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Adding your in-cabin dog to your plane reservation: The major U.S. airlines

When I first started writing this post, my main concern was that most U.S. airlines won’t allow you to add your pet to your reservation on-line, so either you make your reservation and quickly call to add your dog (hoping that one of the limited number of in-cabin spaces is available), or you call to make your reservation and risk being charged an extra fee, and possibly losing out on on-line-only deals or bonus frequent flyer credits. I wanted to find out which airlines were doing the best job of helping passengers with this problem.

Since then, I learned about U.S. Air’s wretched new first-come-first-served pet policy, and got hints from readers that other airlines might have similar policies, so I decided to ask more questions: Do you keep an in-cabin pet listing for each flight? When I add my pet to my reservation, am I guaranteed that she will have a reserved in-cabin space on my flight? If not, what will happen if I learn at the airport that there are no in-cabin slots left for my dog?

Here’s what I’ve learned. The big surprise was that Southwest, an airline I love(d) and fly on constantly, also has a first-come-first-served pet policy. I just can’t tell you how disappointed and shocked I am. This, from the “bags fly free” airline? The “no change fees” airline? I’ll keep on flying on Southwest, because I have to, but I’m a lot more nervous now — and the Southwest offerings that were meant to improve my pre-flight experience (EarlyBird check-in, etc.) have lost most of their sheen, since I’ll need to arrive crazily early to ensure that Chloe joins us on our flights.

The rest of the airlines fall into three camps: (1) The airlines that let you reserve an in-cabin place for your pet on-line (highlighted below), at the same time that you make your own reservation (Continental and Virgin America); (2) The airlines that don’t have a phone booking fee, or that waive your phone booking fee, so you can call and make your own reservation, adding your dog at the same time, without incurring a financial penalty (Allegiant, Frontier, JetBlue and Sun Country); and (3) all the rest of the airlines, which don’t waive the phone booking fee. Please note that every other major U.S. airline, aside from Southwest and U.S. Air, guarantees that your in-cabin pet will fly with you, once she’s attached to your reservation.

AirTran — The web site says, “[T]o book pet travel, please contact the AirTran Airways reservations desk at 1-800-AIR-TRAN (1-800-247-8726).” The customer service rep I spoke to told me that to add a pet to my reservation, I’d either have to incur the $15 phone fee, or make an on-line reservation and then call to add Chloe to my reservation. She suggested calling first to make sure that there’s still room for your pet in-cabin (AirTran allows 6 in-cabin pets) — then quickly make your on-line reservation and then quickly call to add your pet to your reservation. When you add your pet, you’ll be asked for payment — which guarantees that your in-cabin pet has a place on board.

Alaska/Horizon — “Space for pets traveling in the cabin or in the cargo compartment is limited and subject to availability. For air travel on Alaska Airlines, Pen Air and ERA Aviation, please contact Alaska Airlines Reservations at 1-800-ALASKAAIR (1-800-252-7522).” The agent I spoke to had the same suggestion as the AirTran agent (above) — to avoid the $15 phone booking fee (and to take advantage of on-line-only offers), call ahead to see if a flight you’re interested in has room for your pet, book your flight on-line, and then quickly call to add your pet. Alaska and Horizon do keep a log book of pets for each flight, so your pet will indeed be attached to your reservation, and a spot will be reserved for her on board. You’ll pay her fee at the airport, or during web check-in.

Allegiant — ”To book a reservation with a pet, please contact the Allegiant Reservation Center [the best number I could find is 702-505-8888] and use option 1 and tell the agent you are booking with a pet. The per segment Booking Fees will be waived.” And sure enough, when I spoke to the agent, she confirmed that the $15 booking fee would be waived because I am, essentially, forced to call to make sure my pet can travel with me. Allegiant handles the in-cabin pet situation by not having a maximum number of in-cabin pets. Their only concern is that pets be spread around the cabin, not concentrated in the same rows. She assured me that my pet would get on the plane with me.

American — “Pets traveling in the cabin require a reservation to ensure no more than seven pets are booked on any single flight. For this reason, it is recommended that you make arrangements for your pet in advance by contacting Reservations.” The customer service rep I spoke to told me that if you make your reservation over the phone, you will incur a $25 fee and it will not be waived. As above, I’d call ahead, then book on-line, then quickly call to add your dog to your reservation. American does keep a log of in-cabin pets for a particular flight, so once your pet is attached to your reservation, she has a place on board. You’ll pay for her at the airport.

Continental — “Pets can be booked online or by calling Reservations for assistance.” At Continental’s home page, click on the “Reservations” tab and select “Make Flight Reservation.” The resulting “Flight Search” page is organized as a list of questions; the third question is “Who is traveling,” and includes a box to check if you want to include a pet in your reservation. The next page (“Add Pet”), asks for the number of in-cabin pets you propose bringing, and then you’re on your way.

Delta — “Call Delta in advance at 800-221-1212 to arrange to bring your pet on board.” Delta too charges a fee for phone reservations — it’s not waived in this situation, and the agent suggested (this should be familiar by now) calling in advance to see whether a flight has room for your dog in-cabin, then quickly making your on-line reservation and calling back to add your dog to it. Delta does keep an in-cabin pet listing, so a spot will be reserved for your pet. You’ll pay the pet fee at the airport.

Frontier — “Make advanced reservations on the phone. Pets can’t be booked online so please call our Reservations Department at 800-4321-FLY (800-432-1359) so we can ensure availability and reserve space for your pet.” Frontier doesn’t charge a fee for making your reservation over the phone, so no problem there. They do keep an in-cabin pet listing, so your pet truly is added to your reservation, and will have a place on board. You’ll pay the pet fee at the airport.

Hawaiian — Hawaiian is tricky, of course, because in-cabin pets aren’t allowed on flights to Hawaii (they’re allowed on inter-island flights, and on flights leaving Hawaii). The agent I spoke to told me that the ticketing fee is not waived — you know the drill by now — but that Hawaiian does reserve spots for in-cabin pets, so once your pet is attached to your reservation, she’ll get on board with you. You’ll pay the pet fee at the airport.

JetBlue — “To book your pet, call 1-800-JETBLUE (538-2583). Please note: Pets cannot be booked online.” When you call, tell the rep that you’re calling because you’re traveling with an in-cabin dog and remind them that you shouldn’t be charged the usual fee. Also, JetBlue will give you the extra credit frequent flyer credit you would have gotten if you’d made your reservation on-line, because in this situation you were compelled to make your reservation over the phone — but remind the agent to, because they won’t think about it without nudging. [6/16/14 Happy news! JetBlue now allows travelers to book their pet’s reservation online: “Pets can be booked online or you can call 1-800-JETBLUE (538-2583).”]

Southwest — “Reservations for small cats and dogs can only be booked by calling Southwest Airlines at 1-800-I-FLY-SWA (1-800-435-9792).” I was astonished to learn that Southwest has the same lame policy as U.S. Air (see below): You may call ahead and add your pet to your reservation, but in fact, the in-cabin slots are allotted on a first-come-first-served basis at the airport on the day of your flight. The agent assured me that the airline has never had a situation where 7 pet owners tried to board a flight (Southwest allows 6 in-cabin carriers), but that’s little comfort to a traveler, especially as pet travel becomes more popular, and especially during holiday travel. What happens to the seventh, unlucky pet owner? Southwest will try to call and notify you that six other pet-owners have checked in, and will discuss with you over the phone (or at the counter, if you only learn of your fate then), what your options are. The agent mentioned, as an option, changing flights, but would not go so far as to say that you’d get a refund. You’ll pay the pet fee, by the way, at the airport.

[11/26/13 I just got a message from reader Mia telling me that “Following what it says on Dog Jaunt, I didn’t bother calling to add Callie to my Southwest reservation since it’s first come first served at the airport anyway, but when I arrived at the airport the desk agent told me that it isn’t first come first served, you need to call ahead to add your pet and that the limit for the flights is 4 in-cabin pets! Luckily, there were no other pets on the flight and the lady put Callie on my reservation then and there for me after I expressed my concern that this completely goes against what it says on their website.” Perhaps this particular agent used to work for AirTran? And perhaps something triggered the provision that “from time to time, circumstances may allow for more (or fewer) than six (6) pet carriers per scheduled flight”? It takes just a few minutes to call and add your pet to your reservation, so I plan to continue doing it.]

The only bright spot during the conversation — and this from an airline that I previously adored! — was the news that Southwest does not charge a fee for booking over the phone (query, however, whether there’s any real point to adding your pet to your Southwest reservation ahead of time, since the rubber only hits the road on the day of departure, at the ticket desk).

Spirit — Spirit does not waive its $10 phone booking fee, so here again, you may prefer to call ahead, see if there’s room on your flight for an in-cabin pet, book on-line, then quickly call back to add your pet to your reservation. Spirit does keep an in-cabin pet listing, so once your pet is added to your reservation, she’s guaranteed a place on board. You’ll pay the pet fee over the phone, when you add her to her reservation.

Sun Country — “[T]o arrange to transport your pet on your flight, please contact Sun Country Reservations toll-free at 1-800-359-6786 or 651-905-2737 for Minneapolis/St. Paul local calls.” Sun Country, bless ’em, does waive (for pet owners) the $15 phone reservation fee they ordinarily charge. They also actually reserve a space for your dog on your flight. Bless ’em some more. You’ll pay the pet fee over the phone, when you make your own reservation.

United — “If your pet will be traveling as carry-on or in a kennel as checked baggage, please call United Reservations at 1-800-UNITED-1 (1-800-864-8331) to make the necessary arrangements.” United does not waive its $25 phone booking fee, but after reading all these entries, you know what to do. The airline does keep an in-cabin pet listing, so once your pet is added to your reservation, she’s getting on board with you. You’ll pay the pet fee at the airport.

U.S. Air — “Please check with an agent at the airport to coordinate your travel plans.” U.S. Air has the same dreadful pet policy that Southwest has (above). I wrote a post about it just a few days ago, which includes all the details you can stand.

Virgin America — “Please call reservations at 1.877.FLY.VIRGIN (1.877.359.8474) to make arrangements for traveling with pets. You also may add a pet when booking your reservation on our website, either during booking or by clicking ‘Anything Else?’ when viewing your itinerary.”

14 comments

  • Kelly

    I don’t know if this is still the case, but when I flew with my two dogs in December 2010, the method recommended by American at the time was to put the flight on hold online (no charge), call and make the dog reservation, and then go back online and pay for and confirm the flight. If they will still let you do that, that is a good way to ensure your dog will be flying with you without paying additional phone fees!

  • Edie

    I won’t say “ye of little faith” in my research skills — well, okay, I just did — but that dumb Southwest policy was what I announced back in June when I flew with Frankie http://willmydoghateme.com/pet-travel/pet-travel-planning-pt-1-booking-a-flight. In defense of your defense of Southwest at the time… The representatives were very wily about the policy. I had to ask the question of several different people in several different ways to have it confirmed that yes, they don’t confirm a place for your dog on the flight.

  • Edie, I’m so sorry! Of course you did, I’d just completely forgotten our previous exchange. I recall now that your post prompted me to call Southwest, and I was assigned to a customer relations person — we’ll call her Kristi, because that’s her name — who initially confirmed your report, and then, when I expressed shock and disbelief, told me she’d talk to her people and get back to me — and then never did and never responded to my follow-up calls. And then my sad memory kicked in, and I forgot the whole thing happened. Getting older is hell. One new development, by the way, is that Southwest’s pet policy (on its site) now explicitly says it’s first-come-first-served, which it didn’t before.

  • Edie

    Don’t be sorry! I wish I was wrong in this case. If you think *you’re* old, I’m in deep doo doo. I have a memory for odd things that are rarely practical — lose my keys constantly, but remember that we had a discussion on my blog months ago about Southwest’s pet policies.

  • Montecristo

    Why oh why are they all taking steps backyards Mary-Alice? I would love to hear your thoughts on why this is happening. What is your opinion here? Are they trying to discourage in-cabin pets?

  • Nicole

    Oh nooo! I’ve already made arrangements for my cat to fly home with me for Christmas on Southwest. I haven’t flown in nearly 5 years and I’ve never flown with the cat, so I’m already nervous enough without also having to worry about not getting on the flight. Thank you for posting this – we’d been planning on him having a reserved spot so we could arrive only just early enough so Rilo wouldn’t have to sit in a weird place any longer than he had to, but I guess now it looks like we’ll be arriving wicked early to make sure he gets on (and for a 6 am flight…sigh).

  • Lara

    This is so hopeful overall, but now I’m worried about my next Southwest flight! I called after booking my ticket and told them I had two small dogs traveling with us, and they said there would be no problems since it is marked down in our reservation (we just have to pay $75 per dog and have the proper carrier case).

    Also, just a little reader request, but it would be great to hear your perspective on how the different airlines treat your dog as a passenger, i.e., on one Southwest flight, I was allowed to let my dog sleep quietly on my lap. On an Alaskan flight, they were very strict that the dog be completely sealed in her carrier. Might be interesting and helpful!

  • I hear you, Nicole, but when I’m feeling calmer I take some comfort from the airline’s report that they’ve never had 6 pet owners show up for the same flight. The chances are you’ll be totally fine, especially, heaven help you, at 6 am. I think I’d follow your original plan — but I’d give them the stink eye as I check in, etc. Good luck, and let us know how it goes!

  • Hi, Lara! So far, I’ve had no problems with Southwest either. There were three carriers total on my last flight, a couple of days ago, and that’s the most I’ve seen on a flight. I just worry about the future. I like your idea for a blog post! So far, I don’t have any sense that one airline is more dog-friendly than another — I really believe it depends on the individuals you encounter — EXCEPT that the airlines that allow you to add your dog to your reservation on-line, and guarantee that she’ll board with you, really are walking the walk. So far, that’s only Continental and Virgin America.

  • I just don’t know, is the answer. I don’t think that any airline really wants in-cabin pets — what’s the up-side for them, until there’s enough of a population of pet travelers that it becomes a selling point? But since the option is available, I would think you’d want to handle it as efficiently as possible. Continental and VA have the right idea, obviously — their system makes it easy for passengers to add a pet to their reservation, and presumably also creates an in-cabin pet list for a flight. I just can’t see how U.S. Air and Southwest’s approach makes sense to them — it gives rise to questions and uncertainty, and the possibility of real unhappiness, all of which is — at very least — inefficient.

  • John F

    As a pretty frequent US Air flyer, I’m cautiously optimistic that the change in policy may actually be better. Last Christmas, I did the routine reservation for my dog, and US Air staff didn’t seem to care that I had done that. I had to practically demand that I pay the dog fee. To them, my dog was just a carry-on.

    I too was surprised when I called this year and was told that a reservation wouldn’t be necessary. I see this new policy change as an acknowledgement that they probably don’t care how many animals are on board and rarely get customers with animals. 6 on board has been their rule (1 in first, 5 in coach) and that seems pretty reasonable. Still, fingers crossed for my flight 🙂

  • Hannah

    Hi, Mary-Alice,

    I just came across your website while looking for reliable reviews on the Clickit Harness as this one seems far safer than Harriet’s current harness. I currently reside in both New Orleans and Houston and drive back and forth between the two cities (5.5 hour drive) with my unusually small (29 lb.) Bulldog. Though she doesn’t mind the drive, it’s still quite a long jaunt, and the option of flying would be nice, especially since we always want to take her traveling with us when we go to NYC, LA, etc. and possibly overseas destinations.

    Despite my best efforts, it doesn’t seem that any airline allows dogs that are too large to fit under the seat to travel in-cabin unless it is a service dog. I’ve even called many and tried to purchase a first class ticket for my dog to sit in the seat next to me, but it’s still not happening. I’ve spoken to many people with larger dogs such as Boxers and Labs on planes only to discover they falsely say their dog is a service dog in order to bring it onto the plane. Although I understand their situation, I want to be honest and also want to bring her onto the plane with me.

    Have you ever heard of any dogs flying in-cabin without being labeled service dogs? If so, any information would be helpful. If not, if something changes with the airline policies, and you find out before I do, please do a posting on that. I would love to travel with Harriet more often and may soon be getting a place in LA as well. My only option to get her to LA would be a very long drive, which could take a few days or a two day train ride, which is not an option I’d like to explore.

    Thanks for the informative website. I look forward to reading more.

    Hannah

  • Hi, Hannah — Thanks so much for your comment, and I hope the Clickit works well for Harriet! Alas, you’re right — there’s currently no airplane alternative for your pup, since she’s too large to fit under a plane seat, and (because of her nose structure) she’s not a good candidate for traveling beneath the plane. For a brief, shining time, there was a pet-only airline that would have improved your life, but it went out of business. Amtrak is considering allowing small pets in carriers back on its trains, but Harriet might be too large for that, if it does eventually happen. Car travel is your only choice right now, I’m afraid — perhaps you could advertise on Craigslist for driving buddies?

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