Using Miles to Fly With Miles: My First Time Flying With a Dog on American Airlines in Business Class

Feb 26, 2013

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Last week I took my French bulldog puppy, Miles, on his first in-cabin flight from New York to Los Angeles. Having never flown with an in-cabin pet, a 5-hour flight was a bit daring for a first outing, but I couldn’t stand the thought of being without him for a whole week while I was in LA for meetings and to speak at the LA Times Travel Show.

Checking in with Miles in his carry on.
Checking in with Miles in his carry on.

I didn’t know what to expect exactly. I was nervous about the check-in process and security process, and how Miles would behave on the flight itself. Luckily, the overall the experience was great and Miles seemed to enjoy the flight, especially when the flight attendants paraded him around the plane for a good fifteen minutes – so much for having to keep your pet in their carrier at all times! I think he must have been the most popular passenger on the plane.

The Booking Process

When planning to bring a cabin pet on a flight there is one extra step added to your booking process beyond the normal rigamarole to buy your tickets. Once you make your own personal reservation, you have to make another reservation for your pet. For this flight, I didn’t want to fly in coach, so I redeemed 25,000 British Airways Avios and $2.50 and confirmed myself in business class on their 3-cabin 767 aircraft. Unfortunately pet reservations cannot be done online, so you have to call AA at 1-800-433-7300. Luckily it was a pretty quick process- I gave the representative my record locator number and she checked to make sure there was available space on the flight. Once she confirmed that a pet reservation was available, she added him to my reservation. Making the reservation is free, but once you check in you will have to pay a fee of $125 for domestic flights on American.

The Pet Policy

Since it was my first time traveling with a pet, I made sure to ask the representative to go over the pet policy, which has a few specific rules including the weight of the pet, the number of pets allowed per flight, and the acceptable size of the carrying case. The representative did mention that my seat could not be in the first row and I had to have a seat in front of me the dog kennel would fit underneath. Each airline has their own policy for pets so be sure to review it before you show up at the airport to avoid any surprises. I plan to pull resources together for travelers with pet’s, but in the meantime I’ll blog about each time I fly with a different carrier.

When Dogs Fly!

On the day of  departure I was running late for my flight and tried to check in online to avoid being closed out. A notice came up saying “Passengers traveling with pets are ineligible for check in online,” although I was able to use on-line check in for my friend who was also on the same reservation. On the flip side of things, American’s travel pet policy states “Checked pets will not be accepted more than four hours prior to your flight time,” so no dropping your pets off for doggie day care courtesy of the airline.

When traveling with a pet, when you arrive at the airport, you must go inside to the check-in counter and speak to an agent – curbside check-in or self service kiosks will not be able to assist you. The agent asked a couple of simple questions, like how old he was and then I had to sign a form. At no point was I asked for a health certificate from my vet, but I had one just in case. Keep in mind that the pet carrier counts as your carry on bag, so you are only allowed a small personal bag besides that. Once I paid the $125 fee on my Amex Premier Rewards Gold card (3x points because it posts as airfare!) and checked the rest of our bags, we were off to security. The agent also asked to make sure he could turn around in his carrier, but didn’t really care and saw that he was small enough and was quiet, so she didn’t scrutinize much and we were on our way. I was very thankful for being able to be checked in, because we showed up 55 minutes prior to departure and had to check bags. In the future I will leave much earlier just to be safe!

Security Process

Going through security we got to skip the ***
Going through security we got to skip the full body scanner.

When bringing a pet through security, you need to take it out of it’s container and hold it while you go through the metal detector. Luckily, having a pet exempts you from the full-body scanners and actually saved me time having to wait in that line. All of the TSA agents were super friendly and several joked around about keeping him there with them. I held him as they swiped my hands for explosives and while I was waiting to get cleared, I was able to hold him and play around a little bit. Miles loves people, so the whole process was a blast for him, but I could see it being harrowing if you have a nervous pet or cat that wants to make a run for it!

Flight experience

Miles has a moment to himself under the seat.
Miles has a moment to himself under the seat.

Once on the plane, I settled into my window seat and luckily I had a friend flying next to me, though I was anxious about him starting to bark. Indeed he did let a couple yips out, but I put my hand into the carrier and calmed him down. The flight attendant was extremely friendly and assured me that Miles would have a great flight and that everything would be fine. The passengers around me didn’t seem to care at all, so once settled I started to calm down and not think about it so much.

Before I knew it we were rolling down the runway and I thought for sure he’d freak out- I probably would! A couple babies started crying and the ascent was particularly bumpy. I kept waiting for some cries/yelps, but none ever came. I thought he was sleeping, but whenever I’d look down, I’d see him looking at me. I think he was just happy being able to see me through the carrier.

Once airborne the flight attendant told me I could take him out if needed, I assume since I was traveling with a friend and it wouldn’t bother my seatmate. I thanked her, but I wanted to let him get used to being in his carrier in the air- and frankly I didn’t want to mess up a good thing! However, after meal service, I took him out to give him a little attention and the flight attendents- all of whom were doglovers- couldn’t get enough of him and they fawned over him for a good 20 minutes. In fact before landing they actually gave him his own junior aviator logbook and set of wings! They even all wrote comments in the logbook and the whole gesture was a really nice way to end a great flight. I’m just concerned that I’m spoiled now and traveling with him won’t be nearly as fun in the future!

A thoughtful gift from the flight crew
A thoughtful gift from the flight crew

Delayed Baggage
The worst part of the experience was landing at LAX at 12:30am and having to wait about an hour for our checked bags to come. I noticed that at some point Miles did pee on the towel I had laid down in his carrier, which I can’t blame him for since he is only 4 months old and he was in there for a total of about 6 hours. I took him outside and put down a wee-wee pad as we waited, but he was too enamored with the commotion at LAX to go. He was very well behaved while we waited for the delayed bags, but I could tell his patience was waning and I think that came out perfectly in this picture.

Miles is not impressed with the baggage delay
Miles is not impressed with the baggage delay

I’ll be flying an airline that I haven’t flown in a long time later this week and Miles will be logging his second flight, so stay tuned for that. In the meantime, here are the pet policies on some of the major US airlines:

American Airlines
Age: Dogs and cats must be at least eight (8) weeks old for travel
Breed: Brachycephalic or snub-nosed dogs  (like French Bulldogs like Miles) and cats are not allowed as checked luggage
Fees: $125 cabin pet, $175 checked pet, no charge for assistance animal
Kennel size: No more than 19″ long x 13″ wide x 9″ high, pet must be able to stand and turn around with no restriction
Number of Pets: No more than 7 pets on a flight.
Weight: Under 20 pounds

Delta Air Lines
Age: At least 10 weeks old for Domestic and International travel.
Fees: $125 cabin pet, cargo pets rates are determined by Delta DASH
Kennel size: You must contact Delta Reservations to determine the appropriate kennel size as it is based on the flight.

Jet Blue
Age: Must be at least eight (8) weeks old for travel
Fees: $100 each way
Kennel Size: Cannot exceed 17”L x 12.5”W x 8.5”H
Number of Pets: Limited, call in advance
Weight: Combined weight of pet and carrier may not exceed 20 pounds
*TrueBlue members traveling with their pet will earn an additional 300 TrueBlue points for each pet fee paid

Southwest Airlines
Age: Must be at least eight (8) weeks old for travel
Fees: $75 pet fare each way per pet carrier
Kennel Size: No larger than 19″L x 14″W x 8.25″H
Number of Pets: No more than 5 scheduled pet carriers per scheduled flight

United Airlines
Age: Must be at least 8 weeks old to travel
Fees: $125 service charge each way
Kennel Size: Hard-sided kennels can not exceed 17.5 inches long x 12 inches wide x 7.5 inches high. Soft-sided kennels cannot exceed 8 inches long x 11 inches wide x 11 inches high.
Number of Pets: One pet per flight is allowed in United Global First℠, United First®, United BusinessFirst® and United Business® (select aircraft only). Four pets per flight are allowed in United Economy® on all United and United Express flight

US Airways
Age: Must be at least eight (8) weeks old for travel
Fees: $125 pet fare each way per pet carrier
Kennel Size: Hard-sided carriers up to 17 inches long (43 cm) x 16 inches wide (40 cm) x 8 inches tall (20 cm) and soft-sided carriers up to 17 inches long (43 cm) X 16 inches wide (40 cm) X 10 inches tall (25 cm).
Number of Pets: Limited, call in advance

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