For pet-loving travelers, there is no more precious cargo than a fur baby. But it can be difficult to sniff out which of the airlines' pet policies is best. We compared the U.S.' five biggest airlines and discovered that, while some offer special pet travel programs, such as JetBlue's JetPaws and Alaska Airlines' Fur-st Class Care, the answer seems to be... "it depends." Your best bet for transporting your pet will depend upon several factors, but here is a cheat sheet that should help guide your choice.
If you are traveling domestic with a small dog or cat:
Both JetBlue and Southwest only accept dogs and cats for travel, and they will only transport them in-cabin, not in the hold. JetBlue accepts one pet per person, while Southwest accepts up to two, but only if they are small enough to fit fully inside a single carrier. On both airlines that carrier counts as one piece of carry on, so you will need to be traveling light. JetBlue stipulates that the weight of the carrier and the pet combined must not exceed 20 pounds; Southwest doesn't have a weight limit but does require the carrier fit under the seat in front. Southwest is the cheapest at $95 one way. JetBlue charges $100 one way, but also gives you 300 frequent flier points for each segment.
If you are traveling domestic with a big pet:
Alaska will put your pet of up to 150 pounds (including its carrier) in the hold for $100 each way. On domestic flights, the airline accepts a menagerie below cabin — even your pot-bellied pig can travel — but it's strictly cats and dogs on flights outside the U.S.
American Airlines restricts pets traveling in the hold to cats and dogs only, and charges $175 per carrier one way. Delta and United both require bigger pets to be shipped as cargo, which costs as much as (and often more than) a human ticket. Delta's rates vary but a quick search for a 50-pound dog traveling from JFK to LAX revealed a quote of $445 one way. United charges $348 for the same animal.
If you are traveling international:
Here is where it gets tricky as rates and policies vary wildly depending upon which country you a traveling to. JetBlue accepts small dogs and cats in-cabin on most international flights, with the exception of Jamaica (MBJ and KIN), Barbados (BGI), St Lucia (UVF), the Cayman Islands (GCM), and Trinidad and Tobago (POS). Delta accepts small pets in-cabin on some, but not all, international flights for $200 each way — as this badly behaved passenger knows.
American accepts pets as checked luggage for travel to Europe (not the U.K. or Ireland), South America, and Hawaii (which, as a rabies-free state, has its own set of rules). Again, though — check the regulations of your specific destination. With United, you need to ship as cargo: Shipping your 50-pound dog from the U.S. to the U.K will cost $903, but you'll get 500 points to soften the blow (slightly).
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