Traveling with a pet? Should you fly commercial or private?

Nancy Trejos
Source: Victor

The death of a dog placed in an overhead compartment by a United Airlines flight attendant has left many pet owners wondering how they can fly safely with their beloved animals.

Many private jet sharing companies have been touting themselves as a safer alternative to commercial aircraft.

Victor, a private jet charter service, is now offering a "Furs Class" service. The company found that the percentage of passengers traveling with pets jumped 11.3% in the past year.

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Passengers will be allowed to travel with their pets on their laps. The pets will get treats and toys during the flight.

"We understand that holds in commercials aircrafts carry a risk, and therefore Victor provides the best possible solution for you and your pet to travel in style," says David Young, senior vice president of North America for the company.

There is no need to pay a membership fee or subscription for Victor and there is no extra cost for the pet. But a flight from San Francisco to Los Angeles would cost $16,791 roundtrip on a Learjet 60, which seats six people. That is $2,798.50 per person. A roundtrip economy flight on Alaska Airlines next month is going for as little as $106.

Doug Gollan, editor-in-chief of Private Jet Card Comparisons, says flying private is a safer bet for pet owners, but it's not cheap.

"It's becoming more and more common as the risks of sending pets via commercial airlines are considered too high by many," he says. "However, you do need to plan in advance providing your contact, pet type, size and weight."

Some private jet operators own the aircraft and set their own policies, while many private jets are managed on behalf of their owners and then rented on the charter market, he says. Each jet owner can stipulate what type of pets and how many if any they want on their planes.

Expect to pay about $10,000 to $25,00 to charter an entire aircraft, he says. From San Francisco to Los Angeles, he estimates the cost to be about $5,000 to $10,000.

"Some operators then charge a service fee of around $300 above that, while others will only charge for cleaning if your pet makes a mess," he says.

If you decide to fly in a commercial aircraft, there are companies that specialize in helping you transport your pet.

Take Sally Smith, owner of Airborne Animals.

"It's not an accessible thing," she says of private jet travel. "The general public has to depend on the commercial carrier. You either drive or fly. There's only two ways to move pets."

Smith takes the animal through the entire process and works with all the airlines to make it happen.

She recommends that her clients train the pet to be in a crate before they travel. She tells them to drive the pet around in a crate for a while so that they can get used to the motion and constant hum of traveling in a plane.

"It's just a gradual process," she says. "It helps to be planning this in advance of the flight."

For the most part, she believes that the airlines have trained their staff to deal with pets.

"Their practices have gotten better over the last 20 to 25 years," she says. "They already do quite a bit of staff training.

But, she says, "there are humans involved and there's always a chance of human error."

Brent Reiter, operations manager at Air Pets America, which also facilitates the transporting of pets, says flying commercial is the most economical and best way to go. Regardless of recent events, the staff at airlines such as United are trained to deal with pets whereas those on a charter flight may not be.

United did have the most number of animal deaths of any airline in 2017, according to the Department of Transportation.

But, Reiter points out, it transports many animals that other airlines won't such as pit bulls, boxers and pugs—snub nosed dogs that others won't accept because they are deemed to be too sensitive to humidity and temperature changes.

"They have a safe program. They took ownership of the fact that it's gotten away from them," he says of United "We respect the fact that they're trying to get it right."