Flying this summer: The good, the bad and the furry

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Airlines

Flying this summer: The good, the bad and the furry

Airplanes wait at airport
Nick Gunderson | Getty Images

First the good news: A flight this vacation season is looking cheaper than last year's.

Fare-tracking app Hopper said average round-trip domestic fares between Memorial Day and Labor Day will go for about $347 this year, a nearly 6 percent drop from a year earlier.

Flights to Europe from the U.S. are about 9 percent lower at $1,019, and it's 5 percent lower to Canada at $406. Flights to Africa are around 4 percent higher though, at $1,309, while fares to Asia, and Mexico and Central American alittle changed.

Here are a few things you should know before you set off.

  • Expect company ... lots of company

    Summer is the busiest travel season for U.S. airlines, and this year airports will be more packed than ever.

    A record 246.1 million people will fly between June 1 and Aug. 31, a nearly 4 percent increase over last year, according to Airlines for America, an industry group. Thank the strong economy for the increase, says the industry group. The increase equates to about 96,000 more passengers a day this season than last year.

    Passengers wait in line at Chicago O'Hare Airport.
    Getty Images
  • More flights, new destinations

    Airlines are wincing at the sharp rise in fuel prices, but there is little they can do about their packed schedules in the summer, when demand peaks. Carriers have added new routes and more frequencies to capitalize on summer vacations.

    International growth is particularly strong as traditional airlines battle with low-cost airlines like Norwegian Air Shuttle and WOW Air. Airlines are offering 4.3 percent more seats in the May-July period this year than last, according to Planestats.com, an aviation statistics database of consulting firm Oliver Wyman.

    Some airlines are trying out new destinations. American Airlines, for example, inaugurated flights in May from Philadelphia to Prague and to Budapest (pictured above), as well as from Chicago to Venice. United is starting new routes this year, including seasonal service from Newark, New Jersey, to Porto, Portugal, and from San Francisco to Zurich. Delta kicked off five-times-a-week service from New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport to Ponta Delgada in the Azores on May 25 as well as service from Atlanta to Lisbon.

    Budpest, Hungary
    Zsolt Hlinka | Getty Images
  • Pack light or pay more to check a bag on some flights 

    Airlines have been charging coach-class passengers to check bags for more than a decade, but those travelers usually got a pass when they flew internationally. No more.

    American and Delta this year started to charge travelers who bought basic economy fares — generally the lowest fare on the plane — to check their bags on trans-Atlantic routes. It will cost $60 to check the first bag. Alternatively, passengers can book a more expensive, regular economy-class ticket, which comes with a free checked bags.

    Basic economy tickets don't include perks that generally come with regular economy-class tickets, such as advance seat selection. Basic economy passengers also board last. American doesn't allow passengers to use overhead bins on its domestic basic-economy fares, but will do so for international flights.

    Think you'll escape all of this by flying a foreign carrier? Guess again. American's trans-Atlantic partner, British Airways, United's partner Lufthansa and Delta's partner Air France-KLM, now offer similar no-frills tickets and fees.

    People stand on the Esplanade du Trocadero near the Eiffel tower in Paris.
    Ludovic Marin | AFP | Getty Images
  • À la carte life

    Airlines haven't stopped at checked luggage in their quest for more fees. While low-cost, long-haul airlines like WOW and Norwegian charge passengers for food and beverages on board, as well as for cabin baggage, more traditional carriers still include those things in the ticket price for the most part.

    But, they charge for other things. This will be the first summer United Airlines will sell priority boarding for $9 to $60, depending on the flight. For some, that's a small price to pay for early access to the coveted overhead bins.

    Passengers boarding a flight at John F. Kennedy International Airport.
    Jeffrey Greenberg | UIG | Getty Images
  • Smart-luggage companies disappear 

    Want to travel with a suitcase that charges your phone, too? Airlines last December banned suitcases with non-removeable lithium-ion batteries from the cargo hold and the cabin. So far two companies, Bluesmart and Raden, have gone out of business as a result.

    Suitcase by BluesSmart weighs itself.
    Source: BlueSmart
  • New rules for pets in the cargo hold

    United Airlines has banned dozens of breeds of dogs and cats from its cargo hold after a series of animal deaths and other missteps, including dogs that were sent to the wrong destinations. Starting June 18, United will no longer accept several short-nosed breeds and several others in its PetSafe program, and will not allow animals to travel in the cargo hold to or from Las Vegas, Phoenix, Tucson, Arizona, or Palm Springs, California, between May and September due to high temperatures. United's policy brings it more into line with those of Delta and American.

    Andy Cross | The Denver Post | Getty Images
  • Emotional support animal crackdown

    Can your emotional support dog or horse hold it for the flight? Will he or she behave? Delta, American and United this year issued stricter policies for emotional or psychiatric support animals following complaints from passengers and crew about biting, soiled cabins, barking and other issues. The airlines say they're concerned about passengers who present these animals as support animals fraudulently.

    The Department of Transportation may also issue stricter rules for such animals, which have included, horses, turkeys, ducks and goats, and recently asked the public for its input.

    A woman carrying a dog on an airline flight.
    Robert Nickelsberg | Getty Images