Carry-On Pets - how strict are airlines?
March 14, 2007 1:18 PM   Subscribe

Bringing Pets in Airplane Cabin: I know that each airline has its limits on the dimensions of the under-the-seat carrier and combined weight, but how strict are they? Do airlines actually measure your carrier and weigh the pet plus carrier? Or just eyeball it? I'm wondering particularly about Northwest and American Airlines. Any horror stories or warnings appreciated.
posted by nancoix to Pets & Animals (21 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Yes, they are strict about the dimensions, and yes, they do weigh the carrier with the pet in it.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 1:28 PM on March 14, 2007

We took a five-pound cat on Northwest a year ago. I do not remember them weighing it or its carrier. But I would worry more about the dimensions. You need it to fit under the seat or you are in big trouble. I would not have put my cat in cargo. Go to a pet store and buy the Sherpa carrier, it's the ultimate one and approved by airlines. It will double as the nicest taking-cat-to-the-vet carrier ever.

They did yell at my husband when he took the cat out briefly (he was holding her). They don't want them out of the carrier at all, which is understandable.
posted by GaelFC at 1:33 PM on March 14, 2007

I flew United (sorry, not Northwest or American) with my 15-pound dog about a year ago. I bought a soft-sided carrier that was approved by several airlines, as shown on its tag at the pet store, but no one ever measured or weighed it.

After the whole experience I felt like I could have brought the dog along without ever telling anyone about it (not that I would recommend that by any means). But I had to remind the counter agent that I needed to pay the extra fare for my dog at both ends of the trip, and after I paid the agent put a blank, plain-white tag on the carrier. After the hassle of juggling a somewhat scared dog through the metal detector and getting him back in his carrier (the carrier/bag has to go through the scanning machine like all other carry-on luggage, so they had me carry the dog through with me), no one ever asked me about it or said anything about it. It was uneventful, which I suppose is a good thing!
posted by pril at 1:39 PM on March 14, 2007

I flew with my cat on NW a few years ago, so my info might be a bit out of date, but in my experience:

(1) Yes they are strict about dimensions of carriers, not so much about weight (I didn't have to have my cat weighed, but maybe they do weigh larger animals).

(2) This isn't a horror story, but I was VERY pissed off about the extra fee they charged for bringing my pet on board. This page indicates an $80 fee each way for a carry-on pet. This means that if your own round trip ticket is $160 or less, then you are paying more to put your pet under the seat than you would if you bought a seat for it! I found it ludicrous to be charged a high fee for absolutely no service in return - nobody involved except myself had to do anything - but the airline was extremely strict about this, too. Grrrr.
posted by googly at 1:42 PM on March 14, 2007

Response by poster: I posted the question regarding our dog. I tentatively planned on the Sherpa "airline-approved" carrier, but the size Large is bigger than the Northwest maximum dimensions (even though the Sherpa tag lists Northwest as one of the airlines that has approved it). Yet my dog is too large for the Medium. Therein lies the conundrum.
posted by nancoix at 1:53 PM on March 14, 2007

Another data point, I've flown American with a cat carrier that didn't quite fit under the seat -- it fit height-wise, but was tapered a little too wide. It stuck out from the seat a little bit. They didn't measure it, both flights round trip. Cat was pissed, but fine.
posted by one_bean at 1:55 PM on March 14, 2007

Googly: Maybe they charge us in case the pet howls and disturbs people? It does seem kind of silly, but what seemed sillier to me is we were allowed to bring the cat on with no regard for anyone who might have pet allergies. The airline just doesn't care about those folks. Our cat didn't make a peep and no one seemed to know she was there, but if I were a highly allergic person, I'd have been ticked.

Although there is a limit to cabin pets per flight. I think it's two on Northwest.
posted by GaelFC at 1:55 PM on March 14, 2007

nancoix: Call the airline. My friend worked in the Northwest Pet Center for a long time. They are the ones who take care of cargo animals in-between flight legs. They know EVERYTHING about carriers and what works and what doesn't. Call and ask for the Pet Center at your departing airport.
posted by GaelFC at 1:57 PM on March 14, 2007

Yes, they are strict about the dimensions, and yes, they do weigh the carrier with the pet in it.

I've flown with my dog 10+ times, and they've never weighed or measured the carrier. But then again, I have a really small dog. If your dog is too big for a "medium" sherpa bag, it sounds like it might be too big to go under your seat, which is the real requirement.

You will need a pet reservation- you can't just show up at the airport with a dog in a bag. And there generally is a charge- for Delta, it's $50 each way. Sucks, but what can you do? For me, it's that or board my dog, and that would be more, and then the dog wouldn't be with me. So, it's worth it.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 2:23 PM on March 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

I've been researching this to take my cat with me on an upcoming flight. I second calling ahead; JetBlue told me that they are only allowed to have a certain number of pets on board. I think this is to help combat the allergy issue that GaelFC mentions. I was curious about that, too, but it turns out that the FAA doesn't regulate for that. If you have pet allergies, I think the onus is on you to call the airline and see if there are any pets on the flight.

As I understand it, the $50+ is to keep people from saying they're bringing a pet and then not bringing it, perhaps bumping someone else who wanted to. I bet it's also a deterrent. Most people won't spend that unless they really need to bring their pet.
posted by juliplease at 2:40 PM on March 14, 2007

I've flown with a dog in the large Sherpa. It squishes, so it fit under the seat despite the absolute dimensions being overlarge. You are at the mercy of the ticket counter basically, as to whether they want to be prickly or not. I suffered the same anxiety of Just Not Knowing as you probably do.

The only horror story I've heard was a friend with a similar-sized dog to mine encountering a Delta agent who interpreted the 'must be able to stand and turn around' rule as including a phantom clause, 'without touching any part of the bag but the floor.' A seat that met that criteria for humans would make first class look like steerage. She ultimately got on, after escalation to about three levels of management. Worst case, they'll sell you a crate and he goes cargo. Or you don't go, if you can't accept that.
posted by cairnish at 2:45 PM on March 14, 2007

This is good for me to read 'cuz I have to go to LA soon and I've been trying to figure out about if I ever want to fly with my dog. She's about 15 pounds, but the tricky part is that since she's half dachshund she's loooong. I'm afraid she might need a bigger carrier than they'll allow. I can't imagine putting her in cargo though... I've heard some horror stories & she means too much to me for me to face those possibilities, unlikely as they may be.
posted by miss lynnster at 2:52 PM on March 14, 2007

It probably just depends on the airline and who you get. For what another data point is worth, I flew Continental with a kitten a few years ago. No one checked dimensions or weighed the carrier. It was a short flight on a tiny prop plane without much under-seat room, so I was glad I went with a small carrier, but as long as it fit under the seat no one cared. No one asked for the vet papers certifying him to fly, either. I did have to pay the fee and was told that the number of pets per flight was limited. I picked the side of the plane with just one seat per row so no one would have to sit right next to us, and everything was a piece of cake. The worst part was convince him to get back in his carrier once I'd taken him out to walk him through the metal detector while the carrier went through the x-ray machine.

Once we were on the plane, the cat remained in his carrier for landing and take-off, but sat in my lap (on a harness and leash) for the rest of the trip. No one said a word - in fact, the flight attendant stopped a couple of times to pet him. So either Continental is/was laid back about pets, or I got a particularly cat-loving flight crew.
posted by Stacey at 3:26 PM on March 14, 2007

Warning (albeit second hand and about cats): supposedly American (and possibly other airlines) will not *promise* that your animal will get a spot in the cabin, even if you've pre-purchased a pet ticket. When you get to the counter, they can (in theory) deny you if there are already "too many" animals in the cabin or for other reasons--at their discretion. Same person said that JetBlue will guarantee a cabin space for a pet w/ a pre-purchased pet ticket.
posted by needs more cowbell at 3:33 PM on March 14, 2007

Above all else, BE NICE...when my mom and dad moved from Boston to Los Angeles, Smokey came with them. His carrier was supposedly the right size, but didn't fit...the cabin crew let mom put him behind the last row of seats instead of insisting he be cargo'd.

The crew also let smokey walk around the back of the cabin on his harness and they got water for him and everything...the they did hit REALLY bad turbulance and EVERYONE was confinded to their seats and BOUNCING around...poor kitty was bouncing around in his carrier. He got to the new house and hid for a week. Wanted nothing to do with any of us :)

Here's a website that might help

Pets on the go
posted by legotech at 7:27 PM on March 14, 2007

My wife and I took a new German Shepard puppy on a Delta flight from Tucson to Atlanta. The were real cool about it. They didn't weigh the carrier or check the dimensions and they even let me take the dog out of the carrier so he could hang out between our seats. If you didn't buy the carrier yet look on ebay. There are tons of them there that people have used one time and have no use for anymore so good deals are out there.
posted by bkeene12 at 7:50 PM on March 14, 2007

Alaska Air last Chistmas: checked papers, charged 75 bucks each way, did not measure or weigh the carrier. I have a sherpa carrier. The worst thing about the whole deal is that the flight was delayed for two hours. Luckily we found out before going through security. Oakland airport has a teeny grassy pet area out in front of the terminal (right next to the smoking area), so we hung out there for awhile. I recommend wearing slip-on shoes- after going through security (where I carried my dog), I then got to grab the carrier, my backpack, my shoes, cellphone, and assorted other crap while holding the dog, and then find a place to sit and put my shoes on.
posted by oneirodynia at 7:52 PM on March 14, 2007

cairnish has a good warning in his/her story. I traveled four times with my Westie puppy (the Fergie in fergiebelle). The Delta check-in agent in LA scared me because she said the carrier was too small for him. I just played it off like, well, they thought it was OK in Atlanta and I've only been here for three days, he can't have grown that much, ha ha, and we were off. But it definitely made me panic.
posted by FergieBelle at 5:40 PM on March 16, 2007

I have to weigh in on this because I've flown with my dog on both Northwest and American and have had lovely experiences with both. Granted she's a very small dog (under 10 lbs) but she was never weighed and the carrier was never given more than a first glance. The carrier itself was a little big but since it was a soft sided carrier it smushed under the seat when necessary.
The GREAT thing though, was that on the American flights I was able to request at the check-in desk about an hour before takeoff if I could sit in a seat next to an unoccupied seat so I could put the carrier on the floor next to me, not exactly under the seat. It was nice and she was much happier. And after takeoff I was able to put her carrier in the empty seat so she could sit next to me and be all happy. She's super needy and doesn't even do well without a lap so it was a really good situation.
Overall I think if you ask politely you can get some extra little favors like that and like the cat situation mentioned above. No one wants someone who's already shlepping a pet around through airports to be more annoyed by an angry/uncomfortable pet.
posted by criticalsass at 5:57 PM on March 18, 2007

You guys, this is seriously the most helpful stuff I've read. I have a dog, 26 lbs, but looks much smaller. We live in NYC and I want to take him to Texas with me for a week so he can gave fun and run around on a farm with other animals. The airline's online regulations say 20lbs max for a dog, but I'm going to risk it. He'll be sedated and 3 hours in a tight bag are better than 8 days in a kennel. Reading your posts has really put my mind at ease. Do you think, given all your collective experience, that I'll be able to get on the plane? I got him a Sherpa that fits airline regulations and goes under the seat.
posted by writerchica at 8:57 AM on June 27, 2007

Can you tell me whether you were able to take your dog on? I'm facing an identical situation this Wednesday on American and I'm petrified I won't be able to take her on with me. I flew her cargo once...and she was safe, but traumatized for a month.

Linda & Penny
posted by VitaWoman at 10:35 AM on November 4, 2007

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