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The Best Airlines for Pet Travel

Sept. 30, 2018
9 min read
Airline Pet Policy-1280px600px_Lead_v1
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So you're ready to travel the world with your pet by your side. But which airline is best for your fur baby? To help you choose the right airline for you and your favorite canine, feline, rabbit or bird, The Points Guy teamed up with on a reader survey answered exclusively by traveling pet parents. We also asked TPG Lounge members to weigh in on their favorite airlines for pet travel; sifted through five years of Air Travel Consumer Reports from the Department of Transportation (DOT); and scoured pages of airline pet policies to identify the top (and, frankly, not-so-hot) airlines for pet travel.

The Data

According to the TPG and reader survey, the most popular reason travelers fly with a pet (40.7%) is because they can't — or simply won't — leave their pet at home. Moving to a new location came in second, with 27.4% of the vote. For 21.9% of travelers, it's the need for emotional support.

A majority of pet owners (78.1%) have traveled with a dog, while 18.8% have traveled with a cat and 3.1% have traveled with another type of animal. To give you some idea of what that "other" might be, Spirit, Alaska and Delta Air Lines all permit birds inside the cabin. One airline even green lights hamsters and guinea pigs! (But we'll get to that later.)

Only about a third (30.3%) of pet owners reported putting their fur baby under the plane in cargo. Though it's rarely the preferred method of transporting pets, it's the only option for some.

Happily, 81% of travelers reported having only positive experiences when traveling with their pet. In fact, 35% of pet parents said they've actually had an exceptional experience while flying, nodding to accommodating and friendly flight attendants.

The Details

So welcome aboard, furry friends! In the back pocket of the seat in front of you, you'll find the airline pet policy cards ranked by the best-rated airlines from the survey. Each card features important information about flying with a pet on that particular carrier. The animals featured on each card represent the species that will be allowed to fly alongside their humans in the cabin. (Additional types of animals may be allowed in the cargo area, depending upon the carrier.) Pet fees apply to carry-on pets only, as animals flying in cargo need to be booked on a separate ticket with a price dependent on the individual flight.

Of course, there are a number of other things animal owners should consider before flying with pets. In addition to the airline, pet parents have to make important decisions about the right type of carrier, where they're staying upon arrival and whether or not it's necessary at all for their pet to fly.

10. Hawaiian Airlines (0.5%)

Hawaiian is one of the most restrictive airlines in terms of pet travel. Animals can only fly in the cabin on inter-island flights, and those departing the Hawaiian Islands. And pets flying from or to John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) are completely prohibited. Given the fact that people can't travel with their pet in the cabin unless they're leaving the Aloha State, it's not surprising to see this airline's low survey scores. The state of Hawaii has strict laws regarding incoming pets, including a mandatory quarantine if pet owners do not take the proper steps beforehand. This may be a turn-off for traveling pet parents.

9. Spirit Airlines (2.2%)

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Despite the ultra low-cost carrier's notorious baggage restrictions, it actually allows one of the most spacious onboard carriers, compared to other domestic airlines (18 inches x 14 inches x 9 inches). The airline allows the heaviest pet carry-on, too: a combined 40 pounds for both the weight of the pet as well as the carrier. Dogs, cats and small household birds are welcome in the cabin. Bigger dogs are out of luck, however, since pets cannot fly under the plane on Spirit.

8. Frontier Airlines (2.4%)

Though Frontier received only 2.4% of the survey vote, its not all bad news for this regional airline. The fixed fee of $75 per pet, per segment is the most affordable across all the domestic airlines. Frontier also allows for a spacious in-cabin carrier and welcomes the largest variety of pets in the cabin, including dogs, cats, rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs and small household birds. Plus, TPG Lounge member Rachel H. said that though she's only traveled with her pet once, her experience with this airline was great. "Frontier let me hold my bird's carrier in my lap the whole way," she said.

7. Allegiant (2.7%)

Good news for young travelers, four-legged and otherwise. Allegiant is the only airline that allows minors (age 15 and up) traveling alone to bring a pet onboard. All other airlines, for reference, require solo passengers to be over the age of 18 to travel with a pet. Allegiant also does not enforce a minimum age for traveling animals, meaning you can start getting your kitten or puppy acclimated to air travel early. Pets can only travel as a carry-on, so leave the big dogs at home.

6. JetBlue (8.6%)

In her experience, Michele C. from the TPG Lounge said "JetBlue is the easiest" airline for pet travel, as it's the only airline with which you can "book and pay the pet travel fee with your itinerary." With other airlines, she explained, "you have to call after you’ve booked your flight and then pay [the fee] at the airport." This makes JetBlue one of the most straightforward and convenient airlines for travelers with four-legged companions in tow. When booking a JetBlue flight for you and your pet, a Pet Travel designation shows on your boarding pass. The airline also offers a complimentary JetPaws program that includes a guide to pet travel etiquette, a designated bag tag and an additional 300 TrueBlue points per segment for flying with your pet.

5. Alaska Airlines (10.8%)

Donna M. from the TPG Lounge had a great experience flying with her cats on Alaska. "We took our cats on Alaska [from] SFO to DEN when we relocated," she said. "We called and booked the entire row of three and then spoke to the gate agents, who had us preboard to be out of the way and have the cats settled under the seats in front. Such a good experience for all. But allow plenty of time, [and] be polite and grateful when people help you — not entitled!" Lisa V., meanwhile, has flown twice with her dog in the cabin on an Alaska flight with zero issues to report.

4. United (11.3%)

Despite snagging the No. 4 spot in the reader survey, United has a notoriously bad reputation when it comes to pet travel. But this might have something to do with the fact that United is the only airline that will fly brachycephalic dog breeds in cargo. Brachycephalic breeds include dogs with flat faces and short noses, such as pugs, boxers and bulldogs. These breeds are more likely to have respiratory issues in flight, which is the reason all other major US carriers have banned brachycephalic dogs from flying in cargo. According to the Air Travel Consumer Reports from the DOT, six out of the 10 dog deaths reported by United in 2017 included brachycephalic breeds. Although United has its issues, it is frankly the only airline for travelers who need to transport their brachycephalic dog.

3. American (15.6%)

American Airlines offers one of the biggest carrier dimensions (19 inches x 13 inches x 9 inches), so your pup can enjoy a bit more space during the flight, though the total weight limit is half what Spirit allows. The airline allows pets to be transported in the cabin when traveling to and within the United States, Canada, Mexico, Central America, Colombia and the Caribbean. If you're flying in first or business class on an A321T, pets will need to be put in their carrier and stored in a special compartment at the front of the plane during taxi, take-off, landing and turbulence.

2. Southwest (22.6%)

Southwest ranked in second in the pet travel survey, and it also offers the second least expensive pet fee, behind Frontier's $75. The airline also makes it easy for pet owners to pick out an appropriate carrier by offering a branded carrier of their own that will fit under any Southwest seat. The airline allows cats and dogs to travel within the US, but does not offer this service on international flights. Only small cats and dogs will be able to fly on Southwest, as they do not allow pets in cargo. And according to a TPG reader eyewitness report, you may have a lot of freedom on a Southwest flight with your pet. "I don’t think [Southwest] enforces keeping dogs in the carriers or under the seat," Connie C. observed. "My last few flights had dogs on laps the entire flight."

1. Delta Air Lines (23.4%)

TPG lounge member Brittani S. said she was "very pleased" with Delta’s pet cargo. "It’s climate controlled and well-regulated. We flew from Texas to Hawaii [during] the summer and they were able to accommodate us despite the heat because of air conditioned transport between the terminal and plane." Likewise, Lindsey B. was also pleased with her experience flying a pet in Delta's cargo hold. "The crew verified our dog was on board before take off," she reported. If you have to fly with your pet in cargo, Delta may be the best airline for you.

What airline do you like best when traveling with your pet? Sound off in the comments below!

All illustrations by Aida Amer.