A perfect storm of flight cancellations and consistently high demand for air cargo space has left cats, dogs, and other pets stranded or separated from their owners.
Ordinarily, furry friends travel in a special section of an airplane’s cargo hold that’s intentionally kept dark to help ease flying nerves. This cargo area has heating and pressurization similar to that of the passenger cabin.
Yet space within the cargo hold has been in high demand, with airlines operating far fewer flights today and many of those flights prioritizing critical cargo like medical equipment and supplies.
Consequently pets have been repeatedly bumped off flights, sometimes resulting in extended separation from their owners.
Reports of airlines selling pet tickets north of $5,000 for international and transcontinental flights has pet travel companies concerned with dog and cat owners frustrated.
Pet travel companies help owners migrate their pets between cities or countries. These firms have been busy since the start of the pandemic as each client now requires substantially more effort to get a pet to its destination.
Motivated pet owners have become creative: flying pets to another city or country on the same continent, renting a car, and creatively negotiating cross-border policies.
In the US, it’s also no longer possible to fly your pet in the cabin as an emotional support animal.
Last December, the US Department of Transportation changed the Air Carrier Access Act to no longer allow emotional support animals. Trained service animals like guide dogs for the seeing-impaired are still allowed.
The rule went into effect February 1, 2021, and passengers wanting to travel with their pets must pay for them to fly, subject to each airline’s pet policies.
A4A, an airline lobbyist group which includes Alaska, American, Delta, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Southwest, and United Airlines, applauded the change as many passengers have disguised pets as emotional support animals, at times disrupting the experiences of other passengers.
If you want to travel with your pet, do your research early.
At the time of publishing, American Airlines has temporarily suspended checking pets for the time being, citing increased flight changes. The airline does check pets at the ticket counter for active-duty U.S. Military traveling on assignments, noting that fees and restrictions apply.
AA allows carry-on pets in the cabin if they meet the airline’s requirements.
It’s undoubtedly trickier for cats and dogs to fly in the new normal of travel, and in the US at least, that may remain the case indefinitely.