These Are the Best US Airlines for Flying With Pets


For many of us, our pets are family and leaving them behind when we need to travel is a stressful affair. Of course, trying to fly with pets in tow can also cause major headaches, especially since some of the rules have recently changed.

In December of last year, the U.S. Transportation Department set new limits on the types of animals that qualify as service animals and ruled that designated emotional support animals no longer count.

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This summer, NerdWallet pored over the fine print about flying with pets on each of the nine major U.S. airlines, and rated them on a five-point scale according to 11 different variables, including their pet fees, whether they transport pets in cargo, whether they impose species limitations, their safety record for pet transport and more. These are the airlines that took first and tied for second place.

Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines was discovered to be the best airline overall when flying with pets, charging the lowest fees and offering the most flexible pet policy in terms of the types of animals they’ll transport.

In Main Cabin:

—Alaska’s had the best fee of $100 each way for transporting a pet in the main cabin inside a kennel or carrier. You can even transport two pets of the same species and similar size in one carrier, essentially paying $50 for each.

—Passengers can bring up to two carriers in the main cabin and fly with up to four pets, but you’ll need to have booked at least two seats to accommodate two separate carriers.

—While many airlines only allow cats and dogs to fly in the main cabin, Alaska’s policy is more inclusive, allowing rabbits and household birds, as well.

—As is the case with most airlines, pet carriers count toward your carry-on bag allotment, so you’ll probably need to plan on checking some baggage.

In Cargo:

—Alaska will transport not only dogs, cats, birds, or rabbits in checked baggage or cargo, but also ferrets, guinea pigs, hamsters, non-poisonous reptiles, pot-bellied pigs and tropical fish.

—Fees for transporting pets in cargo start at $250, but vary according to your route and the size of your pet.

Alaska Airlines tail assembly.
Alaska Airlines tail assembly. (Photo courtesy of Alaska Airlines)

American Airlines

American Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines tied for second place with solid scores for overall pet-friendliness.

In Main Cabin:

—American’s fee is $125 for pets flying in the main cabin within North America.

—Its pet policy permits passengers to bring one kennel that fits under the seat in front of them in place of one of their carry-ons, but pets must be kept kenneled for the entire flight.

In Cargo:

—Passengers can choose to transport pets as checked baggage with fees starting at $200, which is the only option available to owners of animals too large to fit in the main cabin.

American Airlines Airbus A319.
American Airlines Airbus A319. (photo via Boarding1Now/iStock Editorial/Getty Images Plus)

Hawaiian Airlines

In Main Cabin:

Hawaiian Airlines also charges $125 for pets in the main cabin on flights within North America.

—Pets are permitted on almost all of Hawaiian’s North American flights, though New York-JFK, Boston, Orlando and Austin routes don’t allow pets.

—The pet carrier must fit under the seat and weigh less than 25 pounds with the animal inside.

—Note that pets aren’t permitted to fly first class on any of Hawaiian’s North American flights, due to space limitations.

—Also, note that traveling with pets to Hawaii becomes quite complicated because the Hawaii Department of Agriculture requires all pets to be quarantined, which carries additional costs starting at $185 per pet.

In Cargo:

—First-class flyers or those with pets too large to fit in the main cabin can transport their pet in cargo, with fees starting at $225 for travel between North America and Hawaii.

Hawaiian Airlines Airbus A330-200
Hawaiian Airlines Airbus A330-200. (photo via Boarding1Now/iStock Editorial/Getty Images Plus)

The rest of the nine major U.S. airlines were rated as follows: Frontier and Southwest coming in fourth and fifth, respectively; followed by Spirit in sixth, JetBlue in seventh, Delta in eighth and United in last place as the least pet-friendly airline, according to NerdWallet’s analysis.





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