Frankie's preferred airline

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Frankie and I are flying to San Diego next week.

You might think that, as a former full-time travel writer, I would take air travel in my stride. Have the right luggage, the perfect nonwrinkle outfits. Be able to go anywhere with just a vest, like Peter Shankman.

You would be wrong. Even before 9-11 and its shoe removals and liquid restrictions —  and, more recently, the putting-a-fee-on-breathing policies — I was a worry wart.

Now my stress cup runneth over.

What I am stressed about in general

It’s not flying itself, although being airborne does seem to defy the laws of gravity.  It’s everything else. Getting to the airport on time (I always do). Forgetting essentials (it’s happened; I survived, generally by buying stuff). Having my luggage lost (that’s happened too; once again, I survived, generally by buying stuff).

That’s just for starters.

Add a fearful diabetic dog to the mix, and you get a woman on the verge…

Choosing an airline

For me

Some decisions are easier than others to make, and when it comes to flying to San Diego from Tucson, choosing Southwest Airlines is a no-brainer. They offer several nonstop direct flights a day and most are inexpensive. There is no extra charge to check two bags.

And except for that hole-in-the-fuselage thing — hey, inspections are costly and did I mention there is no charge for bags? — it’s a great airline.  And that hole incident happened just two months ago, which means that the planes were all inspected recently.

Is it odd that I genuinely don’t worry about the plane falling apart but I worry about missing the flight?

For me and Frankie

Two years ago, in June 2009, Southwest started permitting small pets to fly in the cabin. No animals are allowed to fly cargo (for which I say hurrah).

That means I don’t have to chose between flying Southwest to San Diego and traveling with Frankie (who definitely won’t worry about the fuselage).

Flight Details


It’s $75 each way for Frankie to fly as carry on baggage. This is annoying. But it’s slightly less annoying than it would be if I were flying on another airline, because most of them charge even more.  (See’s U.S. Airline Pet Policies for In-Cabin Travel. I will be referring to Dog Jaunt frequently in my next few posts. Mary-Alice Pomputius is the guru of air travel with a small dog).


Here’s something peculiar. You cannot make a reservation on line for your pet at the same time as you book your own flight. You have to phone. But that phone reservation doesn’t guarantee that your pet will fly.

A total of five pets are allowed on each flight. The Southwest agent assured me that it has never happened that a person with a dog was turned away because there were too many dogs on board. Maybe it’s me, but it still seems odd to have a reservation that doesn’t reserve anything.

This particularly worries me — did I mention I’m a worrier?– because  I can’t be flexible. Frankie’s diabetes makes the timing of the flights important (see next section).  So having to wait for the next flight in case of excess pets is not a real option.


Okay, so here’s where it gets tricky. I have to feed Frankie and give him his shot every 12 hours, which I generally do at 5:30 am and 5:30 pm. He can’t get his shot without having eaten because that could cause hypoglycemia, very dangerous if it  goes unchecked. And Frankie is very picky about where he eats. Missing or being late with a shot is not so terrible. The rise in blood sugar is only a problem if it’s prolonged.

So I booked my outgoing flight from Tucson for 11:40am, with arrival in San Diego at 12:50pm. It was unlikely that Frankie’s dinner could be late, even factoring in a flight delay. My return flight, scheduled for 7:35 pm, was a little less desirable. Frankie would get his dinner in time, but I was cutting it a little close for a drive to the airport and  returning the rental car.

And as I was writing this last paragraph, it suddenly occurred to me: Pets are not supposed to eat within four hours of a flight. So feeding Frankie at 5:30 — or even a little bit earlier — would not work.

So I changed my flight — luckily, Southwest doesn’t charge for that either — and am now booked for a 3:45/5pm return to Tucson.

There you have it: Even worriers sometimes have legitimate reasons to worry.

Dare I ask: What do you most worry about when flying, with or without a pet?  Is it rational?


20 thoughts on “Pet Travel Planning, Pt.1: Booking a Flight”

  1. I recently paid $175 to fly a dog back from Puerto Rico in cargo on AA. They’ve spiffed up the process with a special VIP pet check-in, a plastic water bowl and frisbee and AA bandana. Keep the crap and drop the price I suggested.

    I had checked the dog in, was at my gate when suddenly I was paged over the loudspeakers. I went to the agent at my gate and identified who I was and was told that my pup had pooped in his cage and I needed to go clean it. I raced back out to front counter and there were front counter agents waving their hands in front of their faces while my pup wagged his tail happily to see me. I had used plastic tie-wraps to close his crate (dogs have been stolen from crates, and tie wraps won’t thwart a determined criminal, they just add time to the crime) and asked for a scissors to cut them, “I don’t have a scissors”, the most affronted by the stench gate agent said as she looked at me and handed me paper toweling to clean out a cage I couldn’t open. Finally, after I pointed out that without a scissors I could not open the crate a scissors was found (presumably from a locked drawer that required 6 signatures to open) and I did the job, raced back through security, got to my gate in time to wash my hands ineffectively, and join my student group for our flight home.

    No worries.

    1. Wow, quite an ordeal, Debbie. Kind of puts my worries into perspective (not that perspective every kept me from worrying).

      With one-time transport — as opposed to vacation — cargo is usually the only way for larger dogs to get anywhere (unless they are on the PetAirways route). I’m glad there’s a spiffed up check in process, but that seems to be the way with all pet hospitality: The misguided notion that we care about the crap. Maybe you should have used the bandana to clean up the poop….

  2. Oooh, thank you, Edie. I do like “guru.” But I need to hop in and make a note — I called Southwest just now and verified what I already believed to be true, and they told me that yes, indeed, when you call and add your in-cabin dog to your reservation, one of the five slots on your plane is assigned to your seat, and is taken out of circulation. It will not happen that someone else will take that spot, such that you show up with your dog and your dog can’t fly. No — once you’ve made that call, your dog is attached to your reservation, and you can count on traveling with her.

    1. Thanks for weighing in Mary-Alice. I’m afraid we have gotten different information from the same source, which is not atypical. You know how when something isn’t in writing it’s open to interpretation by the person who happens to answer the phone? I asked two different representatives — the first when I made my initial reservation, the second when I changed it — and both said the same thing about the reservation NOT being assured. Neither gave me a satisfactory explanation about why.

      1. And weeks — no, months, later — I finally catch up to you, Edie. You’re exactly right, dammit — Southwest does now have a first-come-first-served policy, and my disappointment is boundless.

        1. This is one case where I hate being right (and those are rare). I think you’re more optimistic than I am, Mary-Alice, looking for the best in people — and companies — whereas I’m a cynic down to my dark soul.

  3. I’m getting much better at the packing thing and only a carry-on luggage thing, but what I ALWAYS worry about is that there will NOT be space enough for my carry-on in the overhead bin or that I’ll need help getting it into the bin, etc.

    So, I try to bring a smallish carry-on bag, but on my trip back from NYC … people had GIVEN me things that would NOT fit into my zero-room-for-error packing. I did bring a collapsible tote for such events, but I had to put everything under my seat due to overhead bins being too full … and I had a devil of a time getting it all under there.

    That’s my main worry when I travel. The luggage on the plane thing.

    1. That’s a good one. I worry about that too. And now I’m doubly worried because Frankie is my main carry-on. My computer bag will have to be my purse. Aaargh!

  4. Oh, gosh. My dog would probably love to fly. Either that or she’d decide that today wasn’t a good day and bark at EVERYONE, even though she wouldn’t be able to see anyone.

    I’d worry about everything – irrationally so. I have OCD, so everything has a specific, if not chaotic, order and if things aren’t done in that order….

    The phrase “chicken with its head cut off” comes to mind.

    I’d pack. Check to make sure I had everything. Check again. Put stuff in car. Check again. Drive to airport. Freak out that I “forgot” something. Check again. Not find the something. Check again. Freak out. Check — Oh, wait; it’s right in front of my face. Put stuff away. Ignore people staring at me with the “there’s something clearly wrong with that 13 year old. Why is she driving, by the way?” look.

    Add dog to mix?

    Panic. Panic. Panic some more. Worry that I’ll be strip-searched. Panic. Pass out. Miss the flight.

    And that is why….we don’t fly. o_o

    1. I thought life in my head was tough! You make my routine look calm and relaxed… Thanks for sharing that. Seriously.

  5. I think that your concerns with timing are very legitimate with Frankie. If he was a dog that would eat his dinner anywhere, it wouldn’t be such an issue.

    I can’t believe that they are charging you $150 round trip for taking him on the plane! What’s the difference between a bag that has books in it and a bag that has a small dog in it?

    1. Ah, Karen, it’s a wonderful trend, isn’t it? Airlines charge you for everything that they can charge you for… snacks, checked luggage, carry ons if they include live creatures…

  6. My dog Udi and I live on the West Coast and I have to fly to the Middle East on some business. Now, being as much of a worrier as Edie, I worry about what to do with my dog. I could leave him with someone for the 2 weeks I’ll be gone but then I would worry that he’s miserable without me and, of course, I’d be miserable without him.

    I could take him along but that would mean finding an overseas airline that allows small breeds to fly inside the cabin. Once I find that, I worry about him being confined in a cage under my seat for the duration of the flight which is about 18 hours.

    Leaving him is not a good scenario, taking him along isn’t much better and there is no option of my not going.

    What am I to do?!

    1. Hi Hanna, nice to e-meet a fellow worrier! Here’s what I think: If it’s an option to have someone stay with Udi at your house, that might be best. That way at least he’ll be in familiar surroundings. I gather there are no family members or friends he knows who could take him for the two weeks? He’ll miss you of course, but he won’t be miserable if there’s familiarity or continuity.

      I agree that 18 hours is far too long to fly in both directions for a two week trip. If you had to move with him, that would make sense.

  7. My Bichon, Angel, will be flying for the first time this year. She is 10 years old and is a well diabetic. My worry is about her insulin and syringes. I have it all planned out of when she gets her insulin before the flight and after. But can I bring her insulin and syringes? (Not to use on the plane). Then there is the issue of refridgerating the insulin. Answers or advice would be appreciated.

    1. Yes, you should be able to bring your syringes and insulin — the airlines are used to human diabetics carrying those items. That said, I had my vet write a note because I was worried.
      I used an insulated bag with frozen ice packs for the insulin; it worked fine.
      Good luck!

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