An American Airlines flight to Chile had to return to Miami International Airport after only an hour into the trip because of mechanical issues, allegedly forcing passengers to spend the night on the airport’s floor.
Different rankings have looked at airline safety for 2018.
Airlines have found themselves knee-deep in drama recently due to misunderstandings over their pet travel policies.
To make sure your furry friend encounters no trouble in the friendly skies, we have rounded up the pet travel policies of North America’s eight largest airlines. This includes the rules for service animals, emotional support animals and beloved pets.
The next time you are preparing to travel with your loyal companion, make sure to study up, so you can choose the airline that suits the needs of you and your cuddly co-traveler.
Service animals are allowed on all flights at no charge. They need to be able to fit on your lap, at your feet, or under the seat, and cannot block the aisle. Service animals are also not allowed in exit rows. The same rules apply for emotional support animals. Emotional support animals and psychiatric service animals will need to submit a doctor’s letter, less than a year old that meets several requirements, to the airline 48 hours before the flight.
For those flying with pets, only small cats and dogs are allowed in the cabin at a $125 fee and they must stay in a carrier, that fits under the seat in front of you, at all times. Travelers can also fly their cats and dogs in the plane’s cargo hold for $175 fee with some capacity and weather restrictions.
Delta recently changed their policy on service and emotional support animals. Owners need to submit the airline’s required documentation 48 hours prior to the flight to be able to board with their service or emotional support animal. The animal should be able to fit on the passenger’s lap or in the space under the seat in front of the passenger. Delta reserves the right to refuse service to owner’s of animals with disruptive behavior.
For passengers traveling with a pet, small cats, dogs and household birds are allowed to travel in the cabin for a fee that varies based on the traveler’s destination. The pet must remain in a carrier at all times and the carrier must fit comfortably in the space under the seat in front of the passenger. Delta can also ship animals via Delta cargo, prices vary. This service is only open to warm-blooded pets.
Southwest allows service and emotional support animals to fly on flights. The animal can be no larger than a child the age of two, and has to be able to be placed on the passenger’s lap or on the floor in front of their seat. Service and emotional support animals cannot be placed in an airplane seat. Those flying with emotional support animals will need to bring a letter from a medical health professional that meets the requirements of Southwest.
Cats and small dogs are allowed to travel with their owners for a fee of $95. Approved pets must remain in their carrier at all times and be able to fit under the seat in front of their owner. Southwest does not fly pets in the cargo holds of their planes. Only six pets are allowed pet flight.
United allows trained service animals in cabin for qualified individuals with a disability. A service animal should sit in the floor space in front of the customer’s assigned seat but cannot protrude into the aisles. The same rules apply for emotional support animals, which also need to be trained to behave on plane. Owners of emotional support animals also need to present certain information and documentation to United before traveling.
United allows domesticated cats, dogs, rabbits and household birds (excluding cockatoos) to travel accompanied in the aircraft cabin on most flights within the U.S. for $125 service charge. The pet must stay in their carrier, which must fit completely under the seat in front of the customer and remain there at all times.
Air Canada allows service animals to travel in-cabin with their owners. The airline recommends that the animal boards the plane with a harness or in a carrier. For flights over 8 hours in length, Air Canada requires service animal owners to notify the airline about the animal 48 hours before the flight. If you are traveling with an emotional support or psychiatric service animal, you must advise Air Canada Reservations 48 hour in advance of travel, and provide supporting documentation in the form of an original letter on the letterhead of a licensed mental health professional. Air Canada does not accept animals other than dogs as emotional support or psychiatric service animals.
Air Canada welcomes cats and small dogs in the cabin as long as they are small enough to fit and stay comfortably in their carrier and under the seat in front of the traveler. The fee to fly with and in-cabin pet varies based on the traveler’s destination. Air Canada Cargo also ships a wide variety of animals, including cats, dogs, hatching eggs, insects and tropical fish.
Service animals fly for free and must occupy the travelers own space without obstructing aisles. Those traveling with emotional support animals must present current documentation, prior to boarding, to one of our customer service agents. It must not be more than one year old and it must be on letterhead from a mental health professional or medical doctor who is treating your mental health-related disability. Several types of emotional support animals are prohibited from flying.
Pets allowed in the passenger cabin of Alaska Airline include dogs, cats, rabbits, household birds, and tropical fish. Dogs and cats must be at least eight weeks old and must have been fully weaned for at least five days prior to travel. The fee to travel with a small pet is $100, the pet must stay in their carrier and be able to fit under the seat in front of the traveler or in the adjacent seat, when that seat is purchased. There is a limit to how many pets can fly on each plane, so travelers need to reserve in advance. Most pets are also allowed to travel in the cargo hold as well for a $100 fee.
Service animals are welcomed on JetBlue free of charge. They must remain on the floor unless the animal can fit completely and comfortably in the owner’s lap. The owner should also make sure to add their service animal to their reservation before flying. The same rules apply for emotional service animals, which should also be well-behaved and have their required documentation. There is a large list of emotional support animals that are not accepted on the JetBlue Airways even with documentation.
JetBlue gladly accepts small cats and dogs in the aircraft cabin on both domestic and international flights. There is a pet fee of $100 each way and the combined of the pet and carrier may not exceed 20 pounds. The pet must remain inside its carrier while at the airport and in the aircraft for the entire flight, and underneath the seat in front of the traveler during taxi, takeoff, and landing. Only four pets are allowed pet flight.
Spirit only allows small domestic dogs, domestic cats and small household birds on the aircraft, this applies to emotional support animals. Service animals are allowed on Spirit flights with the verbal assurance that the animal is trained to help the owner with a disability. Emotional support animals are allowed on Spirit flights as long as they board with the correct documentation that is under a year old.
Spirit has a limit of four pets per cabin. The fee to travel with your pet is $100 per pet carrier. Guests are only allowed to fly with 1 or 2 pets. The carrier with the pet must under the seat in front of the owner and the animal must stay in the carrier for the entire flight. Spirit does not fly animals in their cargo hold.
A college student who was assured she could fly home with her emotional support animal, a tiny dwarf hamster, says when she got to the airport she was told otherwise and an airline employee suggested she set it free outside or flush it down the toilet.
Distraught, but with no good options left, Belen Aldecosea, 21, says she had to make the harrowing choice to flush her beloved hamster, Pebbles, down the toilet in an airport bathroom.
“It was horrible,” Aldecosea tells PEOPLE. “I sat in a stall for about 15 minutes and just cried and cried.”
Pebbles, a hamster breed that’s about the size of a Twinkie — no more than four inches long and weighing less than two ounces — was about two months old, says Aldecosea, who got the pet to deal with stress and anxiety and had the hamster certified by a doctor as an emotional support animal.
Spirit Airlines confirms that one of its reservation representatives did mistakenly inform the woman when she called beforehand that her hamster could accompany her on the November flight out of Baltimore-Washington International airport.
The company, however, says it booked Aldecosea on a later flight so she would have time to make accommodations for the rodent and denies her assertion that a Spirit employee advised her on how to get rid of her pet.
“We can say confidently that at no point did any of our agents suggest this guest (or any other for that matter) should flush or otherwise injure an animal,” Spirit spokesman Derek Dombrowski tells PEOPLE. “It is incredibly disheartening to hear this guest reportedly decided to end her own pet’s life.”
Like other airlines, Spirit does allow some emotional support and service animals. However, Spirit excludes rodents, snakes, other reptiles, ferrets, and spiders.
Aldecosea is now considering a lawsuit against the airline.
“We’re going to explore all legal avenues,” her attorney, Adam Goodman, tells PEOPLE. “This wasn’t a dangerous animal. She had to take a very unfortunate action. It’s very sad.”
Aldecosea said she got Pebbles, who was so tiny she fit in the palm of her hand, in October while at the time a student at Wilson College in Pennsylvania. She was suffering from loneliness and anxiety, made worse after doctors discovered a mass the size of a golf ball near her throat, she says.
“Freaking out” when the doctor said she needed a biopsy to confirm if it was cancerous, she says the mass would tingle, get swollen, hard and painful. Aldecosea says she later learned it was benign but would require surgery to remove.
Pebbles comforted her, the owner says, and would happily roll around in a plastic exercise ball and run over to the side of the cage to greet her.
“She knew that I needed somebody, and she was there for me.”
She decided to leave school for further treatment and on Nov. 21 was flying home to Miami Beach. But at the airport, Spirit workers told her that in fact, hamsters were not permitted on board. Aldecosea tried to rent a car, take a Greyhound bus and arrange transportation with a cargo shipping company but none of those options worked out, she says.
“What about letting her go? What about flushing her?” a Spirit employee suggested, Aldecosea alledges.
After agonizing for hours, “I did what I had to do,” she says. “The fastest I could do it was put her in and not look,” an extremely distressing situation.
Aldecosea believes she made the more humane choice. “It was either I let her out into the street to get squished and bloody before my eyes, or she gets eaten by some animal.”
The airline offered her a voucher for round trip to selected locations but she did not accept, she says.
Aldecosea, who has now transferred to Texas State University, recently got another dwarf hamster she named Mia, “but she’s not the same.”
She wants people who doubt the importance of support animals to understand their necessity.
“I’d rather have an emotional support animal than take pills for stress,” she says. “You don’t get to tell me what I feel for the animal.”