How do airlines determine how expensive a pet plane ticket is?

Dick the Dog prepares to fly to St. Petersburg Florida with his owner. Check out these pet pictures.
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­It may seem like you need college degrees in business management, calculus and quantum mechanics (along with a keen interest in astrology) to figure out how airlines set prices for plane tickets. A ticket f­rom one city to another might vary hundreds of dollars from one day to the next, and for no apparent reason. On top of that, most airlines have several classes of tickets that can affect the price -- even if you are only looking at the coach section of the plane.

But pet tickets are a little less perplexing. In most cases, a pet ticket is a flat fee, though a few airlines do have a sliding scale based on the animal's weight for pets traveling in the cargo section. But unlike tickets for humans, pet tickets remain consistent until the respective airline decides to make a company-wide change to the fee.

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Not all airlines allow pets on planes. Others only allow pets in the cabin section -- the part of the plane with the passenger seats -- and a few airlines only allow pets in the cargo or baggage section of the plane.

In the United States, airlines that allow pets on planes have to follow strict federal guidelines. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) follows standards set by the Animal Welfare Act. Traveling pets have to meet the following requirements:

  • Dogs and cats must be at least eight weeks old.
  • Dogs and cats must have been weaned for at least five days.
  • Shipping containers must meet specific standards in regards to weight, size, strength, ventilation and sanitation.
  • Dogs and cats can't be dropped off more than four hours before the plane's departure unless the owner makes shipping arrangements in advance.
  • Animals can't be exposed to temperatures lower than 45 degrees Fahrenheit (7.2 degrees Celsius) without veterinarian approval.

­The FAA requires all pets transported within airplane cabins to be in a container that can fit beneath a passenger seat just like any other piece of carry-on luggage. Beyond that, the FAA allows airlines to set standards regarding in-cabin trans­portation.

One thing to keep in mind is that airlines do not consider service animals to be pets. Some airlines won't charge passengers with disabilities for the animal's transportation, though most require documentation proving the animal's service status. Many airlines allow service animals to ride in the plane's cabin even if the animals are too large to fit underneath a seat.

In the next section, we'll look at the difference between pet tickets for in-cabin flight versus the plane's cargo hold.

Cabin vs. Cargo

Dogs with short snouts -- like pugs -- can have trouble breathing in cargo holds if the temperature is too high.
Dogs with short snouts -- like pugs -- can have trouble breathing in cargo holds if the temperature is too high.
Mark Coffey/istockphoto

­Each airline has its own fees for pet transportation. U.S. airlines that allow pets to travel in the pl­ane's cabin charge fees ranging from $69 to more than $175 for a one-way ticket on a domestic flight. The distance traveled doesn't matter -- the pet ticket price is the same for a trip between New York and California as it is to fly between two a­irports in the same state. There's one big catch -- the pet owner must fly with the pet.

While the range for pet ticket prices is fairly wide, most of the airlines charge between $100 and $150 for each flight. Part of the reason for this is that it's what the market will bear -- people determined to take their pets with them are willing to pay the price. But there may be other factors as well.

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One factor might be that the relatively high price most airlines charge tends to limit the number of people who bring pets on board a flight. Most airlines place a strict limit on the number of pets that can travel in the plane's cabin. Several will only allow one or two animals per flight. A higher pet ticket price reduces the chance of multiple pet owners trying to book trips on the same flight.

­One reason airlines might want to limit the presence of pets is to reduce the possibility of conflicts between customers. Even a well-behaved pet can cause problems on a flight. For instance, a­ customer with allergies may complain if someone with a pet sits near them. Airlines have to balance the needs of the pet owner with the needs of other customers.

Some airlines offer passengers the option to check their pet with the rest of their baggage. And yes, the cargo section of the plane is pressurized just like the cabin. But in order to follow federal guidelines, U.S. airlines won't transport animals under certain conditions. If the temperature of the cargo hold will fall too low (below 45 degrees Fahrenheit or 7.2 degrees Celsius, by federal law) or rise too high during the flight, airlines won't transport pets. Airlines will refuse to carry an animal if conditions put the pet's health at risk.

There's a much wider range of prices for cargo shipping than in-cabin travel. Prices for cargo pet tickets range from $100 to more than $1,000. Some airlines have a sliding scale of rates that are based either upon the weight of the animal or the size of the animal's crate or cage. Others have a flat rate that applies to animals of any size or weight. And some airlines won't transport animals in the cargo hold at all. If you plan on taking your pet on a trip, you should call ahead and compare prices among several airlines.

To learn more about traveling with your pet, take a look at the links on the next page.

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More Great Links

Sources

  • Air Transport Association. "Air Travel for Your Pet." June 7, 2008. (Dec. 29, 2008) http://www.airlines.org/customerservice/passengers/Air+Travel+for+Your+Pet.htm
  • AirTran Airlines. "AirTran Airways Contract Terms." (Dec. 29, 2008) http://www.airtran.com/policies/general_information.aspx
  • American Airlines. "Traveling With Pets." (Dec. 29, 2008) http://www.aa.com/aa/i18nForward.do?p=/travelInformation/specialAssistance/travelingWithPets.jsp
  • Aviation Consumer Protection Division. "Transporting Live Animals." Department of Transportation. (Dec. 29, 2008) http://airconsumer.ost.dot.gov/publications/animals.htm
  • Continental Airlines. "Traveling with Animals." (Dec. 29, 2008) http://www.continental.com/web/en-US/content/travel/animals/default.aspx
  • Delta Air Lines. "Pet Travel Options." (Dec. 29, 2008) http://www.delta.com/planning_reservations/special_travel_needs/ pet_travel_information/pet_travel_options/index.jsp
  • Federal Aviation Administration. "Flying with Pets." July 24, 2006 (Dec. 29, 2008) http://www.faa.gov/passengers/fly_pets/
  • The Humane Society of the United States. "Summary of Airline Pet-Transport Policies." March 11, 2008. (Dec. 29, 2008) http://www.hsus.org/pets/pet_care/caring_for_pets_when_you_travel/ traveling_by_air_with_pets/summary_of_airline_pettransport_policies.html
  • Northwest Airlines. "Pets Traveling with your Baggage." (Dec. 29, 2008) http://www.nwa.com/travel/animals/aircraftpets.html
  • Organic Pet Digest. "Pet Friendly Airlines & Pet Travel Tips." 2008. (Dec. 29, 2008) http://www.organic-pet-digest.com/pet-friendly-airlines.html