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U.S. Airways: Disastrous in-cabin pet policy, and rate hike

Alerted by reader Mia, I just called U.S. Airways to talk about the airline’s in-cabin pet policy. The customer service representative I spoke to confirmed that today, U.S. Air increased its fee for in-cabin pets to $125 each way (it had previously been $100). That’s unfortunate, but not unexpected, given that United, Continental and American all charge $125 for in-cabin pets.

What really disturbed me was hearing confirmation that U.S. Airways does not keep a cabin pet listing ahead of time. Instead, a traveler with an in-cabin pet must arrive at the airport she’s departing from early enough to ensure that her in-cabin pet has one of the available slots on board her flight. How many slots are available? U.S. Air has never specified a number — in the past, they said there was “limited” availability, and as of today, the relevant web page doesn’t even say that.

The customer service rep I spoke to suggested that I purchase a seat for my pet, if I wanted to be perfectly confident that she’d make it on board. Really? Is that the answer? I should pay hundreds of dollars for an empty seat? In fact, it’s not the answer, because having a second seat reservation would in no way guarantee that my in-cabin pet would be allowed on board. (Keep in mind, too, that even if I did purchase a companion seat, Chloe’s carrier would still be slotted in its under-seat space.)

I called U.S. Air again, a few hours later, because I realized that I hadn’t asked what happens to a traveler who learns that her in-cabin pet cannot travel on her flight. The customer service rep I spoke to told me that in the past, U.S. Air only allowed 2 in-cabin pets per flight (which really is “limited”). Now, they’re allowing 6 in-cabin pets per flight. She told me that the airline has never had a situation where a seventh pet owner showed up at the ticket counter. Pet travel is on the upswing, I told her — what will happen to that seventh owner? She told me that the owner’s trip would be canceled and that an airline credit would be issued for a future flight.

I was astonished and dismayed by our conversation. When I expressed my concern — and I did so with unusual moderation, given how astonished and dismayed I was — the customer service rep suggested that I leave a written comment with U.S. Air’s customer relations. Here’s the link, in case you want to leave your own comment. Please note that U.S. Air makes it difficult: You have to specify your upcoming flight date and destination to have your comment accepted, but I just typed in a generic departure date and destination. Until this policy changes, we will certainly not be flying on U.S. Air — and I can’t recommend that you do either.

28 comments

  • am2me

    That’s ridiculous! If I purchased a ticket for my pet, I would absolutely expect that he would be guaranteed a spot. They should absolutely be able to determine how many pets are allowed and how many people have paid for pets before the passengers depart from home for the airport. Major fail. I will not be flying US Airways.

  • Amanda

    The agent’s suggestion makes NO SENSE! If you buy one seat and they can’t guarantee you that your pet will make it aboard, how does that change if you buy TWO seats? Presumably, the limit on the total number of pets aboard remain the same, regardless of how many seats you buy…? We won’t be traveling on this airline anytime soon!

  • Mia/Aemelia

    Sorry for having the most complicated naming system for myself ever Mary-Alice. I constantly blame my parents for this.

    Thanks for your great post and your follow-up. I don’t understand why in this day and age with the technology we have, why airlines can’t ALL just do ALL of this over the internet. Why must we call for more info? Why must we call to book our pets? It’s insane.

    The only upside is that it gives us something to talk about! haha!

  • Mia/Aemelia

    Not wanting in cabin pets is a super stupid business decision. They get a huge fee each way for something that they do for everyone anyway (taking on a carryon bag). You might argue that they don’t want the liability of taking on the in cabin pets anymore but that’s silly since the liability of what happens to an in cabin pet rests mostly on the owner while airlines who take checked baggage or cargo pets take on a bunch of liability doing that. Not having in cabin pets is like the airline throwing away money. I don’t think that it is that they don’t want in cabin pets, I think they are just trying to reduce call volume to their call centers so that they can fire people from the call centers and save money to make a bigger profit. They already have to pay the airport employees so why not give them more to do (at the expense of the convenience of the customer, of course. Airlines stopped being in the customer service industry long ago).

  • Jessica @ YouDidWhatWithYourWeiner

    Wow! Buying a seat for your pet seem silly and expensive. However, I had no idea that it cost that much to even bring your pet on board the plane! I thought it was free or counted as your carry on luggage. This may but a damper on my plans to try fling with Chester and Gretel.

  • I should be writing an intelligent response here, but you guys have said it all. When JetBlue and Virgin and Continental are doing such an intelligent job with in-cabin pets, there’s just no excuse for U.S. Airways.

  • Andy

    We experienced the same situation with American Airlines. I called prior to booking our flight in order to confirm that our in-cabin pet would be able to travel with us, but was told by an CS agent that they cannot let me know that the flight had any pet bookings because they do not accept in-cabin pet reservations. I was informed, just like in this case with US Airways, that we would just have to show up at the airport the day of check-in and see whether our dog would be allowed on the flight. This is so frustrating and disappointing in regards to CS. Finding out the day of the flight is obviously too late to make other travel arrangements in case your pet is not permitted to travel.

  • Good heavens, Andy. I clearly need to call around and ask this precise question of all the major U.S. airlines, and then write a post. Will do — thanks for the nudge! I have now, Andy, and here’s the result: http://www.dogjaunt.com/2011/11/adding-your-in-cabin-dog-to-your-plane-reservation-the-major-u-s-airlines/ According to the people I spoke to at American, once your in-cabin pet is added to your reservation, she is guaranteed one of the slots on board. I do hope your travel experience bears out what I learned!

  • Mia/Aemelia

    I have a reservation for next Wednesday to take my dog in cabin on Delta, and a reservation to take my dog in cabin on United next month. So easy and logical! US Airways you’re killing me.

  • Montecristo

    First off what a wonderful community here. Well spoken, intelligent and on the ball. So far Air Canada has not followed this trend. In addition neither have the European airlines. So makes you wonder doesn’t it?

  • Kristina & Kara

    Just a comment on American Airlines, although this article is disheartening ๐Ÿ™

    I have a one way flight with American Airlines on Jan. 6th from Miami to NYC JFK. I was informed by the airline I could not pay in advance but they could confirm my pet, complete a confirmation number.

    Another note…My ticket was 89 dollars, my dog’s? $125.00

    Hmmmmm.

    Either way, I’m now nervous and will be calling to reconfirm Kara on the flight.

  • Aren’t the prices crazy, Kristina?! But the plan otherwise sounds normal to me — sometimes I pay in advance for Chloe, but just as often I reserve her a spot and then pay for her at the airport.

  • Kristina & Kara

    Wow!! MA!
    I’m currently sitting at lga airport, in airtrans section where there are two flights taking off around the same time, one of them mine. Are you psychic? There are a total of 10 dogs in the same waiting area!

    Meet and greets are happening, and unfortunately some of the dogs are barking and loudly. I hope the increase of dogs flying still keeps owners respectful of others space. I would hate for our “civil dog rights” to regress at this point. I’ll let you know the flight goes. Another note, AirTran has upgrades for 49 first class, and you have to pay 20-45 dollars for one or two bags anyway and then free bags for first class. Lots of space for our dogs there in business class! Photos in your email soon!
    K & k

  • Thanks so much, Kristina! I cannot BELIEVE there are 10 traveling dogs in one place — amazing! — and you’re exactly right, I do hope all this increased pet travel stays pleasant and low-impact for other travelers…. Loud barking is not my idea of a good time. Love the report, looking forward to the pix — I know nothing about AirTran, so they’re especially welcome (fact is, they’re ALWAYS welcome). Safe travels, ladies!

  • Ashley

    I have an upcoming flight with US Air with two cats so we shall see how it goes. These comments are discouraging to read though! I recently flew with a cat in the cabin and my dog in cargo via AA and they managed to “misplace” my dog on a flight from Miami to Dallas and for two hours could not tell me where my dog was. She was abandoned in a freight elevator.
    Needless to say I no longer recommend American for cargo pets ๐Ÿ™

  • Ack! Not good, Ashley! On the U.S. Air front, the fact is it probably IS unlikely that that many in-cabin pet owners would show up for the same flight. I do not like the policy, no I don’t, but I suspect you and the cats will be fine. Safe travels!

  • Jan

    We are Canadian snowbirds who fly to Arizona for a number of months each year.
    Due to the time away we simply must tak our pets. Due to our age we are finding the drive exhausting and would like to fly instead. However these pet policies are hindering our ability to do so, either because of cost of pets “seats” which in most cases is more expensive than ours (airmiles cannot be applied to pet fare), lack of direct flight making time in kennels too long’ lack of availability of cargo option due to temperature controls or reservation policy for pets. What happens if we make the flight down with the pets but cannot return to Canada with our pets due to lack of reservation for them? US Air says “make alternate arrangements” – HUH ?? Leave them at the curb? Since US Air is Air Canada’s (poor) choice for a partner we appear to be defeated. Come on airline people, our pets are our family – either give us temperature controlled cargo holds with counter to counter options or give us carry on !! We are letting our Air Miles go with Air Canada – they are useless for many reasons.

  • Linda

    We are flying to pick up our puppy and bring him back on US Airways in one day. Direct flight about an hour and 20 minutes each way. We are going to try to book the puppy on our return flight when we arrive to pick him up. Will see how it goes… Worse case it will be a long drive back.

  • Melissa

    I called one and a half months ago to confirm that our dog could travel with us on our US airways flight. The lady confirmed our flights/names, etc… and told me our dog could fly under our seat in a soft carrier (he’s under 20 lbs). She told me all the extra details: paperwork, etc… We go to check in on Tuesday and they say that our dog cannot fly with us and that we’d need to reschedule our flights for the next morning if we wanted to fly with him…we could not reschedule our flights. We had to have someone come get our dog and now I need to figure out how to get him here by himself.

  • Melissa

    Our flight was from Hawaii to the mainland btw…they don’t allow in-cabin pets on this route apparently.

  • They do not, Melissa — here’s the bit from the U.S. Airways website: “US Airways will only permit service animals, emotional support animals and psychiatric service animals in the cabin for travel to/from Hawaii.” Hawaii is SO tricky — only Alaska lets you bring an in-cabin pet in, and I don’t know anyone other than Alaska and Hawaiian that lets you bring an in-cabin pet out. It sounds like your first customer service rep just didn’t know what he or she was doing, and steered you wrong. You could, and, heck, should, write a letter of complaint to U.S. Airways with all the details. I don’t anticipate that it’ll help you with the expense and vexation of getting your pup to you — airlines are twisty folks — but I’d certainly make the effort.

  • That is horribly frustrating, Jan. I don’t have any good suggestions, except the one you’ve already thought of — going for a different credit card that lets you accumulate miles on an airline that meets your needs.

  • Caitlin

    Our dog was recently turned away from a US Airway flight because they said she was too big for her carrier, even though she has traveled many times before and can “stand and turn around” as per their policy. We were told it is also their policy that if the dog is standing and the head is taller than the carrier then they are too large for it, which is actually not a policy at all. They were very rude and unsympathetic about the entire experience. And I believe they were just trying to get rid of us since they also oversold their flight. I will never try to fly US Air with my dog again.

  • That sounds SO BAD, Caitlin โ€” what a dreadful experience! Thanks for the heads-up โ€” I don’t fly U.S. Air, myself, because it doesn’t go where I want to go, so I’m grateful for readers’ reports.

  • Hollie

    Just thought I’d send an update. US Airways now DOES provide a confirmation number for your in-cabin pet reservation. I’ll fly next week with our new puppy so I’ll update how that goes!

  • Please do, Hollie! I just got a message from another Dog Jaunt reader with edits about U.S. Air’s policy, so clearly I need to write a new blog post. Safe and easy travels to you and your pup!

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