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.”