Published September 12, 2011
If you're nervous about transporting your pet on an airplane, there's a lot to be concerned about.
Animal experts say air travel can have a huge impact on our furry friends, including health problems due to increased pressure in the cargo bay or extreme temperatures. They also run the risk of psychological damage.
“The sound of the jet engines alone is enough to traumatize a pet,” says animal behaviorist Colleen Paige. “If you have a sensitive animal or an animal with any kinds of fears you will definitely create more of a problem in that area.”
Add to the list the recent disappearance of Jack the Cat, the feline who escaped his carrier while in the care of American Airlines handlers last month at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport.
Jack the Cat, still at large after more than two weeks, has become an Internet celebrity, complete with a Twitter account and Facebook page. His owner, Karen Pascoe, has hired a pet detective to get Jack back.
But online, posts speculate that Jack is having the best time of "his nine lives." "Heading to see the Lion King on Broadway today. It will be nice to reconnect with my people," read a recent Tweet.
It may be amusing to some, but nervous pet owners have started to demand that the airline do more to find the missing feline.
American Airlines, which issued a pet Amber alert, says on its official Facebook page that, "We are all concerned with Jack’s well-being and our employees have been doing everything they can to locate him."
So, how much would you pay to keep your pet safe during travel?
Travel services that cater to pet owners and their furry friends minimize the risk of loss, death and psychological damage. But they don’t come cheap.
The airline Pet Airways, founded in 2009, specializes in transporting pets as “pawsengers,” never cargo. Currently only offering transport between nine U.S. cities, the airways an option for those travelers with a lot of flexibility or a lot of money.
Prices to transport your pet begin at $149 but escalate the way any airline ticket for a human would.
Trying to book a flight two weeks in advance between Los Angeles and New York for a large dog ran up the price tag to over $1300, one way. The few seats they offer go quick, so forget about booking two weeks in advance -- think more like two months.
Another inconvenience: They don’t operate out of major airports, instead use local municipal sites. For example, that Los Angeles to New York route had a drop off at Hawthorne Municipal Airport and a pick-up at Republic Airport in Long Island.
But the payoff is the service. Pets are checked in at an airport’s pet lounge and put into the main cabin of the plane as passengers. They are attended by a pet attendant and the company promises they are checked in on every 15 minutes.
It is certainly first class if you have the funds or the flexibility.
But most travelers don't have these in abundance, which leaves many with the option of flying pets on commercial airlines that offer animal transfer services.
For many airlines, only the smallest of cats and dogs are allowed to fly underneath a seat in the main cabin.
JetBlue is one of the airlines that does not allow pets to be checked as cargo at all. For $100 each way, the airline offers travelers the option of their JetPaws program, which gives owners a pet carrier bag marking their pet as destined for a JetBlue flight.
If your pet is too large to carry-on, that leaves transporting him or her as cargo.
When it comes to putting your pet in cargo, pet safety expert Christina Selter says that travelers should seek out airlines that have specific pet procedures in place that ensure pets as cargo are loaded onto a plane last and taken off first to ensure minimal disruption.
“A commercial airline that does a better job is Continental. They allow you to go online and track your pet,” explains Selter, who has been working with the Transportation Security Administration to educate the public on pet safety initiatives.
Continental also offers a 24-hour live animal desk for owners to call to check on their pets and promises to consistently monitor weather conditions that may affect the cargo bays.
There are a number of companies that offer travel insurance for pets, meaning if the pet is injured or lost they will pay the owner for damages. Selter believes many of these services are shams.
“These normally only pay out a few hundred dollars max,” Selter says. “The insurance does not bring your animal back and most pet owners with a lost or injured/killed pet on an airline are not exactly happy with a $200 check.”
Selter adds that at the end of the day, no matter which option a pet owner chooses, a pet specific airline or a commercial carrier, it is incumbent upon the owner to pack and prepare their pet properly for travel.
“Jack the Cat escaped from the crate most likely it was not locked and sealed properly, this happens at airlines quite a bit, but if they have a Pet Safety Program and their staff is trained then you pets flight will be safer,” Selter says.