 18 months I had the carrier, on US Air, AirTran, United, and Frontier (before Frontier quit allowing in-cabin pets). Most of the trips were on AirTran. But on an AirTran flight last year there were four people with pets on the plane, all with the same size pet carriers (mine was the only one with wheels, and btw the wheels don’t make the carrier that much taller, and the carrier will squish down a bit if necessary). One of the flight attendants decided the carriers were all too big and ordered the four passengers to put their pets in an 8″ x 17″ x 12″ hard-sided plastic box. Three of us complied, but one couple elected to get off the plane rather than subject their pet to such a cramped carrier.
    I love Sherpa carrier and so does my dog. At home, I leave it out, and he goes into it often. It’s his “safe place”. But I haven’t taken him with me on a flight since that happened (and I haven’t traveled AirTran either).

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