With new federal rules requiring airlines to disclose the number of animals killed or injured on flights, major carriers are refusing to allow pets to be checked as baggage because of dangerous heat in cramped cargo holds.
Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines will not allow animals to be checked as baggage in June, July and August. United and American have announced similar bans through September.
The carriers said they have animals' safety in mind even at the expense of passenger convenience.
"It's a lot easier, a lot safer and a lot better for everyone if we handle the situation this way," Delta spokesman John Kennedy said.
Northwest Airlines said it would continue to allow pets to be checked as baggage this summer unless the temperature exceeds 85 degrees, and America West said it never allows pets as cargo. TWA is set to announce its summer pet policy today, June 1.
Airlines will continue to allow small pets as carry-on luggage, although some charge up to $50. Many carriers also charge a fee around $75 to check animals in cargo holds.
For passengers whose pets are too large to fit under an airplane seat, that leaves only one option: paying a professional shipper. That can cost hundreds of dollars, and shippers demand broad flexibility complicating vacation plans for families that can't bear to leave pets at home.
"We only use specific flights, and we only go to certain destinations," said John McGee, owner of Kansas City, Mo.-based Pet Air.
In March, Congress approved new rules requiring U.S. airlines to disclose how many traveling pets are killed or injured.
The Department of Agriculture reported in 1998 that it had documented more than 2,500 cases of dogs and cats "severely affected" by extreme temperatures in cargo holds over a five-year span, with 108 deaths. Airlines handle about 500,000 dogs and cats each year.
Most major carriers set a temperature usually 80 degrees to 85 degrees at which they will not accept pets as checked baggage or from shippers. Shippers say they often need more than a week of leeway to guarantee pet delivery - fine for people relocating, but frustrating for vacationing families.
Vicky Jenks of Alpharetta made Delta's deadline by a day. Her two dogs whined from inside a cage May 31 as an airport skycap checked them as baggage for a flight to Honolulu.
Had she scheduled a flight June 1, Jenks would have been forced to choose between her dachshunds in Georgia or her computer support job in Hawaii.
"I probably wouldn't have gone," she said. "I don't think I could have separated myself from them."