First, plan ahead. Most airlines allow only a few animals to board, which means one dog show could wreck travel plans. You might also need a current veterinarian's health certificate and an acclimation certificate if the temperature will drop below 45 degrees. Attach your name, address, phone number, and a recent pet photo to the carrier. And make sure your furry friend has had a bath. Airlines can reject stinky pets.
Know your airlines pet rules. Print out the requirements for pet travel from the airline's website and take them along. Airport workers aren't always familiar with all the details, so printed rules can come in handy if you run into trouble.
You should compare costs and services for different airlines. Airlines frequently change their pet-travel fees and rules. Air Tran, Jet Blue, and Southwest allow small pets to travel in the cabin but won't accept pets as checked baggage. Frontier will check your pet as baggage but won't allow it in the cabin. On Jet blue and Continental your pet earns air miles for travel. Most airlines allow only domestic cats and dogs, though a few will welcome your bird. Service animals, such as guide dogs, are allowed on all U.S. flights.
Beware of the risks your pet could face. In 2009, 23 pets died during commercial air transit. Others were injured or lost when they escaped from their crates. If your pet is flying as baggage or cargo, ask the flight attendant to monitor the temperature in the pet-storage area. For pet health reasons, some airlines don't allow bulldogs and short-nosed breeds, such as pugs or Persian cats, to travel as cargo during warmer months. Airlines will not fly a pet younger than eight weeks or ones with special medical needs. Also, most vets no longer recommend sedation, which can affect your pet's heart or breathing.
You might consider alternatives for pet travel. There's a new pets-only airline. At Pet Airways pets fly in the climate controlled main cabins under the supervision of an attendant. Prices range from $99 to $549 one way, depending on pet size and flight length. The average cost is $250. Pet Airways now flies to nine cities and says it plans to expand to about 30.