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Which Airlines Go Above & Beyond for Pets?

Can you imagine flying seven thousand miles with a chihuahua zipped into a semi-rigid carrying case under the seat in front of you?

For nine hours?

On three separate occasions?

Hello, my name is Tay, and I have survived three international flights with my dog.

And if I’m being honest, the only reason I think my chihuahua (Bolt, may he rest in glory) was okay with the international flights is because he was a rescue.

Compared to scrapping for his life on the streets of Sacramento, a little time in a box on a plane wasn’t too trying. (Probably—there’s no way of knowing what that dog was thinking.)

As someone who has flown extensively with a small pet (I logged quite a few domestic flights before going international), I can tell you that it really matters which airline you book with.

On the plus side, flying with pets has become pretty commonplace, meaning pet owners have more options than ever before.

Unfortunately, however, it also means that countless passengers and flight attendants have had less-than-ideal experiences alongside animals.

That means you need to be even more prepared when you strap your dog, cat, or gerbil in for a flight. (Yeah, you can fly with gerbils!)

Your first priority should always be the safety and well-being of your beloved pet. But you also need to get off that plane with your sanity in place—and ready to take on whatever comes next, whether a big move, business trip, or vacation.

You can make that reality a little more manageable by booking with an airline that has a great reputation for handling pets in the cabin. Let’s dive in.

What to look for in an airline when flying with a pet

I’ve vetted my selections based on this criteria:

  • Pet program/policy: The airline should have a specific policy that states exactly what passengers and their pets can expect. Always read the fine print—and always ask questions if you’re unsure. This policy is the manual and North Star that you will use in case anything comes up during the flight, so you need to know it in and out. Also, it needs to be reasonable and thorough so there are no questions or grey areas.
  • Pet carrier: There should also be explicit guidelines on what sorts of carriers are accepted in the cabin. Sometimes, airlines sell their own pre-approved carriers. If you’re part of a rewards program and fly with the same airline, I suggest buying their carrier (if they sell one, and if it isn’t low-quality).
  • Cargo hold: I’m only evaluating airlines that allow you to bring your pet into the cabin. Putting animals in the cargo hold is another topic entirely, and should be treated separately from cabin travel. (To clarify: the airlines below might allow you to put your animal in the cargo hold, but I’m only referring to policies for the main cabin.)
  • Snub-nosed dogs: To put it plainly, snub-nosed dog breeds might face serious respiratory problems thanks to changes in cabin pressure. If an airline doesn’t immediately warn pet owners about this, it’s a red flag for me. That’s because when you bring your dog with you onto a flight, you do so as property—meaning the airline is absolutely not responsible for any harm caused during a flight. Again, this doesn’t mean your pug or frenchie can’t fly—it just means you need to be extra careful.

Best airlines for flying with pets

Without further ado, here are the best airlines for flying with your pet. Not only do they have extensive and clear-cut pet programs that meet the criteria above, but they also have the highest ratings in terms of pet safety, according to a study from NerdWallet.

Alaska Airlines

Fee: $100 per pet

Pets allowed: Dogs, cats, rabbits, small birds

Other notes: Alaska allows pet owners to bring up to two animals with them in the cabin. (You can increase that to four if you purchase a ticket for the seat beside you.) Keep in mind that your pet carrier counts as your cabin bag, as with most airlines.

Frontier

Fee: $99

Pets allowed: Dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, and small birds

Other notes: As far as I can tell, Frontier Airlines is the only airline to allow smaller pets like hamsters and guinea pigs to fly. (Told you gerbils were allowed.) Additionally, it doesn’t take pets into the cargo hold—which is likely why it’s got such a high rating for pet safety.

Delta

Fee: $95

Pets allowed: Dogs, cats, rabbits, small birds

Other notes: Flyers can bring up to two animals if they’re under six months old or if they both fit in the same carrier.

Southwest

Fee: $125

Pets allowed: Dogs and cats

Other notes: Southwest allows flyers to bring up to two pets with them, so long as they fit in the same carrier. They do not allow pets in cargo.

American

Fee: $150

Pets allowed: Dogs and cats

Other notes: American Airlines allows two pets per flyer. Like Frontier and Southwest, they do not allow pets in cargo.

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