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Flying With Fido And Fluffy

Cost goes sky high to fly with your pet  Feb 25, 2009

Flying with Fido or Fluffy may not be worth the trouble and expense anymore.

Spirit Airlines recently raised its fee for carrying pets to $100 each way, from $85 previously. American Airlines and Delta Air Lines made even steeper increases last year.

The round-trip costs of traveling with a pet now are almost as much as some low-fare tickets. In an economic recession, the expense is tough for most pet owners to justify, said George Hobica, founder of the airfare deal Web site

Terrie Pennington, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., owns nine golden retrievers and travels frequently to show and breed them, so she often doesn’t have much choice but to fly with her pets.

In the past, she has paid between $100 and $150 to check 2-year-old Dazzle into the plane’s cargo hold. But on a one-way Delta flight from Boston to Fort Lauderdale last September, she was surprised when a ticket agent said it would cost $275.

“I was either going to pay that or be stuck in Boston,” Pennington said. “If they had told me I had to pay (that much), I would have made other arrangements. I was not too happy about it.”

Low-cost airlines such as Spirit and JetBlue say charging fees for pet travel helps keep passenger fares lower. Pets require labor-intensive care and extra handling to ensure safety, Spirit spokesman Misty Pinson said, noting those costs are recovered by charging customers a fee.

Pennington is skeptical of that rationale, at least when it comes to pets traveling in the belly of the plane. “Other than lifting it up and putting it up with the other luggage, I don’t see where they require any more handling,” she said. “They are not being asked to walk the dog.”

Some airlines make no bones about their policy: They discourage pets on their flights.

Frontier Airlines quietly changed its policy in May 2007 to ban pets from flying alongside passengers and charge as much as $400 to fly them round-trip in the cargo area. Southwest Airlines for years has not allowed pets to fly unless they accompany disabled travelers.

Other carriers are hoping their efforts to be pet-friendly will make owners shrug off higher fees.

JetBlue raised its pet travel fee to $100 each way last summer, a $50 increase round-trip, said company spokeswoman Alison Croyle. In December the airline launched its JetPaws program to educate fliers about pet etiquette.

Under the program, passengers flying with pets get reward points that can be applied toward free flights. The New York-based carrier recently hosted a pet look-alike contest with giveaways to start the program and now sells a $45 pet carrier, as well as a pet travel kit ($25), collar ($9.99), hoodie ($15) and polo shirts ($18) on its Web site.

Owners who plan on flying with pets can search each carrier’s Web site and compare cabin and cargo price variations.

Of the major carriers serving Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach airports, AirTran Airways charges its passengers the lowest fee for toting pets: $69 each way. Delta is the most costly local airline, charging $150 each way for carry-on pets and $275 each way to carry pets in the cargo hold. And United Airlines, which serves South Florida passengers from Miami International, is the airline industry’s most expensive for pets in the cabin: round-trip fees are $350.

Owners also should be aware of the many restrictions on pet travel. Some types of animals are prohibited on aircraft. The restrictions can vary by destination. There also are limits on pet age and weight, as well as kennel size and design. Occasionally, pets must meet health and medical criteria to fly, and airlines require proof of veterinary visits in advance of the travel date.

These rules vary greatly from one airline to another, although as a general practice, airlines limit the total number of pets allowed on their aircraft and allow a passenger to take only one pet per flight.

Hobica and others say pet owners should be respectful of other passengers and expect that some will find their animals annoying. In a recent poll on, 57 percent of the more than 1,000 respondents said pets should be allowed to fly in the airplane cabin, while 43 percent would ban them.

All of the airline fees and hassles have Pennington seeking alternatives to commercial air travel, such as carpooling agreements. And, the dog owner says she’ll be choosy about the airlines she flies when she’s not traveling with the dogs.

“I’d rather give my business to the airlines that are supportive of what’s important to me,” Pennington said.

Cost goes sky high to fly with your pet
Image via AP

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