I’ve updated this post (which originally went up on 7/30/12) with a chart. I think it’s easier to follow than the list approach I started with. Please note that the airline name is also a link to that airline’s pet policy page, so you can easily refer to the airline’s own site.
When I began flying with Chloe, nearly four years ago, U.S. airlines that allowed pets in-cabin stipulated that your pet’s carrier took the place of your carry-on bag, leaving you with only a “small personal item” to pack with the items you’d need during flight, or couldn’t bear to entrust to the baggage handling system. I’ve posted several work-arounds, including a couple of pocket-packed travel vests (solving the problem of not being able to get to your small personal item, stowed above you, during turbulent flights) and, as recently as last Friday, a wheeled carry-on that can be passed off as a small personal item (solving the problem of travelers who want to roll, not carry, their larger small pets). [Please take a look, too, at a reader’s report about using a pet stroller at the airport to solve the same problem.]
So when reader Gery asked for clarification on last Friday’s post (“Interesting — so are you saying that the dog carrier replaces your carry-on bag instead of your ‘personal item’?”), I confidently assured him that that was indeed what I was saying, and attached a couple of examples from actual airline policy language — except that after I’d found my first example, from Delta: “Your pet in-cabin counts as one piece of carry-on baggage” (and even that language is a little ambiguous), I found two examples, Southwest and American, with new language saying that a pet carrier takes the place of either your carry-on or your personal item!
I’ve now gone through my list of the major U.S. airlines, and made a table of the results. I updated it most recently on 7/19/16. Before you travel, you might want to print out the relevant page from your airline’s site, in case you meet some resistance from a ticketing or gate agent.
|Airline||Carry-on policy||Total items allowed|
|Alaska||"When traveling with your pet in the cabin, the pet carrier counts toward your carry-on bag allotment. You may bring either a pet carrier and a personal item, or a pet carrier and a standard size carry-on bag. You may not board the aircraft with a pet carrier, a standard size carry-on, and a personal item."||Pet carrier + carry-on OR pet carrier + personal item|
|Allegiant||"Passengers with a pet carrier may bring one personal item, not exceed exterior dimensions of 7 in. x 15 in. x 16 in. (17.8 cm x 38.1 cm x 40.6 cm), which may be stored in the overhead bin space free of charge. Passengers with a pet carrier who also bring a carry-on bag, not to exceed exterior dimensions of 9 in. x 14 in. x 22 in. (22.9 cm x 35.6 cm x 55.9 cm) will be charged accordingly for a carry-on bag." [Section 47]||Pet carrier + personal item (size specified)|
|American||"[Y]ou can bring one pet kennel as your carry-on bag"||Pet carrier + personal item|
|Delta||"Your pet counts as one piece of carry-on baggage."||Unclear|
|Frontier||"Due to limited space in our cabin, if you want to bring on a pet container it will count as either your carry-on bag or personal item. If the pet is taken in place of your personal item, a carry-on bag charge may apply (if you have an additional carry-on bag)."||Pet carrier + personal item OR pet carrier + carry-on|
|JetBlue||"Your pet and carrier count as one carry-on bag onboard."||Pet carrier + personal item|
|Southwest||"Pet carriers are considered either a personal item or a carryon item. A Customer may board the aircraft with either a pet carrier and a personal item or a pet carrier and a regular size carryon bag. A Customer may not board the aircraft with a pet carrier, a regular size carryon bag, and a personal item."||Pet carrier + carry-on OR pet carrier + personal item|
|Sun Country||"Your pet in its carrier is considered a carry-on item and must be included in your regular carry-on allotment."||Pet carrier + personal item|
|United||"An in-cabin pet may be carried in addition to a carry-on bag...."||Pet carrier + carry-on|
|Virgin America||"[C]arry-on pets count towards a guest's carry-on baggage allowance."||Unclear|
I fly on Southwest, United, JetBlue and Virgin America, so on most of my future trips (Virgin America is a mystery, and until they clarify their language, I’ll assume the worst), I’ll hook Chloe’s carrier over my own wheeled carry-on’s extended handle and roll her around the airport. I’ll still wear my Travel Vest of Many Pockets, however, since my carry-on will be in the overhead bin, where my small personal item used to be.
My heartfelt thanks to reader Gery for giving me the impetus to look more closely at language I’d learned to take for granted. Dog Jaunt’s readers make it a better blog, and that is a fact. I will also review the major international airlines’ pet policies, and later this week I’ll write a separate post about what I learn.