Flying pets: Getting them safely from point A to point B

My pug Iris (pictured here inside her airline travel bag) is what I believe to be one of the most well-traveled pugs in the universe. She is just seven years old and has been on at least twenty flights with me — most of them from one coast to the other.

A friend once asked me how much it costs to have a pet fly with you (or under you) on the plane and when I informed her that it cost at least $50 a “leg,” she actually thought I meant it cost $200 because my dog has four legs and asked me if I considered cutting off a leg or two to make her flight cheaper.

Nowadays, it can cost upwards of $300 for a pet to fly with you on the plane. It’s a sad state of affairs for airlines these days, and flying pets are the first to pay the price.Cassandra, a Gadling reader, inquired this week about how safe it is to fly your pet: “With all the news the media reports about animals deaths from flying because of heat/cold. Where exactly are they stored and is the pilot informed they are flying animals? And why can’t the airline industries build a section on the plane in the back near the bathroom for them rather than put them below? You’d think animals would feel more secure being near their owners rather than the loud noises of the belly.”

I have heard countless stories about pets dying of hypothermia or overheating on planes, or nightmarish tales of lost or stolen pets on planes, so there are, unfortunately, plenty of reasons to be worried about the safety of your pet in transit. Kent Wien, Gadling’s pilot and plane expert, wants you all to be assured that the conditions of the cargo area on planes are altered to accommodate for pets: “On the 767, the temperature in our ‘bulk cargo compartment’ is 65 degrees if we know there are animals below — 45 degrees if we don’t have animals. Most other Boeings are warm enough to support small chicks (birds) so I imagine they’re in the 55 to 65 degree range, but I haven’t seen the actual numbers on that.”

As for the location of the cargo and reason why pets are not allowed in the back of the plane near the bathroom, I imagine it has a lot to do with people having allergies to pet dander. Clearly, some pets do not like the small, dark, and cold confines of the plane’s cargo area (yes, it is the plane’s loud belly), but it is a highly controlled area of the plane.

It is also worth noting that, while some airlines allow small pets (they must be able to fit in a carrier under the seat in front of you and weigh roughly under 30 pounds) on the plane, other airlines restrict even small pets to the cargo area. You should always check with your particular airline to know whether to bring the carry-on pet bag or the airline-approved cargo kennel with you.

In addition, if you carry your pet onto the plane and squeeze the carrier under the seat in front of you, it’s always a good idea to reserve a middle seat rather than one by the window or aisle. The middle seat has more room for the bag, and therefore more room for your pet. Federal regulations require that your pet remain inside its carrier for the entire flight. Sorry, you can’t hide it under your blanket (although I’ve tried to do this both successfully and unsuccessfully before).

If you have a layover, it would be wise to take your dog out for a potty break. You will have to exit and re-enter through the TSA and security, but your pup will be forever grateful. Nearly every airport has a little plot of green somewhere near the baggage claim outside to let your dog do its business and stretch its legs.

Although I suffer from snub-nosed pet owner flying anxiety, I have yet to have a really sour experience flying with my beloved Iris. I have yet to have the fear of flying prevent Iris and I from getting where we need to go. If you are in doubt, though, there’s always road tripping it, like she and I did from Florida to California this past January!