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Using Miles to Fly With Miles: My First Time Flying With a Dog on American Airlines in Business Class

by on February 26, 2013 · 59 comments

in American, Pet Travel

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Last week I took my French bulldog puppy, Miles, on his first in-cabin flight from New York to Los Angeles. Having never flown with an in-cabin pet, a 5-hour flight was a bit daring for a first outing, but I couldn’t stand the thought of being without him for a whole week while I was in LA for meetings and to speak at the LA Times Travel Show.

Checking in with Miles in his carry on.

Checking in with Miles in his carry on.

I didn’t know what to expect exactly. I was nervous about the check-in process and security process, and how Miles would behave on the flight itself. Luckily, the overall the experience was great and Miles seemed to enjoy the flight, especially when the flight attendants paraded him around the plane for a good fifteen minutes – so much for having to keep your pet in their carrier at all times! I think he must have been the most popular passenger on the plane.

The Booking Process

When planning to bring a cabin pet on a flight there is one extra step added to your booking process beyond the normal rigamarole to buy your tickets. Once you make your own personal reservation, you have to make another reservation for your pet. For this flight, I didn’t want to fly in coach, so I redeemed 25,000 British Airways Avios and $2.50 and confirmed myself in business class on their 3-cabin 767 aircraft. Unfortunately pet reservations cannot be done online, so you have to call AA at 1-800-433-7300. Luckily it was a pretty quick process- I gave the representative my record locator number and she checked to make sure there was available space on the flight. Once she confirmed that a pet reservation was available, she added him to my reservation. Making the reservation is free, but once you check in you will have to pay a fee of $125 for domestic flights on American.

The Pet Policy

Since it was my first time traveling with a pet, I made sure to ask the representative to go over the pet policy, which has a few specific rules including the weight of the pet, the number of pets allowed per flight, and the acceptable size of the carrying case. The representative did mention that my seat could not be in the first row and I had to have a seat in front of me the dog kennel would fit underneath. Each airline has their own policy for pets so be sure to review it before you show up at the airport to avoid any surprises. I plan to pull resources together for travelers with pet’s, but in the meantime I’ll blog about each time I fly with a different carrier.

When Dogs Fly!

On the day of  departure I was running late for my flight and tried to check in online to avoid being closed out. A notice came up saying “Passengers traveling with pets are ineligible for check in online,” although I was able to use on-line check in for my friend who was also on the same reservation. On the flip side of things, American’s travel pet policy states “Checked pets will not be accepted more than four hours prior to your flight time,” so no dropping your pets off for doggie day care courtesy of the airline.

When traveling with a pet, when you arrive at the airport, you must go inside to the check-in counter and speak to an agent – curbside check-in or self service kiosks will not be able to assist you. The agent asked a couple of simple questions, like how old he was and then I had to sign a form. At no point was I asked for a health certificate from my vet, but I had one just in case. Keep in mind that the pet carrier counts as your carry on bag, so you are only allowed a small personal bag besides that. Once I paid the $125 fee on my Amex Premier Rewards Gold card (3x points because it posts as airfare!) and checked the rest of our bags, we were off to security. The agent also asked to make sure he could turn around in his carrier, but didn’t really care and saw that he was small enough and was quiet, so she didn’t scrutinize much and we were on our way. I was very thankful for being able to be checked in, because we showed up 55 minutes prior to departure and had to check bags. In the future I will leave much earlier just to be safe!

Security Process

Going through security we got to skip the ***

Going through security we got to skip the full body scanner.

When bringing a pet through security, you need to take it out of it’s container and hold it while you go through the metal detector. Luckily, having a pet exempts you from the full-body scanners and actually saved me time having to wait in that line. All of the TSA agents were super friendly and several joked around about keeping him there with them. I held him as they swiped my hands for explosives and while I was waiting to get cleared, I was able to hold him and play around a little bit. Miles loves people, so the whole process was a blast for him, but I could see it being harrowing if you have a nervous pet or cat that wants to make a run for it!

Flight experience

Miles has a moment to himself under the seat.

Miles has a moment to himself under the seat.

Once on the plane, I settled into my window seat and luckily I had a friend flying next to me, though I was anxious about him starting to bark. Indeed he did let a couple yips out, but I put my hand into the carrier and calmed him down. The flight attendant was extremely friendly and assured me that Miles would have a great flight and that everything would be fine. The passengers around me didn’t seem to care at all, so once settled I started to calm down and not think about it so much.

Before I knew it we were rolling down the runway and I thought for sure he’d freak out- I probably would! A couple babies started crying and the ascent was particularly bumpy. I kept waiting for some cries/yelps, but none ever came. I thought he was sleeping, but whenever I’d look down, I’d see him looking at me. I think he was just happy being able to see me through the carrier.

Once airborne the flight attendant told me I could take him out if needed, I assume since I was traveling with a friend and it wouldn’t bother my seatmate. I thanked her, but I wanted to let him get used to being in his carrier in the air- and frankly I didn’t want to mess up a good thing! However, after meal service, I took him out to give him a little attention and the flight attendents- all of whom were doglovers- couldn’t get enough of him and they fawned over him for a good 20 minutes. In fact before landing they actually gave him his own junior aviator logbook and set of wings! They even all wrote comments in the logbook and the whole gesture was a really nice way to end a great flight. I’m just concerned that I’m spoiled now and traveling with him won’t be nearly as fun in the future!

A thoughtful gift from the flight crew

A thoughtful gift from the flight crew

Delayed Baggage
The worst part of the experience was landing at LAX at 12:30am and having to wait about an hour for our checked bags to come. I noticed that at some point Miles did pee on the towel I had laid down in his carrier, which I can’t blame him for since he is only 4 months old and he was in there for a total of about 6 hours. I took him outside and put down a wee-wee pad as we waited, but he was too enamored with the commotion at LAX to go. He was very well behaved while we waited for the delayed bags, but I could tell his patience was waning and I think that came out perfectly in this picture.

Miles is not impressed with the baggage delay

Miles is not impressed with the baggage delay

I’ll be flying an airline that I haven’t flown in a long time later this week and Miles will be logging his second flight, so stay tuned for that. In the meantime, here are the pet policies on some of the major US airlines:

American Airlines
Age: Dogs and cats must be at least eight (8) weeks old for travel
Breed: Brachycephalic or snub-nosed dogs  (like French Bulldogs like Miles) and cats are not allowed as checked luggage
Fees: $125 cabin pet, $175 checked pet, no charge for assistance animal
Kennel size: No more than 19″ long x 13″ wide x 9″ high, pet must be able to stand and turn around with no restriction
Number of Pets: No more than 7 pets on a flight.
Weight: Under 20 pounds

Delta Air Lines
Age: At least 10 weeks old for Domestic and International travel.
Fees: $125 cabin pet, cargo pets rates are determined by Delta DASH
Kennel size: You must contact Delta Reservations to determine the appropriate kennel size as it is based on the flight.

Jet Blue
Age: Must be at least eight (8) weeks old for travel
Fees: $100 each way
Kennel Size: Cannot exceed 17”L x 12.5”W x 8.5”H
Number of Pets: Limited, call in advance
Weight: Combined weight of pet and carrier may not exceed 20 pounds
*TrueBlue members traveling with their pet will earn an additional 300 TrueBlue points for each pet fee paid

Southwest Airlines
Age: Must be at least eight (8) weeks old for travel
Fees: $75 pet fare each way per pet carrier
Kennel Size: No larger than 19″L x 14″W x 8.25″H
Number of Pets: No more than 5 scheduled pet carriers per scheduled flight

United Airlines
Age: Must be at least 8 weeks old to travel
Fees: $125 service charge each way
Kennel Size: Hard-sided kennels can not exceed 17.5 inches long x 12 inches wide x 7.5 inches high. Soft-sided kennels cannot exceed 8 inches long x 11 inches wide x 11 inches high.
Number of Pets: One pet per flight is allowed in United Global First℠, United First®, United BusinessFirst® and United Business® (select aircraft only). Four pets per flight are allowed in United Economy® on all United and United Express flight

US Airways
Age: Must be at least eight (8) weeks old for travel
Fees: $125 pet fare each way per pet carrier
Kennel Size: Hard-sided carriers up to 17 inches long (43 cm) x 16 inches wide (40 cm) x 8 inches tall (20 cm) and soft-sided carriers up to 17 inches long (43 cm) X 16 inches wide (40 cm) X 10 inches tall (25 cm).
Number of Pets: Limited, call in advance

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • http://twitter.com/TFC3Tweets Tom C.

    My wife and I have traveled about 50 times with our little Yorkie in the last 8 years… He falls asleep at the start of the engines and wakes up when we arrive back at the arrival gate… The process is interesting but one time I got booked a flight but there was no room for a pet carry on and a change to the tickets would be for both my wife and I and would cost up $300… Instead of flying from NYC to Madison, WI, we ended up flying to St. Louis, renting a car and riving to Madison (6 hours)… That is only time that a pet reservation can cause some stress…

  • http://twitter.com/annabelleblue Annalise Kaylor

    I have a 14-year old Chihuahua who often flies with me. I consider it quite the compliment when my seat mates are all flabbergasted that I have a dog in there. He sleeps almost the entire way. It pays to train them while they’re young. It makes the flight much more enjoyable for the dog and everyone else on the plane.

  • http://www.wired2theworld.com/ Kristina

    Even though I don’t have a dog, I enjoyed reading about the experience. He sure is adorable! Not sure if you are aware, but at LAX at least, there are special areas outside the terminals for dogs to “do their business” so next time look to see if any are nearby.

  • Sharon

    love this review and that the AA staff were so kind. Miles is so handsome and I bet he’s going to be a great traveler!

  • tassojunior

    There are pet relief stations at every airport but dumbly they’re usually outside security. No help on transfers. Taking something to clean the inevitable relief during a transfer is a must. People in airports are used to this but they really need some inside-security relief areas.

  • MidCentModFan

    I’d like to understand why there is a in-cabin charge for a pet that is stowed in the space under the seat that is included with the purchase of an airline ticket. (Is the answer “because the airlines CAN”?) If I stow a carry-on or briefcase in the space designated for my leg room, there isn’t an extra charge. What special service is the airline providing for my pet during the flight?
    I have traveled with my pets for years, both domestically and internationally, and have seen the “merits” of pet reservations. I have given up paying my vet for a prerequisite “recent (<2 weeks prior to departure)" health certificate each time I am scheduled for domestic airline travel (I travel frequently and I just keep a copy of the rabies certificate with me). I do not make pet reservations with the airlines and have never been denied boarding (I pay the transport fee when I check in). I doubt an airline would turn down the revenue from an in-cabin pet for a lack of a reservation. In many cases, if I wouldn't have declared my pet, there would not have been any extra charge as my pet is very quiet and goes unnoticed. Perhaps I have been lucky, but I bet I'm not alone in my experiences. Also, I think it's highly likely that many of the supposed "emotional- support" animals have been given a bogus designation in order for their owner(s) to avoid the high transport fees.

  • Peter

    I also travel with my Shih Tzu. Mainly on Southwest but also on American. My pet carrier is like a roller bag so I don’t have a problem with his 15lb weight when carrying him through the airport.

    I saw that you traveled in first on AA but I’d warn people that they will have trouble with the larger carriers in coach since the life jackets that are stored under the seats and the power outlets take up some of the underseat height. Southwest is easy.

    If possible, take your pet carrier on a flight without your pet to be sure that it would fit well under the seat with your pet.

  • Tyler

    As a dog owner, I find this approach selfish. You are adding unnecessary stress to the dog, slowing down security, and making passengers in business class have to deal with a yippy dog.

    Do what 98% of dog owners do and leave them with a friend or board them.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jim.williams.524 Jim Williams

    We have three Border Collies. That would be interesting! Fun article!

  • Tbennett83

    Your an idiot.

    What percentage of dog owners should actually have dogs? Probably 5%…

    Most dont have a clue on how to care/handle/train their dog and take your approach of treating them as an afterthought. Whenever you cant handle it anymore just drop them off at the pound right?……

  • Holly

    I think this really depends on the dog and the owner. I have been flying with my dog since he was four months old. We are both familiar with the security process, so it takes no additional time to get through the checkpoint (and less time than an inexperienced traveler). Boarding him would cause his (and my) stress level to go through the roof and would be much more traumatizing than a few hours in a carrier. As for the noise, my dog goes completely unnoticed, but generally I think most passengers are understanding if a dog lets out a few wimpers during takeoff…much quieter than most babies!

  • Bryan

    Regarding the soft sided kennel on United, is the maximrum 8″ long or 18″ long? Also, does Miles have the Chase Sapphire Preferred yet?

  • tassojunior

    I found a pet carrier with rollers and extendable handle (rollaboard) is best. There’s a great one at Target in brown for about $35. It’s supposed to be airline approved but it doesn’t quite fit under a coach seat upright. Probably fine for Biz.

  • AAJunkie

    I had a similar problem with “running late” and checking in. I simply called the AA Platinum desk. They removed the pet from the reservation. I then checked in and downloaded the boarding pass to my phone. Then they put the pet back in the reservation and I was set.

  • thepointsguy

    I live in different cities, so it’s not simply a matter of leaving him while I go on a daylong business trip. As someone who lives on both coasts, I think it is possible to live a travel lifestyle and have a dog who enjoys travel. It isn’t as stressful for the dog as you’d think- they really see no difference between a long car ride or plane ride.

    Security doesn’t slow people down either- it is the same as if I’d opt out, which I do normally anyway.

    I see your point, but as a frequent traveler, dropping my dog off at friends or a kennel isn’t a viable option for me- or my pooch

  • thepointsguy

    Agreed- it counts as your carry on and doesn’t cause any extra burden for the airline. I think these fees encourage people to abuse the emotional stress animal angle

  • thepointsguy

    Great tip- will try next time, though I’m not sure if it would work since I used Avios for my ticket.. but never hurts to try!

  • thepointsguy

    I WISH Miles could get his own credit cards and start earning his keep around here ;-)

  • thepointsguy

    Collies on a plane! You’d better hope to have some pet friendly flight attendants on that plane

  • thepointsguy

    I’m flying Southwest this Friday.. what seat do you recommend with the dog? Can you sit in an exit?

  • thepointsguy

    Thanks- The AA staff was incredible.. always great to see compassion in the sky

  • thepointsguy

    Yes- I need to be better about finding those areas. It was so late and I was hopeful that the baggage would come out quickly (how naive), but next time I’m going to test one of those areas out

  • thepointsguy

    Yikes.. I can imagine- I bet it can dicey during flight cancellations as well… I don’t plan on traveling with him all the time, but it is nice to know that the option is there so I don’t have to leave him at kennels or with friends. I’m pretty sure he loved his first time in the sky!

  • thepointsguy

    While Miles is quiet in his carrier, I do sometimes worry about his passing gas and bothering everyone around us! Luckily he didn’t do that the first time, but Frenchies are known to be a little gassy. You ever have a “silent but deadly” issue with your Chihauhua?

  • http://twitter.com/Goat__Rodeo Goat Rodeo

    I dont get the original poster – its an unnecessary stress but one of his suggestions was to board the pet? Silly.

  • http://twitter.com/Goat__Rodeo Goat Rodeo

    You’re.

  • tassojunior

    I fly WN with my partner and dog a lot. We always try to get pre-board because of the dog and then get a last row seat. Much more chance that no one will want to sit between 2 people with a dog and that extra seat is wonderful when you have a pet.

  • tassojunior

    ie- It’s better for the airline and you to be first-on, last off, when you have a dog.

  • RyanKelly

    How will you be able to fly with that ugly dog when it’s fully grown and weigh more than 20 lbs?

  • Julie

    Exactly. Boarding is far more stressful for a dog than being with your human on a new adventure. Brian is doing the right thing by socializing Miles early and exposing him to lots of different experiences. By the time he’s an adult he’ll already be a seasoned traveler.
    Regarding the ‘selfish’ accusation, it’s no more ‘selfish’ than traveling with young children; slowing down security, making other passengers have to deal with the noise of children etc.

  • Donna Ateah

    You were brave to take pup out of kennel.
    I would worry they would go to bathroom. LOL

  • Tyler

    Boarding is stressful? My dog absolutely loves it when she goes to the kennel. Again, all you need to do is be a responsible pet owner and find a good kennel.

    Think of it like this… what if every passenger brought a dog on the plane? You know how annoying that would be?

    Again this approach is selfish for many reasons I didn’t even list. What if someone on the plane has allergies? Or what if your dog has an accident in flight?

  • Dizzy

    If it’s economy, they will automatically put you in a middle seat, which has the largest amount of room. Not as bad as it sounds. You can ask to pre-board, usually it’s no problem.

  • Joe

    Can you redeem 25k Avios for an upgrade even though you already made a reservation with AA?

  • Junkbondman

    fyi: many airports have facilities for service dogs. You can probably sneak into and use one if needed. They are rarely in use in my experience, generally very clean and dog friendly. Just clean up after your use. I used to fly my dogs to Jackson Hole a couple of times a year. but after 9/11 all the airlines jacked up prices so much its a bit of an expense.

    Soft carriers are better than hard. Fits better under various seats. Dogs are flexible, they take up very little vertical height when lying down.

    I would recommend advance booking for pets due to the large variations among airlines for pets in cabin. Some business class cannot take pets due to lack of under seat space in business seats.

    In the pre 9/11 era we shipped 12 dogs on Continental to Pittsburgh when we moved. Now, it is probably not possible.

  • Junkbondman

    It’s so airlines can make money. It’s unfortunate since we now rarely fly with our pets. We have multiple dogs and we use a house/pet sitter. Cheaper than kennel and also much less stressful. Less chance of kennel cough etc. If they reduce fees we would fly with some of our pets again.

  • JRG

    Sorry, this is just wrong. What about passengers with allergies to pets? What are they supposed to do? You are imposing on them for no reason. When I see people with dogs on planes, it just strikes me as bourgeois and greedy – in your face selfishness, with the idea that we should all think it looks cute, etc.

    Not on my plane, please.

  • thepointsguy

    If someone is allergic, then they get moved (or i move) to another seat. What about the person sitting next to me on the plane with a cold? Or eating peanuts if someone has an allergy?

  • nsk

    I’m looking forward to more photos of this dog traveling places. Very cute little thing.

  • Ethan

    They pack a fucking Claritin.

  • JRG

    Please don’t equate kids to animals. I agree children are a pain on the plane, but sometimes unavoidable if they have to travel. The dog can be below. As for making the dog a “mature seasoned traveler,” again I suggest the plane is not the place for that, or he can mature in the cargo hold. I have more issues with the whole allergy problem with pets, whether next to someone or in the cabin. Selfishness – that’s what I see. As an asthmatic, I would have issues with someone and their pet next to me for whatever length of time; who moves? Me? Why?

    Sorry, but we are all stuck together on the plane and having a wild animal doesn’t help……

  • http://twitter.com/FunPawCare Fun Paw Care

    Brian,

    It is called Emotional Support Animal. ESA which I have written about numerous times on my blog here. And yes, Id be happy to watch your pet in your home town in Miami :) http://www.funpawcare.com/2012/06/23/abuse-of-the-service-dog-title/

  • http://twitter.com/FunPawCare Fun Paw Care

    Brian,
    In your blog post, please don’t refer to Miles or any dog as “it” they are sentient beings and individuals. You wouldn’t refer to a human as an “it” nor should you refer to a dog as “it”

    Thanks :) Russell

  • Peter

    No exit or bulkhead seats are allowed with a pet. Any seat in a regular row works for the approved carrier size but the underseat area is a bit smaller on the isle. I usually pick a window since my roll abound carrier is a bit bigger and sticks out from under the seat a bit. By picking the window, the other people on the row don’t have to step over the bag and the attendants don’t bother me about the bag size.

  • Aeroman380

    Nice post for the pet lover. I am surprised about all the haters on here. Wowzers.

    I am curious who you will be ’ll be flying later this week who you haven’t flown in awhile.

  • LittleThoughts

    Thank you so much for posting this!! I have a Frenchie myself and typically I leave him with friends. I’m boarding him for the first time during this vacation and honestly, I’m a little nervous but I’m sure it will be fine. My friends and family LOVE him and would love for him to visit also.

  • LittleThoughts

    You know, just like people, all dogs are different. Some people are TERRIFIED of flying, other people prefer flying to driving. My dog HATES being boarded or staying with friends. Every time I come home, he’s a few pounds lighter from refusing to eat. He doesn’t care as much about as environment as long as I’m there to comfort him.

  • LittleThoughts

    I never realized how ridiculous it is that they serve peanuts on planes until right this very moment. Also, can you give some info. on the carrier you chose, please? Primarily where you bought it.

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  • Nina Honey

    we have 10 months old French Bulldog and we HAVE to have him with us in cabin for long flight ( about 10-13hours), is it ok if we will give dog some kind of sleeping pills ? how long does sleeping pill works usually for animals ? do you have any experience having french bulldog in cabin ? and using sleeping pills ? Thanks

  • Tom Kammerling

    In general, dogs are going to be less annoying to passengers that babies. “Need” is no reason to justify babies on a plane – they can be left with caretakers just like dogs. As far as being below, so many pets die in transit, I would never consider putting one in cargo. A dog has more cognitive awareness than an infant. How about putting the infant “below?”

  • Tom Kammerling

    You’re an idiot. Your is the incorrect word in this case.

  • Tom Kammerling

    What about people with allergies to your overwhelming perfume? If a pet in a crate triggers your allergies, you have very severe allergies, and should let the airline know. They should guarantee that you are seated so as to not be exposed to the allergen.

  • kathleen

    This made me giggle. I will be flying with a Boston Terrier pup this Friday. I have never flown by myself or with a dog. Not only am I nervous about my carrier being denied, or getting lost, etc..but add a breed known for clearing out a room..oh boy.

  • Wildcat1

    I know this is an older post but interested in how ‘in cabin’, ‘checked’ and ‘cargo’ differ by airline for pet travel. Always had German Shepherds which of course are larger breeds so know they will not be able to be in cabin but wondering if checked and cargo are the same things but different verbiage per airline or if there is a difference what it is ?

    Thanks

    WC

  • MamaNikki86

    Great tips! Thank you! For anyone reading this article, I’m flying Southwest with my pet and called just this morning. Southwest has raised their traveling pet prices from $75 one-way to $95 one-way. Just a heads up for anyone who is one a budget (like me) and needs to factor any pet costs into their trip. :-)

  • michelejkiss

    Helpful post, thanks! My boyfriend and I are debating traveling with our miniature labradoodle in June, SJC>PHL. With a stop, unfortunately – but I would actually prefer that so we can take him to go potty… (And FYI, he’s hypoallergenic for the ‘allergies’ arguers out there!) He’ll be ~5mo. I have flown with a cat before (twice) when moving cross-country but dog will be a new experience! We’ll be in first class so hopefully it will be smooth sailing… I’m definitely nervous about it but I would really like him to be used to flying because we do travel a lot, AND I’ve moved cross-country twice in the last few years so a “good flyer” will make for far fewer headaches!

    With my cat, her carrier didn’t QUITE fit 100% under (aka, it sat “under” the seat but if I wanted to truly force it under it would be squished.) It was the approved AA one, though, so it was fine. Looking at your pics of Miles it looks like yours was the same? The height (even of the approved ones) is technically not short enough to slide 100% under but that seems to be fine?

    Did you give Miles any sedative? I’ve read all the arguments for and against but I DID end up getting some to my cat because she would have flipped out in security, and she was fine with it – just slept the whole time.

  • KTmcq

    dogs are not wild animals lol get over yourself. you’re the selfish one in this situation.

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