My current dog is Jake, my BFF and soulmate, and he travels with me almost everywhere. Jake is an enthusiastic Labrador/Rhodesian love sponge who instantly bonded with me at Seattle Humane in August 2015. Since adopting each other, Jake and I have worked on basic commands, and he has blossomed into a well behaved, model traveler.
The good news is, if you have the will to travel with or transport your pet by air, there’s a way! The options available to you depend on several factors, such as the costs you are willing to pay, the personality, training and size of your pet, and whether you meet federal guidelines involving physiological, psychological, or emotional disabilities.
Your pet can fly with one or more of these options: as (1) a carry-on pet, (2) checked baggage or cargo, or (3) a service dog or emotional support animal (ESA). CLICK HERE to see the costs and conditions involved in each of these three categories on the major airlines in the continental US. Service dogs and ESAs ride free on all airlines.
Carry On Pets...
If your pet is a small dog or cat, you have the most options when it comes to air travel. That’s because all airlines allow in-cabin travel with a small dog or cat in a carrier for a small fee of between $95 and $125 on one-way travel in the continental US. To qualify for carry-on, your pet must be small enough to fit comfortably inside a carrier no larger than 18.5” long x 8.5” high x 13.5” wide, and must remain in the carrier underneath the seat in front of you for the full duration of your flight. Southwest sells a soft-sided carry-on carrier that you can purchase online or at the ticket counter for $58. Many carriers have breed restrictions and require advance arrangements, so be sure to research the individual circumstances applicable to your pet and airline when planning your travel.
Alaska Airlines has the simplest policies and least expensive fees, and will allow you to check any size dog as baggage in a carrier for $100. Southwest does not allow animals to travel as cargo or checked luggage. American charges $200 for pets to ride as checked baggage. United’s PetSafe air cargo program charges for pet transportation based on weight, with rates as high as $699 for extra-large dogs to US destinations. Delta appears to charge the highest rates, with fares of more than $1000 to some destinations. As of the date of this article, Delta quoted me $592 to ship an 80 pound dog in an extra-large carrier from Spokane to New York’s JFK airport. All airlines except Alaska require advance arrangements for this service.
Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals
What’s the difference between a service animal and an emotional support animal? You need to know because airlines will ask which you are claiming if you show up to the ticket counter with a dog on a leash. The most important thing to know is that the right to travel with a service dog or ESA applies to the human rather than the animal. Applicable U.S. laws (Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Fair Housing Act, and Air Carrier Access Act) do not require either type of animal to be registered or certified. These laws entitle both service dogs and ESAs to fly in the cabin of an aircraft at no additional charge, and also to reside in housing that otherwise prohibits pets, without breed restrictions.
Service animals are restricted to dogs, and in rare cases, miniature horses (I’ve never heard of anyone attempting to travel with a service horse, so we’ll refer to service animals as service dogs). There are no species or breed restrictions for ESAs, and I’ve heard stories of people on aircraft with emotional support ducks, cats and miniature pigs, in addition to dogs.
A service dog is trained to assist an Individual with a disability that substantially limits the individual’s ability to perform a major life activity without assistance. For example, my sister has Type 1 diabetes and needs to travel with a service dog that can smell when her blood sugar is out of balance. I have a friend with epilepsy who has a dog that can sense when he is about to have a seizure. (more)