Christopher Elliott is well known in the travel industry as a consumer advocate and as the ombudsman at National Geographic Traveler. So when I came across his article, “Traveling With Pets Can Be Pricey,” I was interested to find out what he had to say.

And then baffled.

The piece starts off proclaiming, on the basis of a single anecdote, that lots of people sneak their small dogs on to planes because they want to avoid the expense of paying to tuck them under the seat. Seriously? There’s a glut of pet lovers willing to zip their pups into carry ons, put them on a conveyor belt and have them X-rayed at security because they’re too cheap to pay an extra fee?  Update: I’ve since learned no x-raying or conveyor-belting is involved, having gone through the process myself. But my main point holds.

Elliot goes on to discuss people who sneak cats into hotels — this time based on the anecdotal evidence of a single innkeeper — and notes that it destroys the rooms for future guests because of impossible-to-remove cat dander.

After suggesting that, aside from Pet Airways, airlines don’t wish to be in the pet transportation business and that’s why they charge high rates for carry-on animals  — yo! airlines charge high rates for luggage too; it’s because they can — Elliot gets to the odd central premise of the piece:

The question that has largely gone unasked amid the traveling-pets scuffle is this: If your animal could talk, would it ask to join you on vacation?

He  quotes Maria Goodavage, author of the “Dog Lover’s Companion” series, who says, “Your best friend loves being able to be at your side any time,” and responds:

I can understand that sentiment as a pet owner (three Bengal cats, who are watching me as I write this). But I can’t bring myself to anthropomorphize my furry friends. In fact, I think it’s kind of insulting. My kitties would prefer to stay at home, where they have a predictable supply of cat food and toys. I miss them when I’m away, but that’s my problem.

Many pet owners reading this will take their dogs and cats along anyway, because they believe their pets can’t possibly live without them. If you do, find a pet-friendly hotel and don’t hide the animal.

Is it me, or is this really peculiar? Worse than Elliott’s undocumented assertion that there’s a whole lot of pet sneaking going on is the conflation of dogs and cats as equally reluctant travelers.

Sorry, but no. Most — though not all — dogs would prefer to be with their people and to have new adventures with them than be left behind. That’s an observation based on well-documented canine behavior, not projection or anthropomorphism.

Still, Elliott did bring up a point that made me wonder: What about cats? Do they enjoy going on vacation with their owners?

Not being a cat owner, I posed the question to several feline-savvy folks in the terrific new BlogPaws community, invaluable if you want to tap into the expertise of other pet bloggers.

Stay tuned for the responses tomorrow.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with another question: Have you or anyone you know ever tried to sneak a small dog or a cat onto a plane? If Elliott has a valid point here, I’d like to know.


35 thoughts on “Do Our Pets Really Want to Travel With Us?”

  1. We always follow the rules/policies when it comes to Gus – so we’re not part of the few that sneak their pets onto planes. It would be easily done though and it wouldn’t involve putting them through the x-ray machine. The security process does not check your receipt from the airline proving you paid for your dog’s way – it would be up to the flight attendants to catch any sneaky passengers. It’s a shame, but I am sure it does happen often enough.

    We are leaving soon for an extended road trip and often worry about how Gus will react. We already know he’d rather be at home in his familar environment, but leaving him behind is not an option for us. Besides, there will be no “home” after we sell it!

    1. Thanks very much for explaining this! The article I cite here describes a chihuahua being packed into a woman’s carry on luggage. Not that that cheating via security is a good idea, but the method of cheating you describe makes me feel much better.

      I’m sure that Gus would rather be with you than away from you for an extended period of time, even if you were to leave him in familiar surroundings. Frankie the fearful isn’t fond of road trips but prefers being with me; every pet sitter has told me how depressed he is at home when I’m away, barely leaving “his” (i.e., our) room.

      I’ll look forward to reading your blog posts about the trip.

  2. I successfully snuck my little dog on planes a couple of times, but not recently. It was very easy. First, don’t show the pet carrier to the ticketing agent. I used a pet carrier that was inobtrusive, but it was designed for carrying small dogs. Put it on the ground by your feet when you are at the ticket counter. If you use a kiosk check in–even easier. THe TSA people don’t care–that’s not their job–and so the dog never goes through the x-ray machine (you carry her through the metal detector). And when you get to the plane, the flight attendants rarely ask for proof of payment, so you are in the clear there too. Maybe the attendants on the plane are more vigilant now–but I did fly with my little dog last year (I paid) and no one asked for the receipt. And I should add that for the 20 times or so that I have flown with her, no one EVER asked for the health certificate. I don’t recommend sneaking dogs onto planes–if you are caught and there are other paying dogs on the plane, you can get kicked off if the flight exceeds the maximum number of dogs (usually 2) in the cabin.

    1. Ok, this is good. I love getting educated by my blog readers! I’m glad you got away with it, Alison; I’m so tired of being nickled and dimed for everything by the airlines and why should furry carry ons cost more than than the other kind? Is it little Edie who’s the scofflaw?

    2. I am a total dog-lover and would love to be able to fly with my dog. Sneaking her on the plane is not an option as she is a German Shep. But I must say that, even if I could, I don’t agree with it. I am not sure if you allow your dog out of the carrier but recently there was a case of a dog escaping their carrier while the flight was in air. Do you realize how dangerous that is? In additional you could inconvenience an entire flight by having the plane not take off, return to airport of origin or be forced to make an emergency landing. What about other people who have allergies? As a person who recently went into anaphylactic shock (though thankfully not over an animal allergy), do your realize how horrible that is? What about pets that are sick or not vaccinated? Illness could unwittingly be passed to pets that are or be introduced to areas in which they are not found. Not judging you but just some things you might want to consider. If you have a grievance with the airline or the airline policy then try to change it. Lobby for it, petition for it, state your case in an educated, factual way but there is no way I can agree with it. I’m not saying that’s going to be easy.

  3. What a nutty article. I am curious as to his sources. It doesn’t sound like he has much evidence to back up these claims. While I am sure lying and cheating happens, it is probably fairly rare. Pet lovers are people just like everyone else. No better and no worse when it comes to following rules.

    I know my cat would definitely prefer to stay at home. He despises the car. We brought him with us when we moved across the country three years ago and those five days were very hard on him. (We made sure to notify every single hotel about our cat, by the way) I wouldn’t put him through that again unless it was absolutely necessary.
    Our dog is much different. We normally build our holidays and small trips around places we can take her. Because she is larger, we won’t be putting her on a plane any time soon, but I know for the most part she would rather be with us, no matter where we go, then left at home or in a kennel.

    I am interested in reading the community responses.

    1. Well, seems I was wrong about the plane sneaking — the explanations make it more plausible than how the article described it — but when someone lumps cats and dogs together he loses credibility.

      And yes, I got some very good answers about traveling with cats. I saw I was going on too long today and didn’t want them to get lost by people who got tired of reading.

  4. Nope. Never tried to sneak Sadie anywhere, but then 50 pounds of poodle is hard to hide. But, I would not presume she wants to travel with me because of her fearfulness. I wish I had a bomb-proof dog who adored other people and dogs and thought life was just one grand adventure. But, alas, I do not. Since my approach to taking Sadie to new places in our everyday activities is that it’s Sadie’s choice. If she’s comfortable and interested in her new surroundings–like the new dog-friendly hardware store we visited yesterday–great. If not, we leave. I feel hamstrung by this, but I’d be a wreck if we ended up in a hotel in which she was anxious.

    On the other hand, I think of Amy and Rod and their dogs who have some issues. I’m sure their pups would definitely prefer to be with them rather than not. The thing I love about how they travel with their dogs is that they put their dogs first and the RV provides a huge source of comfort and consistency for the dogs. Now, that is something Sadie might get into—RV travel. But would I? Hmmm. Not sure.

    1. I have the same problem with Frankie as you do with Sadie, Deborah, with the added stress that he doesn’t have any doggie — or people — friends he enjoys at home. If he did, I would leave him without regret… well, except for about whether his insulin is being administered correctly. It’s really a tough call about whether he is more stressed about travel or about my departure.

      I wonder if Frankie would enjoy the RV… or, like you, if I would!

    2. Come on over to the dark side, Deborah and Edie!! =)

      It’s unfortunate that an author writing for a magazine like National Geographic Traveler would take such broad strokes. I think, just like people, some pets like to travel and some don’t. It’s a matter of knowing your pet.

      And, I’m a little insulted by Mr. Elliott’s insinuation that those of us traveling with our pets must be anthropomorphizing. Some of us are actually able to set our personal wants and desires aside and consider what’s in the best interest of pets. Perhaps the author’s Bengals don’t like to travel, but we’ve noticed that a lot of people traveling in RVs have cats that are perfectly happy. Not all pets are the same, and not all modes of transportation are equally enjoyable for the pets.

      1. Interesting, Amy. I’d thought only in terms of species as the variable — but maybe the mode of transportation is equally important. Still… I imagine you see far fewer cats than dogs traveling in RVs. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post…

  5. I don’t know anything about “little” dogs or cats. But jingle a check chain or start a truck at my house and you batter be ready to take a GSD or a Lab with. My old Lab, a retired guide dog, would get down right mad if you left him at home. When he died at 16 he had traveled over 350,ooo miles. If the truck was moving he was a happy camper….

  6. I just returned from a two-day business trip, and spent the night away from Kenzo and Viva for the first time ever. They didn’t miss me one bit. I am hurt 🙂 After a long life with cats that perfectioned the art of how to ignore me if I would be present or not, my hope was with the canine species – in vain.

    1. Ha! But unless I’m recalling incorrectly, there’s a Mrs./significant other at home who probably takes very good care of Kenzo and Viva — maybe even spoils them when you’re away.

  7. Through experience, and not anthropomorphism, cats would rather stay home. While true dogs can get anxious when you are gone it likely has more to do with sudden changes in their environment, or possibly the “missing” pack leader, but not necessarily with “mommy being gone”. Traveling causes sudden changes in their environement too which can be unnerving but their pack leader is still present so I guess that makes it one step better. A plus of traveling with your pet is teaching them socialization and flexibility. Does this mean that your dog thinks it has to travel with you. Um…no. They can’t think that far. The truth is though sometimes WE can’t travel without or pets – both for emotional reasons or financial (because it is usually chaper to take them with you than pay a boarding facility)

    1. I once read that there are three constants a dog needs to feel secure — his home, his person, and himself. Now of course I can’t recall what the heck the third could mean but I imagine there’s a different balance for different dogs between the need for home and the need for his person. I’m still not sure about Frankie…

  8. I have a boarder collie/lab cross named, Coco. He gets heartbroken if I go to the store without him. He has to be in whatever room my husband and I are in of the house. He lays down on the bathmat while we go to the bathroom and shower. We’ve done both. We’ve left him at a kennel and taken him with us to stay at a hotel. While both were tramatic events for him, he was much happier with us in the car and the hotel. At one kennel they called him by our last name, instead of Coco. In another kennel, he didn’t have a bed to sleep on, so he didn’t sleep for two days. He came home and slept for almost 24 hours straight.

    As for the sneaking a pet on a plane thing, I work for an airline. I board the flights. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve caught at the boarding gate that hadn’t let us know they were traveling with their pet. As for the pet fees, if you are checking a dog, it is so they have the extra staff around to carefully lift your pet on an off of the plane. If you are carrying on your pet, it’s less about the fee and more about making sure we have room for all of the pets.

    You must call the reservations number and reserve a spot for your pet, if there is not room both you and your pet can be bumped from the flight. The sad part is I’ve seen passengers try to do this with babies that are under 24 months old. We don’t charge for lap infants and passengers still don’t let us know they are traveling with them. We can only allow so many lap infants per flight as well. Please, keep in mind the airlines would allow a lot of things if TSA and FAA didn’t create laws that tie our hands.

    As for the health certificate thing, you can still travel without one if you are traveling domestically. However, if the USDA catches you traveling without a health certificate, there are huge fines for not having one, that the passenger and not the airline have to pay. I guess it’s all up to you folks to be decent human beings and follow the rules. I personally would rather have our planes arrive safely at their destinations instead of fall out of the sky because they were overweight!

    1. Thanks for this thoughtful comment. I’m sorry you had such a bad experience with leaving Coco behind at a kennel. That’ll be a future post: How to find a good place to leave your pet or a reputable pet sitter.

      I don’t think anyone would consider sneaking their dog on as cargo — if that were even possible. Everyone here has been discussing carry ons. But thank you for providing the airlines’ point of view — and for putting this whole discussion into perspective by mentioning what people do with infants!

      I agree with you about the health certificate. I wish they’d be required for people too 😉

  9. A resounding yes for our dog Sheba and no for our cat Deegan. After a 2 week internatl vacation in Nov. when Sheba was left in the loving capable & familiar hands of her trainer on a beautiful farm (Deegan had an in-home capable cat sitter who spent 45min 2x a day w/ in home visits), we felt bad leaving her again for Xmas (she suffers from extreme seperation anxiety, come upon honestly, as she was abandoned). There is no way she wouldn’t have freaked out from a plane ride (and besides, I’ve ready too many horrible stories about pets being killed in transit/terrible cargo load conditions). We drove from NYC to Green Bay with both Sheba and Deegan. Deegan hated it. Sheba loved it. Fortunately there are a lot more pet-friendly chains these days. We stayed at a great Marriott Residence Inn in Green Bay. Deegan hated the unfamiliarity of a hotel room. He’s an old curmudgeon anyway, not particularly curious, and very much happy at home alone (with some but minimal attention, on his own terms, of course). Better yet, find a pet-friendly award winning specialized hotel like the in VT (voted one of the 10 best across the country and worth the trip). No cats allowed but Sheba and her people had the best time and have the pictures to prove it (you can see them on our FB page). No anthropomophizing here. Just the facts.

  10. Looking for facts to support my respnes:

    Here is one of the cases I mentioned re: the dangers of sneaking your dog on a plane (although I am not sure if in this case the dog, was not snuck on, it does apply):

    Read with interest the post of the reader who works for the airline. Very informative but I take issue with the part about the care and handling of pets traveling in cargo. I don’t think the standard is too high with most. If I HAD to travel by air with my GSD, I would use a specialized pet transport airline (though is may be cost prohibitive)

    1. Stay tuned, Randi — I’m going to be talking with the Pet Airways folks. It’s a game changer when it comes to pet travel. Bu some airlines have a far better record than others when it comes to transporting pets.

        1. Thanks for your interest. Alternatively, you could subscribe to my feed or email subscription or like Will My Dog Hate Me on Facebook 😉

  11. I don’t generally travel with the cats. They prefer to stay home, and they’re fine by themselves overnight or for a weekend. If it’s for a longer period, I’ll bring in a pet sitter (aka my ex).

    I do travel occasionally with BJC. Let me tell you, it’s hard to find places that let you bring a rabbit. But I’m always careful to bunny-proof the room both for her protection and to make sure there is no damage.

  12. What an interesting series of blog posts. I love traveling, but I hate to leave our dog Toki behind, which is why we’ve gravitated more towards long weekend road trips rather than our usual airplane-depended vacations. I know from observation that she enjoys traveling, if only because it beats a day spent at home (no matter how many walks and kongs she gets).

    I would definitely be willing to pay for a “seat” for Toki on a regular commercial airline, because she is about 50 pounds too big to fit under a seat. I would also be willing to be separated from her during the flight if there was a special pet area (to respect other passengers with allergies and phobias). But the thought of her jammed in an unheated and unsupervised cargo hold is a no go. Pet Airways is a cool idea, but I would rather see a hybrid option that allows both people and pets on the same flight. After all, I’m going to be flying to the destination as well.

    Looking forward to reading more.

    – Christine @

    1. Thanks for coming by and commenting, Christine. I know what you mean about Pet Airways; I have similar concerns. But some airlines are better than others when it comes to keeping pets safe in a separate temperature controlled area in cargo. I’ll be writing about that too.

  13. not sure if you will be able to view my timely picture album on this topic.

  14. I think it depends on the pet, honestly. My dogs have always traveled with me (and even my cats too, sometimes). But my mom’s dog has a touch of agoraphobia and can’t bear to go on any adventure!

  15. Pingback: Pet Travel Experts Respond to Frommer’s Christopher Elliott
  16. i have never tried to sneak my dogs into anywhere. I absolutely know for a fact based on my dogs reactions that they would rather be WITH ME than home. They pout and yes you can read this in their body language if I go somewhere and they are to stay home. They do this even if my husband is staying with them. They have been going with us to so many different places even if most of them are local since the time they were cleared by the vet they DO get upset when they dont get to come. I wouldnt say the same is for all dogs. I also dont think he is a terrible person for not taking his pets with him but at the same time he does make a lot of assumptions about us traveling with pets.

    I did have an issue once with a hotel in Monterey, CA. We are always very careful about traveling with our pets and do a lot of research before hand. My husband found a good deal on a hotel through a website and called the hotel in advance to making the reservation to check to see if they allowed dogs. When he called a woman answered and she asked if they were house broken. My husband responded that yes they were and she said then it would not be a problem. We arrived and my husband was walking the dogs before bed. A gentleman said to him “I hope you are leaving those dogs in the car”. Turns out he was the manager him and my husband got into it. He accused us of lying and sneaking the dogs in. The room next door to us obviously had dogs in it as well as we could hear them barking on multiple occassions. We explained that we had no reason to lie as there are MANY pet friendly places in the Monterey Peninsula for us to stay at.

    In the end we stayed as we had already paid and told him we would not be back. Also we did learn a lesson and that is if you call somewhere and they tell you its ok to bring your dog, write down their name, so you as the pet owner dont get called a liar like we did.

    As far as people sneaking dogs in places. I dont know anyone that has done it on a plane but I have an aunt that sneaks her dog everywhere she goes. Its in a bag and although it doesnt bother anyone she does give us dog owners a bad name.

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