These are challenging times for dogs on airplanes, and for owners of dogs on airplanes, and for airlines with dogs on their airplanes. Some highly publicized recent animal-related mishaps put airlines’ handling of dogs and cats—in the air and on the ground—in the spotlight. On Tuesday, United Airlines announced a welcome revision to its cargo-hold pet policy, called PetSafe, drawn up with the help of the animal advocacy organization American Humane. The program’s biggest change, which restricts flying for short-nosed dog and cat breeds considered to be more vulnerable to changes in air quality and temperature, will doubtless force scores of pet owners to find a different way to fly. The rules takes effect on June 18 for pets traveling with “parent or guardian,” and take effect on July 16 for pets traveling alone.
✈ United has officially banned 21 dog breeds—including “snub-nosed” and “strong-jawed” breeds. The no-fly list includes mastiffs, pugs, bulldogs, boxers, Shih Tzus, and also short-nosed mixed breeds. Four cat breeds make the no-fly list: Burmese, exotic shorthair, Himalayan, and Persian. This ban applies to pets in the cargo hold of the aircraft; dogs and cats small enough to fly in the cabin—even restricted breeds—can do so for a $125 fee, each way, plus an additional $125 service charge for each stopover of more than four hours within the U.S., or more than 24 hours outside of the U.S.
✈ The airline will now fly only dogs and cats—no rats, geese, snakes, or other “household” species.
✈ The airline will be much quicker to bump or change routing if outside temperatures fall above or below a safe range. Moreover, the airline will no longer take pet reservations to and from four famously hot airports—Las Vegas, Palm Springs, Phoenix, and Tucson, Arizona—annually between May 1 and September 30.
✈ There’ll be no more last-minute getaways with Fido: United will accept pet reservations no more than 30 days and no later than 5 days in advance.
✈ The airline will now require a pile of documents—including veterinary paperwork, photos, and crate information—before a reservation is confirmed.
✈ No last-minute crates: United will no longer sell carriers at the airport, and rules for crate sizing is getting stricter (no carriers over 30 inches tall). The company has worked with carrier-maker Petmate to identify a range of PetSafe-compliant crates.
✈ Other revisions to the PetSafe program include restrictions on the number of connections and on international routing. See the full announcement here.
If you must travel with your pet, it’s probably best to avoid planes and drive to your destination. For international trips or vacations where you can’t hit the road, the safest option is to choose a direct flight and bring your cat or small dog in the cabin with you. There are also many IPATA-approved pet shipping services—such as Happy Tails Travel—that may fit your needs. According to the Humane Society, you can make it easier on the animal by familiarizing it with its travel kennel at least a month before the trip, clipping its nails so they don’t get caught in the crate, and avoiding tranquilizers and big meals four to six hours before the journey. In addition, owners should pack a picture of the pet and put their contact info on the carrier.