Almost every airline operating in the continental United States offers pet transportation services in some form. The problem is, these services vary widely in cost, quality, and accessibility. The ongoing pandemic has wreaked havoc on flight schedules, and many travelers are now frantically googling for answers. Which airlines ship dogs, under what circumstances, and how much do they charge?
What is the best airline to ship a dog?
While we can’t officially endorse any specific airline, we can give you the insights shared by the AVMA. For years, the American Veterinary Medical Association has been working with airline companies to raise pet air transport standards. Four major airways have expressed a willingness to contribute to this effort as recently as last summer:
As one of the hardest-hit airlines during the recent crisis, United is still making cuts in preparation for the expected bounceback. Until recently, they were offering a much-lauded animal transport program called PetSafe. With the reduced flight schedules, they’ve been forced to suspend it indefinitely.
For the time being, you can only bring small cats and dogs into the cabin with you as carry-on luggage. United Airlines charges a $125 fee, plus an additional $125 for each domestic stopover lasting 4+ hours.
Recently, American Airlines has announced enhanced health protections and cleaning procedures in response to the pandemic. However, a suspension of checked pet services on passenger flights has been in place since March. This means you can only transport small dogs and support animals in the cabin (at $125 per carrier). Larger pets can still be moved via freight airline, using the American Airline Cargo service. This is suboptimal for many pet owners given the overall reduction in operational efficiency, this can lead to extended delays and increased risks.
The overall drop in traffic during the previous three months has caused Delta and other airline companies to cut capacity by as much as 70%. These cuts are gradually being reversed, with the aim of returning to standard operations before the end of summer.
Delta currently allows small dogs to travel in-cabin, counting each kennel as a single carry-on item. The fee is about $125 for most.
For larger dogs, they do offer cargo check-in options with liability limitations. (Make sure you have the animal’s vet health certificate, which must prove that it meets certain age and health requirements.) Earlier this year, Delta has introduced its own pet carrier system — the CarePod. To which extend will this improve pet safety standards remains to be seen.
Yet another airline looking to rebound after the current crisis, Southwest will be focusing on business-class travelers first. How long it’ll take to make up for the recent 50% stock drop remains to be seen.
Southwest only accepts pets for in-cabin transport, with the customary limit of one pet per traveler. Standard limitations on carrier size apply (it must be small enough to fit under a seat). The fee currently stands at a modest $95 per carrier.
Southwest currently does not allow pets to be checked in as cargo. So if your dog is too big to come into the cabin with you, look elsewhere. That said, intra-industry conversations are still ongoing, and policies are liable to change.
What’s the best pet transporter to ship a dog by air?
If you won’t be flying personally but still need to move your dog, you can always hire a flight nanny. At fees only slightly higher than the price of the ticket, these animal care providers will board a plane with your dog in tow. Some, but not all, also offer road transport to and from the airport. Online marketplaces offer access to hundreds of these independent professionals, allowing you to negotiate a price and the specifics of the service, to give you a customized pet travel experience.
And if it turns out air travel isn’t available to you due to unforeseen circumstances, there are always alternatives. If your dog’s journey can’t wait for the airline situation to stabilize, consider finding a reliable long-distance driver instead.
We hope that this overview has helped you establish which airlines relocate dogs and what level of service they offer. When trying to book air transport for your pet, we can only advise that you arm yourself with patience. With the market forces in flux, only cooperation with health experts and industry professionals will get you the desired result.
To quote AVMA’s Dr. Gail Golab, “Vets, owners, and airline companies all want the same thing — an animal that arrives at its destination in good shape. The best way to ensure a process with good results was to identify what expertise was needed from whom, then to get everyone on the same page with understanding their responsibilities.”
Updated September 17, 2021