A few weeks ago, I discussed pets traveling in airline cabins, exploring in particular the effect of pet allergies on other passengers.

This week, as I was booking my seat assignment for BlogPaws West, I started wondering about pets that travel as baggage. Frontier Airlines, my carrier to Denver, writes of its pet policy:

Your pet will be handled with great care and will be treated as one of the family. For their safety, pets must travel in an approved travel container as follows:We charge a fee of $150 each direction per kennel, so please make sure to give yourself extra time for checking in. You’ll need to pay this fee at the ticket counter when you check in.

Wow. It’s only $75 each way for a pet in the cabin. Also:

Your pet must be harmless, inoffensive, odorless and require no attention during transit.

What’s with this harmless, inoffensive, and odorless business again — not to mention the “no attention” requirement? Why are pets being held to higher standards than, well,  human family members (no offense, Tilda, Rebecca, and Shari).

But I digress.

I initially assumed the baggage and cargo holds were not pressurized and temperature controlled, making transporting your pets foolhardy (in my mind), but learned from PetTravel.com that this was not the case:

If you cannot accompany your pet, or they are too large to fly in the cabin, dogs and cats typically are transported as cargo or as checked baggage…You may only transport your pet as checked baggage if you are a passenger traveling on the same flight as your pet and the combined weight of your pet and its crate is under about 70 pounds. (This weight varies by airline.) If flying cargo, your pet may travel unaccompanied, either through the regular cargo channels or through an especially expedited delivery service that several airlines have developed….Pets traveling as cargo are transported in the same pressurized holds as those in the checked baggage system and this area is temperature and pressure regulated similar to the cabin.

I also learned that most problems with flying pets occur on the ground because of flight delays. Back to the Frontier Airlines site:

To protect your pet’s health and well-being, temperature restrictions have been established to ensure your pet isn’t exposed to extreme heat or cold. It’s not safe to transport your pet if the forecasted temperature in any city on your itinerary is below 45°F (including the wind chill factor) or above 85°F.

For this reason pets are not allowed to travel to certain cities — including my home, Tucson — from June to September.

My first question: Huh? Why doesn’t the baggage/cargo hold remain temperature controlled as the cabin does on the ground? Passengers aren’t subjected to uncontrolled temperatures –though they often demand cold beers, unlike dogs — on the ground.

And: Have any of you traveled with pets on vacation — as opposed to transported them for a more permanent stay — in cargo or baggage? If so why — e.g., did you want your pet with you but have a time constraint? And was it worth it?

17 thoughts on “Friday Focus: Pet Air Travel, Steerage Edition”

  1. The idea of my dog in a plane’s cargo hold is a horrifying proposition for me! And that is putting physical safety issues aside! Just the emotional stress.

    The only time I would do this if it was a question of my dog’s life and death (e.g. needed to fly my dog out for a crucial treatment or something like that. It would have to be a REALLY good reason and no way around it.

    As for vacations, we only choose such we can drive to and have our dogs enjoy them also (e.g. camping)

  2. I have never traveled with my pet in cargo I am not sure if I ever would, I have only traveled with my cat as an inside-cabin pet with Continental Airlines. . I had plenty of problems passing through security because they made me carry her in my arms through the metal detector. But all considered her and I traveled to and from Mexico several times without much trouble. I am not sure if I would let my rottweiler travel cargo, I have heard good things about Continental about their pet cargo service but never tried , their in-cabin service to pets was always really good so I may give it a try later on. During my various flights with Pikachu (my cat) on several occasions they brought her a water bottle and a little cup, and one time she had a little potty accident and they let me take her out of her carrier inside the bathroom and clean her up. Generally you are not aloud under any circumstance to take the pet out the carrier but they understood that she was uncomfortable and made an exception. Those are so far my experiences and each time I traveled with her was because of Christmas time and my family and I wanting her to be part of our celebration 🙂

    1. Welcome!

      That is a very sweet story about your cat and the nice treatment she got from the staff of Continental. I still haven’t flown with Frankie but that definitely makes me consider that airline.

  3. Yep, they have designated parts of the hold pressurized with a/c. It isn’t a question of comfort, but of survival. I did hear of an educational facility that transported a Bald Eagle to another facility. The airline mistakenly put him in the unperssurized hold. The bird died.

    Pressurization allows us to get enough oxygen, that’s why they bang on about the masks falling from the ceiling in the cabin if they loose pressure? Yes, our pets need to breathe too. Even a bird, which has superior powers of extractin O2 from the air, couldn’t handle that kind of altitude.

    I personally experienced birds in shock and hypothermic on a short half hour flight when they were mistakenly put in the un-heated cargo area. Ya know how cold it is up a mountain? Much colder higher up! If it had been a longer flight or geriatric animals instead of young ones… I shudder just to think of it. But at least it was pressurized!

    Oh, and the reason for the temperature restriction is that sometimes baggage has to sit on the tarmac or in a baggage area that isn’t heated / cooled. With all of the traffic that happens, sometimes a load is outside for quite a while.

    1. Ah, that makes sense: I didn’t terms of baggage sitting on the tarmac or unheated area; I only thought about sitting on the ground and wondered what the problem is.

      So I’m getting the sense from what you wrote that certain areas are pressurized and temperature controlled while others aren’t and that sometimes the airlines mess up (well, no surprise there).

      Thanks for coming by and commenting; much appreciated.

  4. I’m with you re: “What’s with this harmless, inoffensive, and odorless business again — not to mention the “no attention” requirement? Why are pets being held to higher standards than, well, human family members.”

    I don’t trust the airlines one damn bit. And, Frontier is BSing.On the one hand they are going to treat our pets like family and on the other hand state the caveats above. As far as I’m concerned, if baggage or cargo is not safe enough for ME to fly it then it’s not safe for my dog.

  5. I have never put the dogs under the plane for a vacation but I have done it for an overseas move to Hong Kong when it was the only way to get them into Hong Kong to live with me and then back again to the US. It is not something that I did lightly and was really nervous with them under and made the flight attendants check to make sure they made it on the plane and in the correct place. We flew Cathay Pacific both ways because they were allowed to be in the same crate to keep each other company and warm during the flight. Honestly even if they had been allowed to fly in the cabin I think they were happier in their crate where they could at least move around a bit and go potty if they needed to then being cramped under the seat for that many hours.

    The cargo hold might be temperature controlled but the reason why they will not ship animals during extreme heat or cold is not because of the temperature on the plane but on the tarmac waiting to be put on the plane or taken into the building for you to pick your pet up.

    On the other hand Davinia and Indiana have both traveled in the passenger cabin of the plane numerous times. when you fly with your pet in the cabin be sure to ask for a seat that does not have a power connection plug in front of you because it takes away space that your carrier needs so your dog doesn’t get squished.

  6. I have moved with 3 dogs to various parts of Canada, where the move involved flying, twice.
    Once was to the Arctic where we arrived to temps of approx -50 Celsius.
    We have only had positive experiences with dogs (and cats) flying in Cargo (within Canada), both with me on the same flight as well as animals traveling unaccompanied (being dropped off/picked up at either end).
    My dogs are seasoned travelers who are used to being in crates and at all times when we traveled I have been closely watching them for signs of stress and each time they seemed to be ok. I have also been fortunate to have had fantastic folks at airlines who have gone out of their way to assist us and make sure everyone was well cared for.

  7. I thought the part about pets being in the cargo hold related to the fact that, sometimes, when a plane is sitting on the tarmac the pilot doesn’t or can’t turn on the heat or AC until they are close to take off.

    I am glad to see your other commenters have had positive experiences. Like anything else, the bad stuff that happens get the most press. I have enough anxiety when I fly myself (or with Amy) – getting to airport on time, going through security, delays. I can’t imagine doing it with Ty and Buster in the cargo hold.

    As far as the harmless, etc. requirement goes – I imagine that language is construed to be so broad as to allow the airline almost any reason to remove the pet if there is any kind of problem.

  8. I would hate to put my hound in cargo but more than 200 greyhounds flew from Guam to either LAX or Newark in 2008-2009 (plus three in 2010) on Continental Airlines and all made the trip safely which included a stopover in Hawaii.

    When the Guam race track closed, these dogs needed to get off the island and with the help of the Greyhound Protection League, Guam Animals in Need (GAIN), and numerous greyhound adoption groups, it happened.

    A transatlantic canine miracle

  9. I hasten to mention the seven dogs on the American Airlines flight to Chicago that died of heatstroke while being kept in the cargo hold waiting for one hour to be cleared for flight out of Tulsa — it was one degree above the limit of 85 and so am guessing that the airline can *say* these are the rules and the cargo hold is regulated like the cabin blah blah blah — sales talk.

    And that temperature limit, who picked it? Obviously at the limit of the high end. Stupidly so. But they want the money and the freedom to turn your pet away for any reason at all, insulting you for just for good measure with the smelly pet thing. Communications school reject, perhaps?

    I’m sure you’ve had to sit on a plane for an hour waiting–the air is not cooling anymore, it is not comfortable, so I don’t know what they are trying to claim. I’ve never been delayed *and* comfortable temp wise in cabin; once after three or four hours on the ground it was stifling and pretty much making people crazy. So no cargo holds for my boy…I couldn’t bear possible consequences. It’s why I feel for people with big dogs and why I was glad Pet Airways popped onto the scene.

  10. Great question, Edie. The issue is that many of these airlines that have temperature restrictions are not set up to keep pets in climate control when they are being transferred on and off the planes. This requires air conditioned/heated vans and climate-controlled holding facilities at origin and destination (pets typically have to be checked in at least 90 minutes prior to their flight and sometimes up to 4 hours prior to international flights).
    That’s what makes the real difference between a “pet friendly airline” and one that is not. Airlines like Continental, Lufthansa and KLM all have specialized vehicles for transporting pets to and from the planes, as well as climate controlled areas where the pets are kept while waiting to be loaded on their flights.

    We move almost all of our pets exclusively as cargo on these pet friendly airlines, without incident. If you know what flights to book, how to arrange layovers for pets to be walked, fed and watered, and you prepare ahead of time by getting the appropriate size crate, most pets will travel just fine in the cargo hold as cargo or excess luggage.

    1. Thank you so much for this explanation. This has clarified the issue for me (and I’ll include it when I write up the results of my research on Friday).

  11. You will want to let your pet get accustomed to the carrier here and there over the course of a few weeks leading up to your plane trip (just leave the pet carrier open on the floor and toss in a treat).

  12. The flew my dogs once as baggage and once as cargo. It was incredibly nerve racking both times but with no fault of the airline. Northwest (at the time) was wonderful about the entire trip. When they were baggage I was given confirmation that they were put on baord and it was a short wait to get them in baggage claim. I felt that they were very taken care of. When I flew them as cargo, I was not on the flight, it was worse. It took and hour after the plane landed for the dogs to reach me at the cargo bay. I will never do that again. My dogs are small and I usually fly them in cabin.

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