Ever flown with your little creature in tow? Did you stress over the cargo hold’s temperature, scheduling evening flights only so that heat wasn't a factor? Or were you lucky enough to bring him aboard and keep him close under the seat in front of you?
If you were that lucky, the trade-off might have been the dirty looks you got from the middle-seater, who had to listen to the whining, meowing or scratching coming from the floor. And then there are the vet visits for inter-state transport health certificates, and the extra $100 to $275 for your pet's own "ticket."
It’s not easy to travel with pets, and we don't have many alternatives. Forget trains — they won’t take ‘em. Rental cars? Most contracts seem to specifically exclude pets. Flying or driving your own car is often the only viable option. So unless you’ve got a four-pound frequent flier (like one of my clients) or a boatload of cash to spend on a private plane or chartered flight, you’ll probably have a stressful experience.
I've been there. I've also had to worry about the tighter post-9/11 travel restrictions, weight limit issues (my dogs, while small, have always bested the cut-off by a few pounds, though I've never gotten "caught"), health certificates, the nearby-passenger factor, fitting the soft-sided Sherpa-brand crate into the teensy space in front of me and the inevitable discomfort of it all. Anyone who's flown with pets will doubtless second this.
It’s almost enough of a hassle to consider scrapping the plan altogether and leaving your precious one with trusted humans — and hope no crisis befalls him/her while you're away. Many of my clients report that they refuse to travel at all because their pet can’t travel with them. I don’t blame them, but it doesn’t seem fair, either.
Knowing as we do that flying with "little ones" is stressful, and harboring no doubt that the cargo hold is no place for pets of careful (nervous?) people like us (talk about stress while you wait on the too-hot or too-cold tarmac for your pet to be disembarked), these are, nonetheless, the most common scenarios that people have to submit to in order to travel with their pets.
Despite our apprehension, however, airline safety for pets seems to be improving. Careful restrictions on flight times and temperatures, along with the preponderance of information available on how to travel safely with your pets, means that only a "handful" of deaths occur every year on U.S. carriers (according to the most recent survey of carriers). Sure, this soft statistic may not inspire confidence for the extremely risk averse, but it helps most of us to know that someone’s keeping track so we can make an informed decision.
In any case, it’s clear that our airlines have a long way to go before they begin to treat all pets in the manner to which they’ve become accustomed — as family members, that is — but at least one carrier is looking to change that.
As of July, Pet Airways ("no humans please"), an airline out of Delray Beach, FL, has been offering one-way tickets from $99-$250 to fly your pet "in-cabin" to several major cities in the U.S.: New York, D.C., Chicago, Denver, Fort Lauderdale, Los Angeles, Omaha and Phoenix. Its arrival on the scene bodes well for the safer transport of pets as they set new standards in travel. After all, if it’s their bread and butter you’d hope it would translate into more personalized care than the gorillas in cargo can muster.
It seems that plenty of pet owners are seeing it that way too. Pet Airways has been so popular already that it's apparently been adding more flights. Clearly, there are pet owners (myself included) who seek better for their larger pets and refuse to allow them to go cargo. Still, I can't help but want to fly with my pet — stress or no stress. That's why I'd like to see big dog passenger sections offered by all major carriers. Or how about just one "pet-friendly" flight a day between major cities?
I don’t know, maybe there are better solutions than what I've posited ... I'm a veterinarian, not a flight attendant. I’m just musing, but I do know there has to be a better way. What are your ideas?
Dr. Patty Khuly